The Chief Justice of India (CJI) recently recused himself from hearing appeals filed by the government of Andhra Pradesh (AP) against an AP High Court decision that invalidated the state’s “three-capital” system. As a senior advocate, the CJI made this decision because he was previously involved in a thorough legal opinion to the state government on the Andhra Pradesh (AP) Reorganisation Bill.
GS Paper 2: Federalism, Indian Constitution, State Legislature, Judiciary
Discuss the concept of having multiple state capitals. Explain how it might affect the governance of a state in the country. Provide an appropriate example. (250 words)
Andhra Pradesh’s capital/s issues:
- As a result of the protracted Telangana movement, the Indian Parliament passed the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014, dividing Andhra Pradesh into Telangana and residuary Andhra Pradesh.
- The Act defined the boundaries of the two states, specified how assets and liabilities would be shared, and designated Hyderabad as the permanent capital of the new Telangana state and the interim capital of Andhra Pradesh (for ten years).
Capital of Amravati:
- The process of determining the residuary AP’s capital city began a few months before the combined state was divided.
- The central government formed a committee to recommend a location for AP’s capital, chaired by former home secretary K Sivaramakrishnan.
- While the committee did not recommend a specific location for the capital, it was opposed to the idea of establishing a Super or Smart City similar to Hyderabad.
- It also stated that locating the capital between Vijayawada and Guntur is incorrect due to economic and environmental issues.
- It also proposed dividing the capital city into three zones, rather than consolidating all offices in one location.
- It did, however, recommend locating the assembly, secretariat, and chief minister’s office in the state capital city.
- However, the newly formed (TDP) government relocated its capital from Hyderabad to Amaravati well ahead of the 10-year deadline, completely ignoring the Sivaramakrishnan Committee’s recommendations.
- Amaravati is an ancient Satavahana dynasty city located on the banks of the Krishna River that later transformed into a well-known Buddhist centre a few kilometres away from the proposed capital city.
- To develop the capital city, the state government established the AP Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA) through legislation.
- APCRDA began acquiring 33,000 acres of fertile land from farmers through land pooling by holding gramme sabhas to obtain their permission.
- Farmers were promised residential and commercial plots in the developed capital region with values equal to the value of their original land.
The change of government and the three AP capitals:
- The state’s new government proposed three capital cities: Visakhapatnam as the executive capital, Kurnool as the judicial capital, and Amaravati as the legislative capital.
- The goal is to decentralise administration in the hope that it will spur development in the north coastal districts, which stretch from West Godavari to Nellore and backward Rayalaseema.
- The announcement of the decision in the assembly sparked massive protests from Amaravati farmers who had given up their lands for the capital.
- Later, the state legislature introduced two separate bills (which became Acts) –
- The Andhra Pradesh Decentralisation and Inclusive Development of All Regions Bill, 2020, which proposes the establishment of three capital cities.
- The Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (Repeal) Bill, 2020, proposed the abolition of the APCRDA.
- Amaravati farmers who formed a joint action committee filed a petition with the High Court challenging the two Acts.
Three capitals are involved in a legal battle:
- During the hearing in the HC, the state government abruptly announced the withdrawal of the two bills.
- This is because the legislation on the three capitals may be overturned by the HC due to a few loopholes. As an example,
- The land pooling agreement between the APCRDA and the farmers is foolproof and cannot be cancelled unilaterally by the government.
- Second, with the consent of the Supreme Court, the HC was established in Amaravati by Presidential order. The state government cannot relocate the judicial capital to Kurnool without the approval of the Supreme Court.
- The HC quashed the Acts on several grounds, including legislative competence (on March 22, 2022).
- The state government appealed the HC decision to the Supreme Court.