DC Singhania: India loses a maker of legal history

DC Singhania passed away
Duli Chand Singhania

Mr Duli Chand Singhania, founder of Singhania & Co, passed away on 29 November. Earlier that month, he had celebrated his 90th birthday with family and friends.

A prayer meeting, which took place at Chinmaya Mission in New Delhi on 1 December, concluded with the famous Hindi song from the 1960s, Main zindagi ka saath nibahata chala gaya, har fikr ko dhuen mein udata chala gaya, which literally translates as: I went ahead with my life, went on blowing every worry into smoke.

“The song really summed up his life well,” said Ravi Singhania, Mr Singhania’s son and managing partner of Singhania & Partners. “He kept moving forward amid overwhelming odds and went on to achieve success in various facets of life. He influenced everyone around him with his revolutionary ideas. Mr Singhania’s passing is an end of an era.”

Mr Singhania left the security afforded by a government position in 1962 to follow his passion for law. It is said he took to legal practice like a duck to water and quickly achieved success, making a name for himself as one of the leading corporate and arbitration lawyers in the country.

“He ran one of the most successful law firms in India,” said Sumes Dewan, managing partner of Lex Favios, who worked at Singhania & Co in 1997 when Mr Singhania was the firm’s managing partner.

“[He] had the vision to set up global offices in London and the US, apart from various Indian cities. He was always willing to guide and support young lawyers and will definitely be remembered as one of the pioneers of the legal fraternity in India.”

Singhania & Co was the first Indian law firm to open offices in the US and the UK. It was also the first to hire international interns from law schools abroad.

“When the Indian economy was still closed in the early 1980s, [my father] was speaking at international conferences all over the world, promoting the positives of investing in India and the immense potential the country offered. As a visionary in the field, there were many firsts to his credit,” said Ravi Singhania.

One of these firsts is the case of Eurasian Equipment & Chemicals, which Mr Singhania argued before the Supreme Court in 1974. In the matter, the court observed “… equality of opportunity should apply to matters of public contracts”. Before this, the legal position was that the government was as free as a private person in awarding public commercial contracts. The position changed following this ruling and remains the leading case on the subject to date.

Mr Singhania also made notable contributions in the field of arbitration and worked closely with former law minister HR Bhardwaj in drafting the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996. As a result, Mr Singhania was one of the rare applicants to be designated directly as a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, UK.

“He was a colossus in the field of corporate law and more particularly in the field of alternative dispute resolution,” said Lalit Bhasin, the president of Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF). “He was the founder of one of the best law firms at that point of time and had excellent clientele. I have fond memories of working with Mr Singhania to strengthen SILF so that at the appropriate time Indian law firms could compete with foreign law firms, as and when these are permitted to practise in India. The law firms in India owe a sense of gratitude to Mr Singhania.”

Mr Singhania also supported many philanthropic projects and charities. In particular, he felt strongly about the cause of education. At the age of 72, he set up Singhania University in Pacheri, Rajasthan state. “He believed that, we should work for society and give back what it has given to us. Only then would one really be successful in life. This university was his way of giving back to the place where he was born and spent the initial years of his life,” said Ravi Singhania.

Mr Singhania’s sons Krrishan and Ravi, daughter-in-law Sonil, and grandchildren Rohit Jain and Srishti and Avni Singhania continue to work in the field of law today.