Aditya Sondhi, who was recently designated Senior Advocate by the Karnataka High Court, is a man of varied interests. In this interview with Bar & Bench, he talks about the legitimacy of the Intelligence Bureau, his take on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, and the benefits of a career in litigation..Bar & Bench: Tell us about the early days of your practice. .Aditya Sondhi: The early days were an uphill climb, as they usually are in practice. I enrolled in 1998 soon after graduating from the National Law School of India. It was a case of finding my way in the profession because I didn’t really have much guidance. I didn’t have a legal background, and therefore everything was new to me..Having said that, I had a great advantage in the form of my senior Mr. Holla, who gave me ample opportunities to appear in the High Court right from day one. I think that made a great difference because it gave me the kind of exposure and confidence that one needs early in one’s career to keep the faith in the profession..Bar & Bench: Apart from practicing in the Karnataka High Court, you’ve also appeared in the Supreme Court. How would you compare the experiences?.Aditya Sondhi: They’re quite different, because, as you know, the Supreme Court is the final avenue. Therefore, in a sense, the pressure is a bit more. If one were to fail in the Supreme Court, there is no further recourse. That, coupled with the fact that the special leave jurisdiction under Article 136 of the Constitution is a limited jurisdiction in the sense that the Supreme Court may not choose to exercise that jurisdiction frequently. If you spend some time in the Supreme Court on a miscellaneous day, that is a Monday or a Friday, you’ll find that before most benches, most SLPs are dismissed (and in quick time!)..This is not to say that they don’t have a case, it’s just that it may not be a fit enough case for entertaining an SLP. Therefore, I would say that the pressure in the Supreme Court, especially when it comes to special leave matters is a tad greater than it is in the High Court. And one’s approach before the Supreme Court therefore has to be differently measured..Otherwise, most judges of the Supreme Court, apart from the direct appointments like the two recent ones – of Justices Rohinton Nariman and U U Lalit, are High Court judges who have been elevated to the Supreme Court. If one has appeared before them in the High Court, it’s not that different in the Supreme Court. Therefore, I would say that the standard, by and large is the same in both courts. However, certain counsels of the Supreme Court are of an exceptional level, so they inspire you to do better. That was certainly an eye-opener for me in the Supreme Court..Bar & Bench: There was the recent senior advocate controversy in the Karnataka High Court. .Aditya Sondhi: I am a respondent in both those matters, and they are pending in the Supreme Court. Therefore, I don’t think I should make any comments..Bar & Bench: You’ve worked on a case regarding the constitutionality of the Intelligence Bureau. What is your take on the legal status of these intelligence agencies? .Aditya Sondhi: The CBI doesn’t claim to be a civilian set-up, but it was held to be ultra-vires by the Gauhati High Court, in what I think is a very compelling judgment. I can’t say whether it is a right or a wrong judgment, but the Gauhati HC has said that the CBI is not the Delhi Special Police Establishment and also suffers from other constitutional lacunae. The IB, on the other hand, doesn’t trace itself to any statute at all. It finds its source in an old executive order of 1887, and continues to claim its legitimacy from that..I would find it difficult to accept it as a purely civilian agency, simply because its entire top brass is made up of serving IPS officers. The senior-most officer, the Director of the Intelligence Bureau has always been an IPS officer. In fact, that is the highest post that a police officer in India can aspire to get. Coupled with the fact that the ethos and the functioning of the IB remains one which is based on police techniques, I find it very difficult to accept that it is a civilian agency..The stated position is that the IB only carries out intelligence gathering activities and no more. But I think if you take a closer look, you will find that it has all the characteristics of a police establishment. That question is also pending before the Supreme Court and we will have to wait and see how the issue is decided..Bar & Bench: You’ve done a thesis on the interface between the Army and democracy. What is your take on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act? .Aditya Sondhi: First speaking as a lawyer, let me say that the AFSPA was upheld by the Supreme Court. By reading the do’s and don’ts as part of the statute, its constitutional validity has been settled. If you were to ask me my personal opinion on the matter, I do still feel that if the Army is to be deployed in asymmetrical situations as one finds in the North-East or in Kashmir, there needs to be a higher degree of protection for officers exercising their powers bona-fide, and I emphasize on the word bona-fide..For me, the deeper sort of policy questions that arise are firstly, whether the Indian Army should be deployed against its own people, even though it’s called an operation in aid to civil authority, a sort of peace-keeping operation. Let’s be frank, it’s more than that. It’s an important philosophical question which the State has to answer. Secondly, even though the Act is there, it is applied only as and when the government chooses to notify and apply it to a particular state for a particular period of time..I think that process needs to undergo a much greater degree of review. It’s not enough to say that J&K suffers from insurgency and instability, lump the AFSPA there, and keep it going ad nauseam. So I think the Ministry has to take a closer and a more frequent look at how AFSPA is working and see how the people are being affected by its implementation..They need to look at human rights violations, address them, and confine AFSPA only to such times and places where it is genuinely needed, not otherwise..Bar & Bench: Recently, the Allahabad High Court had issued summons to the makers of the film Haider on the grounds that it depicted the Indian Army in bad light and it was against national interests..Aditya Sondhi: Seditious is very strong word. As Dr. Binayak Sen’s case has taught us, it has to be used in very, very rare circumstances involving an overt and physical threat to the safety and integrity of the nation, nothing short of that. I certainly don’t think that by any interpretation this film can be declared to be seditious. I’ve watched the movie, and to be honest, it tells a good story and is fairly well researched. It’s based on Basharat Peer’s book, so you will find a lot of very pointed references. For instance, MAMA-2, which is one of those camps shown in the movie, is actually PAPA-2 in reality..If you’ve read about Kashmir and you hear the version of the Kashmiri people, they have a lot of grievances against the Army. This is a creative film that has conveyed that aspect of the goings-on. People may differ with it, I know a lot of retired Army officers who have found the movie obnoxious. Having said that, it’s a creative license and one can’t fault the film legally..Of course, there are other dimensions to Kashmir, for instance, the story of the Kashmiri Pandits, the story of the equally good work that the Army has done, for instance during the recent floods. Those aspects have not really come through in the film, but that is just a film-watcher’s critique of the film. But, by no stretch of imagination can it be called seditious or legally unacceptable..Bar & Bench: You’re the Managing Trustee of the General Thimmaya Memorial Trust. Tell us about some of the work that the Trust does..Aditya Sondhi: I founded this organization exactly 10 years ago, in the memory of General Thimmaya, who is an Old Boy of Bishop Cotton Boys’ School. I too had the privilege of studying there. I thought that he was one personality under whose umbrella we could start a more meaningful discourse of alumni interaction. You’ll often find that alumni interactions are confined to social fellowship. But what this endeavour tries to do is to bring an accomplished old student to speak on a topic that is of social or public relevance every year, to open up the quality of interaction and to showcase the diversity of the alumni..I’m very happy to say that it has found flavour with people beyond just old Cottonians. Today, in its tenth year, I can say with a degree of satisfaction that it has actually become sort of a Bangalore event. A lot of people, especially Armed Forces veterans, find it a forum to hear a good speaker and exchange ideas. Also, at one level, they appreciate the fact that the Armed Forces are being acknowledged..Bar & Bench: You’re also a visiting professor at NLSIU. What differences have you found between the law students of today and those of your generation?.Aditya Sondhi: I clearly think that the students of today are better informed. They also have a greater pool of information, because of the critical mass of data that is available online. They’re far more confident at an early stage and also very enterprising. If you look at the kind of career choices the students are making now, they’re far and wide. In fact, many of them have very little do with the law. Many of my students have gone into very random things like travel websites, theatre, entrepreneurial start-ups and so on..Having said that, I think my colleagues, plus or minus a few years, at NLSIU had greater drive in them (though I can’t say that about myself!) I think at that period law was not the vibrant career choice that it is today. There was hardly a safety-net. They wanted to prove their mettle, and wanted to prove that law is a career choice to reckon with. That industry and drive is something to be noted in that particular phase of students. In some ways, that has broken the barriers for the next generation of lawyers..Bar & Bench: You’re a published author. Is there anything you’re working on?.Aditya Sondhi: There are two things – one, I’ve recently completed my second book on my old school, which completes 150 years next year. It’s a labour of love which looks at the history and trajectory of the school over the past 150 years, through the lives of its students. It tries to show how a Victorian institution slowly transformed into what is today an Indian institution. I’m also hoping to publish my thesis in due course..Bar & Bench: The biggest deterrent to joining litigation is the low salary package it offers. Would you recommend litigation to law students?.Aditya Sondhi: I wish the discourse on litigation would not always be reduced to low salaries. I don’t think that is the relevant yardstick to decide whether to litigate or not. Obviously, you can’t compare apples and oranges, and if money matters to you or you’re honestly not able to afford to work on a small stipend for the first few years, then by all means, don’t litigate. Otherwise, I don’t think that should be a criterion at all. I started off on a very small stipend and I don’t think that I deserved even that, because I knew very little. Regardless of which law school you come from or what degrees you hold, litigation is a function of experience, a function of confidence, and that can only come with time..It is changing though, seniors have begun to pay better, but obviously nowhere near what one would make in the corporate sector. Litigation firms are now coming up more frequently, and if you’ve noticed, they certainly pay well..I would recommend litigation very strongly for very different reasons. For the fact that you’re a part of justice delivery, the sort of intellectual and ideological challenges that you face, the ability to be an independent person, and to be a part of a system that aims to keep the rule of law relevant. These are the callings that should make one consider litigation.