AP govt, HC embroiled in battle of wills over capital Amaravati

The showdown was seen after the High Court not only directed the state government to retain Amaravati as the overall capital but ruled that the state government did not have the legislative competence to change the capital of the state.

Amaravati: Andhra Pradesh recently witnessed an unprecedented situation when the legislature attacked a High Court order which questioned legislative competence and asked the judiciary to respect other constitutional institutions, namely, the legislature and the executive.

The Legislative Assembly observed that the judiciary crossed its limits on the three capitals issue and vowed to safeguard its sovereign authority against any transgression by other organs.

The showdown was seen after the High Court not only directed the state government to retain Amaravati as the overall capital but ruled that the state government did not have the legislative competence to change the capital of the state.

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There was a marathon debate in the Assembly with the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) government maintaining that the legislature has the power to make legislation on state capital.

Led by Chief Minister Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, the ruling party sent a clear message from the Assembly that the legislature is equally supreme and independent like the judiciary.

The chief minister felt that the judiciary crossed its limits by making a statement that the state legislature had no right or was not competent to make laws on the capital issue.

The debate in the Assembly was taken up a few days after the High Court directed the state government to construct and develop Amaravati capital city and region within six months.

In its March 3 verdict, the High Court also ruled that it was the Centre, and not the state, which had the competence to decide the site of the state capital.

The court’s order came on a batch of petitions filed by Amaravati farmers, opposition parties and others challenging the state government’s proposal to have three state capitals. The government has proposed Visakhapatnam as executive capital, Kurnool as judicial capital and Amaravati as legislative capital.

The proposal was mooted through the Andhra Pradesh Decentralisation and Inclusive Development of All Regions Act, 2020 and the Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Repeal Act, 2020. Even as the petitions challenging the legislation were being heard by the High Court, the government withdrew the legislation for further discussion on trifurcation.

Though the government requested the High Court to dispose off the case as infructuous, the court continued the hearing and pronounced the judgment.

This triggered a debate and the ruling party members insisted that the legislature debate on its powers to make law on state capital.

Even before approaching the Supreme Court to challenge the High Court order, the Assembly discussed the issue.

The Jagan Mohan Reddy-led government argued that the High Court had taken over and encroached upon the executive functions of the government by issuing a ‘continuous mandamus’ to the state to complete the process of development of the capital in a particular region and further directed the state to refrain from distributing capital functions across other regions in the state.

During the debate in the Assembly, Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy, Speaker T. Seetaram, Legislative Affairs Minister Buggana Rajendranath and several other members attacked the High Court over the March 3 verdict.

Though the short discussion was on “decentralisation of governance,” the Assembly had a marathon debate on legislative competence.

The High Court verdict, delivered by a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra, was “like questioning not only the Constitution but also the powers of the legislature.” It was against the federal spirit and the legislative powers, the chief minister observed.

“Will the judiciary make laws? The legislature will then have no meaning. The judiciary has crossed its limits, which is unwarranted and uncalled for,” he said.

“Decision on capitals is our right and responsibility while policy making is the domain of legislature,” Jagan Mohan Reddy said.

He stated that the courts cannot pre-empt or direct not to make a policy with presumptions and lay down impossible conditions setting timelines which cannot be met.

“The recent verdict of Andhra Pradesh High Court appears to be a trespass into the legislative terrain though our Constitution has laid down the frame work of the three pillars of executive, legislature and judiciary. We felt that the limits were crossed and hence, had taken up the discussion in the House,” Reddy stated.

The chief minister told the Assembly that the central government had on several occasions categorically stated that the decision on the capital was vested with the state government.

He read out from the affidavit filed by the Centre which made it clear that the decision on the capital is vested with the state government and the central government has no role in it.

The Supreme Court, which earlier this week stayed the High Court order, said that courts can’t act as a town planner. A bench of Justices K M Joseph and B V Nagarathna asked how the court could bind a sovereign state that it has to develop a particular area.

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