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Anil Divan

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Anil Divan (1930-2017) was a Senior Advocate and leading member of the Bar in India.


​Graduating from Government Law College, Bombay in 1951 where he received two gold medals, Divan began practice on the original side of the Bombay High Court in the chambers of ML Maneksha. His practice included civil, corporate, constitutional and tax cases. Divan became a Senior Advocate in 1972, shifting his practice to the Supreme Court of India in 1979. Although the preponderance of his practice was in the Supreme Court, he appeared in High Courts across India throughout his career.

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Government Law College, Bombay, 1952

(Divan in front row centre)

Among the landmark cases Divan appeared in were the Fundamental Rights case (Kesavananda Bharati, 1973), the Pensioners’ case (D.S. Nakara, 1982), the Shriram Gas Leak case (M.C. Mehta¸1986-87), the Bhopal Gas Leak case (Union Carbide, 1989), the Jain Hawala case (Vineet Narain, 1997), the Black Money case (Ram Jethmalani, 2011), and the Judges Appointment case (2014). He served as President of LAWASIA from 1991 to 1993 and as President of the Bar Association of India from 2010 to 2014.


Born in Bombay, to Sharda (née Setalvad), Vice-Chancellor of SNDT Women’s University from 1969 to 1975, and Baburao Jeevanlal Divan, a businessman, Divan attended New Era School and Wilson College where he excelled at sports, particularly tennis and badminton. He achieved great merit at the state level, including winning the junior Western India Badminton Championship in 1942.

Badminton anchore
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Sir Chimanlal Setalvad, Sharda Divan and Anil Divan (l-r)

On the front foot

Divan had many interests beyond the law. His love for sport continued throughout his life. He became an avid golfer and an ardent follower of cricket and tennis. An early talent of his was ballroom dancing for which he had received a gold medal. As a young man, he was also a talented artist. A voracious reader of Erle Stanley Gardner, Sherlock Holmes and Gujarati literature, and a great lover of wildlife and travel, he saw much of the world with Smita, his wife of 57 years.


Divan was a highly regarded speaker, and wrote widely in newspapers and journals. Many of his published writings and speeches are available in the volume “On the Front Foot”. At the time of his passing, he was in the midst of writing about five seminal cases that he argued, some of which are being developed for publication.

Divan came from a distinguished legal lineage. His maternal grandfather was Sir Chimanlal Setalvad, leading lawyer of the Bombay High Court and Vice-Chancellor of Bombay University; his maternal uncle was Motilal C Setalvad, India’s first Attorney General, and his paternal uncle B J Divan was the Chief Justice of Gujarat High Court. Divan may well have been influenced by these three family members who displayed their independent thinking at various times. Sir Chimanlal Setalvad made critical observations against the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in the Hunter Commission; MC Setalvad gave an opinion against the government in the first defence scam as Attorney General; and BJ Divan gave judgments against the government in the internal Emergency of 1975.

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Smita and Anil Divan, 1970s


On Divan’s passing, his peers said that “the nation has lost an ideal member of the Bar.


It was said of him that he “possessed a conscience, not shaped by rigid rules of doubtful validity, but answerable only to a moral code. His conscience was governed by the rejection of self-interest and ambition. It was propelled by a consuming desire to play a leading role in the fair administration of justice, with a belief in seeking truth for the preservation of the rule of law. As a lawyer [he] was an epitome of virtues. Being courageous, plain-speaking, sound in law, impeccable in conduct and thorough in preparedness made him one of the most admired lawyers. He proved that the legal profession was indeed a noble one.”


Read more tributes here.


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On the Front Foot

Book of writings by Anil Divan


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Friend of the Court

15 February 1997, India Today

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