AS Ponnanna is an Additional Advocate General at the Karnataka High Court. The son of Senior Advocate and former Leader of Opposition in the state Legislative Council AK Subbaiah, Ponnanna climbed through the ranks of state government’s legal team in a relatively short span of time..In this interview with Bar & Bench’s Aditya AK, he gives valuable insights into the functioning of a government advocate, discusses recent cases in the High Court and more..Aditya AK: Your father, AK Subbaiah is a lawyer-turned-politician. Did that make your entry into the legal profession easier?.AS Ponnanna: Not at all. This cabin in which we are sitting was his entire office. When I graduated from University Law College in 1997, I did not even have a chair to sit on in my father’s office! I would work from the living room..My father is not a typical lawyer, and neither is he a typical father! He did not do much in terms of giving me an opportunity to get a foothold in the profession. Back then, we had to do something like an internship in the courts before we could practise. And once I started going, I began to get serious. I realised that unlike college times, one needed some money, and the only way I could do that was if I got my own cases..Fortunately, I was well connected, since I have lived in this city for most of my life. I started off getting students’ matters, and then I got some bail matters in the magistrate’s court. After I got more matters, I converted this room, which used to be a waiting room for clients, into my office..I was always a conservative guy when it came to saving money and that helped in the early days..Aditya AK: Was there any particular case or a period in your career which established your name?.AS Ponnanna: From 2006, there was an upsurge in the quality of the cases I was getting. Slowly, I reduced my work in the lower courts and appeared more in the High Court..The 2010 MLA disqualification case was a big matter in which I appeared. It was a sensational case and so there was a continuous process of appearing in court and addressing the media. There were other senior counsel like KG Raghavan and PP Rao involved, but till the matter reached the Supreme Court, I was closely involved with it..I also appeared in the cases against Jayalalithaa, for the petitioner Anbazhagan, who filed the transfer petition in the Supreme Court. I also appeared in the denotification cases against former CM Yeddyurappa..Aditya AK: How did you end up becoming Additional Advocate General (AAG), at a relatively young age?.AS Ponnanna: After Ravivarma Kumar had become Advocate General, I went to his office to congratulate him. He said, ‘Ponnappa (he did not even know my name then!), why don’t you join my team?’, referring to the post of Principal Government Advocate. Given the remuneration of a government advocate, I knew that I wouldn’t even be able to pay my children’s school fees..So I told him that I would join if I was offered the post of AAG. He said that it would be difficult as there was a lot of competition, since it is a political appointment. So I left it at that and resumed my practice. Then one day, I received a call from a reporter of Bangalore Mirror. He said, ‘Congratulations, I am going to be seeing you in Court Hall 1.’ When I asked how, he replied that since I was Principal Government Advocate, I would be appearing in the first court. I was wondering how that happened, since I had refused the post!.I asked my father to convince the AG not to give me the post, because I did not know how to tell him that I didn’t want it. Now my dad has never made a call to get me anything, but this time I asked that he do the opposite! After my dad came back from the discussion with the AG, he said that the decision to appoint me had been taken after deliberations with the Law Minister and the Chief Minster and that it would not be good to say no..So, I decided to meet the AG myself to refuse the post. When I met him at a function, he told me that my name was recommended for AAG, and that I would only have to wait for 2-3 months. So I took it up, and once I started, I was totally committed to it. The 3 months promise did not happen, but I did not ask him about it. I set myself a target of one year, after which I would reassess my situation..When the then AAG Kantharaj resigned, all my colleagues convinced me to ask about the post. However, without my asking, he recommended my name and I was appointed AAG, on my 40th birthday..Aditya AK: How has the experience been so far?.AS Ponnanna: It has been phenomenal. In terms of experience and the opportunity to build your presence in court, it has been great. On the first day of my appointment, the AG gave me a file and asked me to appear. That matter was a challenge to the suspension of a Karnataka State Public Commission member, who was recommended by the Governor to the President of India for removal. Thereafter, I appeared in several BBMP matters, DK Ravi’s case, and the case against Asaduddin Owaisi..I get to advise the government on various issues – new policies, changes in existing policies etc. These opportunities have really helped develop me as a lawyer. You may appear in a number of matters as a private counsel, but you will never get this kind of exposure to policy matters which impact society..This one time, I advised the government to absorb pourakarmikas (city cleaners) as full-time workers and to abolish the contract system of labour. I met the Chief Minister personally regarding this, and after that, the cabinet passed an order benefitting around 40,000 Pourakarmikas. These kind of things are more satisfying than fighting a case in court..Aditya AK: How often have you advised the government not to pursue litigation?.AS Ponnanna: Several times. The way the government functions is not always pleasing. As a lawyer, you have to make your stand clear. Finally, it is their call, so I have never said that I would not appear, except for one or two cases..But you must understand the political issues apart from the legal issues. I don’t mind trying to justify alleged illegal actions, but when the action is mala fide, I have advised them not to pursue the case. There have been times when they have withdrawn the case after I asked them to..But most times, they do not agree to withdraw, because the functioning of the bureaucracy is such. No single guy can take decisions, especially when the matter is sensitive. Nobody is willing to stick their neck out. The best you, as a lawyer, can do is to try to convince them to a point, and then move on and do your job..The best you, as a lawyer, can do is to try to convince them to a point, and then move on and do your job..Aditya AK: Moving on to recent events in the High Court, Justice Ram Mohan Reddy found himself in the midst of a controversy..AS Ponnanna: To be honest with you, he has treated me very well; I have never felt uncomfortable in his court. I did not experience any of his typical innuendos either as a government advocate or as a private practitioner..But yes, he has definitely conducted court proceedings very aggressively at times. I would definitely support the idea that he should have been a little more sensitive towards the needs of younger lawyers and those who did not have the opportunity to study in Anglo Indian schools in Bangalore, which forms a large section of the Bar..Aditya AK: The Karnataka Lokayukta has been suffering amidst allegations of corruption against Justice Bhaskar Rao. .AS Ponnanna: The damage caused by the incident involving Justice Bhaskar Rao will take some time to be undone. For that, you need persons of impeccable integrity and highest standards of ethics to occupy that seat again. Once that happens, the institution of the Lokayukta can be brought back on track..If you go into the reason behind the success of the institution, you have to see who has headed it in the past. Justice N Venkatachala was one of them, and he was followed by Justice Santosh Hegde. What these two men had done was undone very quickly by the episode involving Bhaskar Rao. People heading this institution must tread very carefully and ensure that its integrity is above board..Aditya AK: What is your suggestion for reducing pendency figures in courts?.AS Ponnanna: Filling up of judicial vacancies is the most clichéd solution given, and I don’t believe that it is. The number of judges cannot reduce pendency. In fact, if you have more judges, you will have more pendency..Aditya AK: How so?.AS Ponnanna: Each judge gets allotted 50 cases a day. If you have a judge who disposes of one case a day, he will continue to get those 50 cases. If, instead of this judge, you have a judge who is disposing cases speedily, the pendency will go down. So, the quality of judges must improve, and for that, the selection process must change..I am not for a minute supporting the NJAC, but changes can be made to the existing system. Lawyers who have a lucrative practice must be roped in. The moment you are a successful lawyer, it is treated as a disqualification to become a judge. That should not be the case. Things are different in the Supreme Court, where the most successful lawyers are now judges, be it Justice UU Lalit, Justice Rohinton Nariman or now Justice Nageswara Rao..These kind of appointments should be made at the high court level as well..Aditya AK: But the government is the biggest litigant..AS Ponnanna: You are right. If the government takes a mature stand, it can reduce the litigation to a large extent. I would say that around 25% of the litigation created by the state government is frivolous. As I said before, nobody is willing to stick their neck out. If I advise them not to pursue a case, it is perceived that I have some kind of ulterior motive..Everybody is wary of taking a stand which would put them in a situation of being doubted. I am totally against this system, but that is how it is. Now who is going to stand up and change it?.One person alone certainly cannot..Aditya AK: What do you like most about the legal profession?.AS Ponnanna: It is the independence in thought and action. At the risk of making a sweeping comment, no other profession can provide you with the freedom of thinking that a lawyer is given. You can think and act however you feel. Every time a law student asks whether they should be a corporate lawyer or a litigation lawyer, I tell them to wear a blindfold and choose litigation!