Milon Kumar Banerjee, the former Attorney-General of India, passed away in the early hours of Tuesday after a brief illness. He was 80 and is survived by two sons, Debal Kumar Banerji (senior advocate) and Gourab Banerji (Additional Solicitor-General of India).
Mr. Banerjee was born in a distinguished Brahmo Samaj family. His father, Professor A.C. Banerjee, IES, was a Wrangler and Owst Prize holder at Clare College, Cambridge, Vice-Chancellor of the Allahabad University and president of the Indian Science Congress. His mother, Probha Banerjee, was India's first Honorary Lady Magistrate and the only lady member of the 40-member Allahabad Municipal Board, which included Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Kailash Nath Katju.
Mr. Banerjee started his law practice in the Allahabad High Court in 1955 and shortly thereafter shifted to Kolkata, where he built up a leading practice in commercial, constitutional and arbitration matters. He shifted to Delhi in 1979 as Additional Solicitor-General of India.
Mr. Banerjee had the unique privilege of being a Law Officer during the times of five different Prime Ministers, as Additional Solicitor-General [1979-1986], Solicitor-General [1986-1989], Attorney-General [1992-1996] and again as Attorney-General [2004-2009].
In his 50-year career, apart from conducting many foreign arbitrations, he was involved in many landmark cases, including the Ayodhya matter, where he warned the Court that the situation had reached a boiling point and any inaction by the Court would make the situation irreversible; and the case relating to the manner of appointment of judges where, as Attorney-General, he took an independent stand pressing for the primacy of the Chief Justice of India; the case regarding the citizenship of Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court recognising and stating that she was a citizen of India and the case in the Supreme Court regarding the validity and powers of a three-member Election Commission.
Mr. Banerjee, as Attorney-General, had the rare honour of being called upon to address the Parliament regarding the powers of the Election Commission on August 5, 1993, a request that had not been made to the Attorney-General for decades, and the Padma Awards case, where he argued before the Supreme Court that these awards were not titles and as such were not violative of Article 18 of the Constitution. The Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court accepted the contention and the National Awards were restored after a long break.
He was awarded the second highest national award, the Padma Vibhushan, in 2005. He was a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in the early 1990s, and was recently again appointed a member of the Permanent Court. He has conducted and resolved many international arbitrations successfully, the latest being the well-known Dabhol case, where the claim was of $6 billion, the largest-ever raised against the Government of India.
He was recently elected to the prestigious position of an Honorary Bencher (Master of the Bench) of the Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn, London. The small group of Honorary Benchers includes Nelson Mandela, Baroness Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and United States Supreme Court Judges Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Justice John Paul Stevens.
Ansari condoles demise
Vice President M. Hamid Ansari on Tuesday condoled the demise of former Attorney-General of India Milon Banerjee. He said Mr. Banerjee had a glorious record of service to the country and the Bar. He would be remembered for his contributions in many landmark judgments, Mr.Ansari said.