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Why AP High Court is hearing 100 petitions on 3 Capitals Decision

A year after Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Reddy rolled out the idea to trifurcate the state capital, the proposal is still mired in legal hurdles amid the CM’s ongoing feud with the judiciary. There were close to a 100 petitions in the Andhra Pradesh High Court, directly or indirectly, challenging Jagan’s idea of having three capitals to the state, which have now been slashed to about 60.
 
With the appointment of Arup Kumar Goswami as the new Chief Justice to the high court last month, some arguments will now have to be made again from scratch, since the existing bench has been dissolved after the transfer of former CJ J.K. Maheswari. The process would take a “couple of months” at least, according to the petitioners.
 
A three-judge bench, headed by Justice Maheswari, was hearing a bunch of petitions related to Decentralisation of Capital and CRDA (Capital Region Development Authority) repeal Acts.
 
“Had the previous CJ been there, we could have had a final judgment by the end of January. Now, the new CJ will have to go through all these records first and familiarise himself with the nomenclature. That might take a month or more easily. It is not like all the arguments done before will have to be redone again, a few key ones will be done,” former TDP minister Vadde Sobhanadreeswara Rao, who is one of the petitioners, said. 
 
There are already written submissions by the counsels, and previous arguments have been recorded, he added. “It is unclear how much more time-consuming the process would be — it could be wrapped up soon or may take months. But we are now hoping for a fair and square mode of operation,” Additional Advocate General Sudhakar Reddy said.
 
Petitions against the CM’s plan
 

The petitions filed in the Andhra Pradesh High Court against Jagan’s idea to trifurcate the capital, can broadly be classified into four key categories, said Unnam Muralidhar Rao, who is representing petitions on behalf of a group of Amaravati farmers.
 
The first batch is the one challenging deprivation of ‘Right to life’ of farmers, specifically from the Amaravati region, who had given their lands to the N. Chandrababu Naidu government under the land pooling scheme in the hope of a ‘world-class’ capital city as promised by the previous CM.
 
A significant majority of the petitions are from various farmer groups in Amaravati, which also challenge the repeal of CRDA Act, under which the farmers were promised to be made stakeholders in the capital The petitions pointed out that the Naidu government had pooled 33,000 acres of land from farmers in 29 villages of Amaravati to develop a ‘city-like’ capital in an otherwise rural area full of lush green fields.
 
For over a year now, more than 10,000 farmers have been protesting in Amaravati against what they call an “injustice” by the Jagan regime. Rao’s petitions also highlight how the farmers were promised a “reconstituted liveable plot” in a hustling city following the capital development.
 
“The Jagan government argues Amaravati is still one of the capitals and farmers who’ve given land will be given a reconstituted plot in similar locations. But, when you shift judicial activity and executive activity out of a place, how can the remaining be compared to the previously pitched smart city? And if you give farmers plots in such an area, how will that suffice or compensate to the promises made earlier?” Rao said.
 
The court, which heard the petitions on a daily basis from October, had put a stay on any movement regarding the capital change, barring the Jagan government from proceeding further. Senior analyst Suresh Alapati pointed out the legal wrangles will be a major hurdle for the Jagan government which they may not sail through easily. 
 
“The farmers’ petitions have a strong case here… the move will adversely impact them. What the Jagan government is doing counts as a ‘breach of trust’ because the farmers had a statutory agreement with the previous government under CRDA Act. I think it will be upheld by the court,” Alapati said.
 
Legislative tussle 
 
In January last year, the YSRCP-dominated legislative assembly passed two bills — first, to repeal the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) Act, 2014, and second, the AP Decentralisation and Inclusive Development of All Regions Bill, 2020. The bills were meant to give the state three capitals — executive capital Visakhapatnam, legislative in Amaravati and judicial in Kurnool.
 
The bills, which got stuck in the legislative council, where Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party held the upper hand, were passed twice in the AP assembly between January and June. Days after the Jagan government failed to get the bills cleared in the council, the assembly passed a statutory resolution seeking to abolish the state legislative council.
 
The second category of petitions said the government failed to follow the procedure contemplated under the constitution and rules and procedure for conduct of business in Andhra Pradesh legislative assembly and legislative council in getting the impugned bills passed.
 
According to one of these petitions represented by advocate Jandhyala Ravi Shankar, when the bills were cleared in the assembly for the second time, they were neither tabled nor laid before the House under specified rules. The government also didn’t move any motion to take the bills into consideration of the House under the council rules.
 
Calling the resolution to abolish the council a “fraud on the Constitution”, Shankar said the bills were listed under the agenda of the council but were never introduced or discussed. So, the condition prescribed under Article 197(2)(b), where the bills are passed if more than one month elapses from the date on which the bill laid before council, does not apply here.
 
The same batch of petitions also raised objections to how the government sent the bills to the Governor without the signature of the council chairman — a violation of the rules.
 
Judiciary capital?
 
The third batch of petitions challenge the state’s legislative competence to shift the judiciary capital. “The state does not have the power to shift the location of a judiciary body like a high court. It is the Parliament which will decide that, according to the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. The state had conceded that and said they do not have the power,” Shankar said.
 
Public money’s blatant misuse
 
The fourth batch of petitions question the state’s authority to “reverse existing policies or law and promulgate new policies”, citing government order number 97, in which Amaravati was declared as state capital by the previous government. The petitions cited Article 366(10) of the constitution, which defines ‘existing laws’ as a category.
 
A batch of petitions was for the misuse of public money in constructing a new capital. According to Rao, about Rs. 54,300 crore worth of work is already under progress in Amaravati and 70 per cent of works related to roads, cables, electricity have been completed.
 
However, the ruling party leaders deny any development in Amaravati, saying that not even 30 per cent of work is complete in the existing capital. “There’s hardly any work done in Amaravati and it would take Rs 1 lakh crore to develop a capital in that area. Meanwhile, Visakhapatnam already has a developed infrastructure and the cost would be way less than setting up a capital in that area,” YSRCP MLA Srikanth Reddy, said.
 
“Whatever be the decision of the court, we will respect it but we are also confident that Jagan’s idea of a three capital will start materialising by 2022,” Reddy added.
 
The battle with judiciary
 
These developments come amid the ongoing face-off between the Jagan government and state judiciary after the former alleged that certain judges in the high court have been trying to destabilise his government. Former Andhra Pradesh High Court Judge Rakesh Kumar’s comments last month on how the HC and the Supreme Court were “under attack by the persons in power” in the state further escalated the rift.
 
The judge also said that the transfer of the CJ would delay the three capital proceedings, giving Jagan an undue benefit.

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