What are the functions of the Attorney General for India?

Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi has declined the government’s offer to be Attorney General (A-G) for India after “second thoughts”. Rohatgi, who had earlier agreed to take up the position, told The Indian Express on Sunday (September 25) that there was “no specific reason” for changing his mind.

The term of the incumbent A-G, K K Venugopal, ends on September 30. He is 91 years old, and on his third extension. Venugopal has conveyed to the government that in view of his advanced age, he would not be able to continue after the end of his current term.

Who is the Attorney General for India?

The Constitution of India places the post of the A-G on a special footing. The A-G is the Government of India’s first law officer, and has the right of audience in all courts of the country.

Article 76(2) of the Constitution says “it shall be the duty of the Attorney-General to give advice to the Government of India upon such legal matters, and to perform such other duties of a legal character, as may from time to time be referred or assigned to him by the President”.

The A-G is also supposed to “discharge the functions conferred on him by or under this Constitution or any other law for the time being in force”.

Under Article 88, the “Attorney-General of India shall have the right to speak in, and otherwise to take part in the proceedings of, either House, any joint sitting of the Houses, and any committee of Parliament of which he may be named a member”. However, he “shall not by virtue of this article be entitled to vote” in the House.

Also, the A-G for India is not, like the A-G for England and Wales and the A-G of the United States, a member of the Cabinet.

Who can become A-G?

Under Article 76(1), the A-G is appointed by the President from among persons who are “qualified to be appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court”. Article 76(4) says “the Attorney-General shall hold office during the pleasure of the President, and shall receive such remuneration as the President may determine.”

The post of the A-G has been occupied by some of the finest jurists in India’s history. The first two incumbents of the post were the legendary M C Setalvad and C K Daphtary.

Soli Sorabjee served as A-G twice, in 1989-90 when V P Singh and Chandra Shekhar were Prime Ministers, and from 1998-2004 under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Milon K Banerji was also A-G twice, from 1992-96 under P V Narasimha Rao, and from 2004-09 when Manmohan Singh was PM.

Mukul Rohatgi was A-G from 2014-17 before Venugopal took over.

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