INTERVIEW: The Power of a PIL-Rounak’s Journey to Victory!

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I remember while in college, how my some of batchmates would jokingly make-up M.C. Mehta’s cases and mention them all through the length of the answer, whenever questions relating to PIL would come! Little do we realize as young law students, the power a PIL holds for every citizen.

Rounak Sinha, not only understood its potential at a young age, but utilized it for the community welfare while only being a 3rd year law student.

He has filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Hon’ble High Court of  Judicature at Patna, seeking a complete prohibition in the manufacture, storage, distribution, transportation, display or sale of any type of Gutkha and Pan Masala. He submitted that in order to circumvent the ban of sale of gutka, manufacturers are selling pan masala (without tobacco) with flavoured chewing tobacco in separate sachets sold together by the same vendor in the same premises.

The matter was accepted before the Divisional Bench of Hon’ble  Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Sanjay Kumar. In the view of the order passed by Hon’ble High Court Patna, the Food Safety Commissioner, Bihar issued a notification to prohibit in the interest of public health for a period of one year, the manufacture, storage, distribution, transportation, display or sale of any type of Gutka and Pan Masala containing tobacco and/or nicotine whether packaged or unpackaged in the whole of the State of Bihar.

This is a kind of victory we live for as lawyers, don’t we? I was able to get in a candid conversation with Rounak Sinha, where he discusses his feat in detail. Keep scrolling to learn more about how Rounak defines his journey!

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a 3rd-year law student at the Faculty of Law, Marwadi University, and pursuing a BA.LLB (Hons.) degree. I hail from Patna in Bihar. On an individual front, I perceive myself as an ambitious and self-driven person who learns from his own mistakes.

I also enjoy meeting and talking to new people. Moreover, I love to constantly compete with myself than competing with others, as I believe that improvement is always better than perfection!

What your plans are after graduating from Marwadi University?

After graduation, I want to practice law as an independent litigator. I am confident enough by looking at this dynamic field that it will always keep my spirit up and boost me to pursue my aspirations.

What motivated you to file a PIL to ensure the extension of the Gutka Ban?

The crumbling public health in Bihar is not hidden to anyone and the State will not come out of its crisis unless all organs of the government put their heart into the job.

The sheer intention to approach the Hon’ble Patna High Court through the present PIL was rooted in the considerations of health and quality of life, and also how the government cannot ignore the malaise of illegal manufacture and sale of gutka within its jurisdiction. It goes without saying that any type of Gutkha and Pan Masala containing tobacco and/or nicotine is a danger to public health.

Considering the harmful and pernicious effects of consumption of gutka, which leads to fatal ailments such as cancer and the illegal manufacture and sale of gutka, I filed the Public Interest Litigation before the Hon’ble Patna High Court seeking total prohibition on the pan masala containing tobacco and/or nicotine and chewing tobacco, pure tobacco, Khaini, Kharra, scented tobacco/Flavoured tobacco or by whatever name locally it is called packed in sachets/ pouches/ package in the State of Bihar.

What support did you receive in order to file the PIL?

It was not an easy task for me to draft the Petition and argue the same before the Hon’ble High Court. However thanks to good fortune, I received adequate guidance from everyone I approached.

The university faculty truly deserves a great amount of appreciation and gratitude for providing me with all the requisites to pursue this PIL. Special thanks to Mr. Rajiv Ranjan Sir, Assistant Professor of Law, who motivated me to argue in person and mentored me in drafting the petition.

During the hearing, seeing my nervousness, Hon’ble Chief Justice Sanjay Karol, Patna High Court appreciated my effort and put me at ease. The entire experience taught me how welcoming and warm our legal community is by encouraging a law student to advocate a cause that is inherently important to safeguard public health.

Tell us more about the whole process of filing the PIL, from drafting the plea to the filing of the same.

“More than knowing, what to plea before the Court, it is far more important to consider what not to plea before the Court.”

At the very outset, from my limited experience, I would say that apart from being well versed with the facts and issues of the case as well as nuances of drafting a petition, one needs to understand the importance of written submission. Research is also the most significant piece for drafting where you could get a number of ways to support your contentions. But to pen down the relevant arguments in the written submission out of all is the biggest challenge. 

Accordingly, I drafted the Petition and only stated those direct and undisputed facts which were relevant for the case. Apart from that, while drafting the Petition, I maintained proper formatting acceptable to the court.

Furthermore, before filing the PIL, as per the Patna High Court Rules, I served a copy upon the State via email and then filed the PIL. Another thing on which I would like to ponder upon is that there is a concept of “mentioning” that is done before the Hon’ble Court.

Since the subject matter of the PIL includes the health of crores of individuals, I did mentioning of the matter before the Hon’ble Court for an urgent hearing. Fortunately, the Hon’ble Court accepted my view and allowed me to argue in person on the next day itself (18.02.2022). 

It was a delightful experience for me to understand and learn the basic and core concepts of drafting and filing the PIL. 

Many students graduating from law school choose the corporate stream, but why is litigation still relevant?

Most of the law students today from the beginning of their law studies have planned to be the corporate hulks and earn in tons. And there is no wrong with it. Everyone has their own choice. The idea is to determine which path is best for you as an individual. Both are rewarding careers in their own ways.

In my opinion, litigation is also an ever-green and promising career. It promises greater challenges and the greatest rewards. Believe me when I say that nothing beats a judge’s appreciation in an open court when he accepts or considers your oral submissions. I learned about many people who are doing exceptionally well in the field of litigation, just after graduation. So, it is an individual’s call to choose corporate or litigation as a practice area.

Have you been interning with someone? When did you start doing internships?

I have done internships in both lower as well as High Court in Patna and Ahmedabad. It was an incredibly rewarding experience and I got some really good exposure in drafting and prepping briefs. I was also assigned to assist in dealing with criminal and civil matters as well as the opportunity to hear arguments taking place in courts and research oriented work.

I am currently in the in my 3rd year at Marwadi University, pursuing B.A.LL.B, however I had started internships from the 1st year itself. So far, in total I have been able to complete more than 6 months of total internships and look forward to many more. Something I definitely recommend while studying to help contextualize theory into practice.

How do you think that your experience in internship shaped your decision to file this PIL? (if yes to the above que.)

Not really. The PIL was something close to my heart for a long time and it was more of a decision to mitigate a very harmful practice which has serious health implications for the public at large.

What I can say though is that interning definitely gave me a very strong foundation and the necessary confidence and belief to deep dive into the PIL. Rest as they say is history. 

Do you plan on making more such public interest litigations in the near future? How likely are you to pursue it in the long run?

Being a 3rd year student it’s still kind of early to say. The experience has been a truly uplifting one and I recommend everyone who looks at and follows public issues close to their heart to go for it!

It’s not whether the PIL will be passed but the experience you gain both inside and outside the courthouse. Frankly it’s invaluable and all the wishes and support I have received has been a humbling experience. 

Who did you seek inspiration from?

Inspiration is all around. You just have to look for it and recognise it when it’s right in front of you. I would say my ultimate inspiration comes from Mahatma Gandhi Ji who had such an inspiring journey from being a lawyer to being an indispensable force, helping India gain Independence! Public health is another area I am naturally interested in and drew inspiration from. If you can align your personal interests with issues at large it can be a very motivating factor.

There is an individual Mr. Raju Ranjan who personally motivated me to pursue this matter. Also this was not solely an individual pursuit and I was provided with a lot of support and mentoring from my Dean, Mr. Rhishikesh Dave who helped me in almost all facets, from drafting to research to preparing for the in person hearing. All of this in combination is a very motivating and inspiring! 

What would you suggest to the law students out there about taking such social responsibility on their shoulders? 

It’s a great thing to do. You see a lot of firms taking up pro- bono work and at an individual level I think the thought process should be similar. You’re not only taking something extremely important with the potential to have far reaching positive impact but also garnering a lot of goodwill which will be helpful anyway in the long run no matter which aspect of the law you wish to pursue. The satisfaction you get from this can be a life changing event.

What would you suggest to law students who have aversion towards litigation because of the infamous hustle of the lower court streets? 

The experience an individual gains in the lower courts is truly indispensable. The real action is right there on the ground where the key foundation of drafting and interpretation are formed. Since the basic hierarchy of the courts if from District, High to Supreme Court it’s important to keep this in mind while planning your career.

The exposure in the lower courts is something I feel will really help me progress and give me a lifetime of exposure which would probably not be possible once I move to the higher courts.

Click here to view the PIL Filed by Rounak at the HC of Patna

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