The Chief Justice of India (CJI) recently recused himself from hearing appeals filed by the Andhra Pradesh (AP) government against an AP High Court judgement quashing its ‘3-capital‘ system. The CJI made this decision as he was earlier involved in a thorough legal opinion to the state government on the Andhra Pradesh (AP) Reorganisation Bill as a senior advocate.

 

Background

  • As a result of the prolonged Telangana movement, the Parliament of India passed the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014, which divided the state of Andhra Pradesh into Telangana and the residuary Andhra Pradesh.
  • The Act established the boundaries of the two states, stated how assets and liabilities would be shared and established Hyderabad as the permanent capital of the new Telangana state and the interim capital (for 10 years) of the Andhra Pradesh

 

Amravati as the capital

  • The process of determining the capital city for the residuary AP began a few months before the combined state was divided.
  • The central government formed a committee, chaired by former home secretary K Sivaramakrishnan, to recommend a place for AP’s capital.
      • Though the committee did not recommend a specific location for the capital, it was opposed to the idea of establishing a Super or Smart City along the lines of Hyderabad.
      • It also stated that locating the capital between Vijayawada and Guntur is incorrect because it would cause economic and environmental problems.
      • It also proposed a decentralised approach for the capital city, divided into three zones, rather than consolidating all offices in one location.
      • It did, however, recommend that the assembly, secretariat, and chief minister’s office be established in the state capital city.
  • However, the newly-formed (TDP) government relocated its capital from Hyderabad to Amaravati, well ahead of the 10-year timeframe, completely ignoring the recommendations of the Sivaramakrishnan Committee.
      • Amaravati is an ancient city of Satavahana dynasty, located on the banks of the Krishna River which later transformed into a famed Buddhist centre, located a few kilometres from the proposed capital city.
  • The state government established AP Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA) through legislation to develop the capital city.
      • APCRDA began acquiring 33,000 acres of fertile land from the farmers under land pooling by conducting gram sabhas to take their consent.
      • Farmers were promised residential and commercial plots in the developed capital region whose value would match their original land value.

 

Change of capitals

  • The new government of the state came up with the idea of 3 capital cities – executive capital at Visakhapatnam, judicial capital at Kurnool and legislative capital at Amaravati.
      • This is to decentralise administration with the solid belief that it will boost development of the north coastal districts, the coastline length from West Godavari to Nellore and backward Rayalaseema.
  • The announcement of the decision in the assembly triggered massive protests from farmers of Amaravati, who gave away their lands for the capital.
  • Later, the state government introduced the 2 separate bills (which then became Acts) —
      • The Andhra Pradesh Decentralisation and Inclusive Development of All Regions Bill, 2020, seeking to establish three capital cities.
      • The Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (Repeal) Bill, 2020, aimed at doing away with the APCRDA.
  • The farmers of Amaravati who formed into a joint action committee moved the HC challenging the two Acts.

 

Three capitals in legal battle

  • Even as the hearing in the HC was going on, the state government suddenly announced withdrawal of the two legislations.
  • This is because the legislations on the 3 capitals might be dismissed by the HC as there were a few loopholes. For example,
    • The agreement between the APCRDA and the farmers on land pooling is fool-proof and it cannot be cancelled unilaterally by the government.
    • Secondly, the HC was established at Amaravati with a Presidential order after taking consent from the Supreme Court. The state government cannot shift the judicial capital to Kurnool without the Supreme Court’s approval.
  • The HC (on March 22, 2022) quashed the Acts on several grounds, including legislative competence.
  • The state government moved to SC against the HC verdict.