Hyderabad: Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy’s plan to shift the capital out of Amaravati appears to be running into rough weather. Though his government got the decentralization bill, and the CRDA Repeal Bill that paves the path for shifting the seat of power to Visakhapatnam passed in the Assembly, where YSRCP has got an absolute majority, they were, as expected, stalled in the Legislative Council.
The chairman of the Council, using the discretionary powers, has referred all the bills related to the capital to a select committee. The process is expected to take more than three or four months, a setback to the government which is in a tearing hurry to relocate the capital before Ugadi.
Now, the capital plan is facing another hurdle in the form of writ petitions in Andhra Pradesh High Court. About 40 farmers have opposed the move to shift the capital to Vizag and scrapping of the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) by challenging the constitutional validity of the said bills. Supreme Court senior counsel Ashok Bhan is representing the farmers, while the state government has hired the services of the former attorney general and senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi.
A bench comprising Chief Justice JK Maheswari and justice V Sesha Sai is hearing the petitions. The bench made an interesting comment on the right of the farmers to challenge the government’s decision on the capital, even after the passage of the bill in the Assembly. The Chief Justice clarified that the right to challenge the decision was available for farmers irrespective of its introduction in the Assembly. About the judicial review of the bills, he said the bills are still under the consideration of the Council.
The petitions have raised two questions to challenge the government’s move on the grounds of decentralisation of the capital for the equitable development of all regions in the state. The issues raised by the petitioners are the rights of farmers as the stakeholders in the Amaravati capital development, and the manner with which the CM is going ahead to get the bills passed in the Assembly and the Council.
Pointing to the “autocratic” style of functioning of the chief minister, Bhan said the CM and his cabinet colleagues were acting like “bulls in the China shop”. He also said the bills were camouflaged like money bills. The advocate general of AP clarified that they were not money bills.
Talking about farmers’ interests, Bhan said the shifting of the capital will not only affect those who offered their land for the construction of Amaravati but also have a far-reaching impact on society at large. He brought to the notice of the HC how the farmers had volunteered to offer their land without expecting any compensation in return but with legitimate expectations in the future.
Invoking the doctrine of legitimate expectations, Bhan reminded the HC how the Supreme Court had on earlier occasions upheld the doctrine. Bhan also said that the CM had been undermining institutions like the High Court.
Arguing that the decision on the seat of the high court of a state is the exclusive domain of the President of India, Bhan said the bulldozing of institutions goes against the spirit of the Constitution. “Nowhere in the country have the shifting of the capitals been done this manner. Any law that the government makes has to be in the interest of people. Acts like this cannot be made as we are not in the banana republic,” he said, adding that “the government had already issued an unofficial order to relocate the offices to Visakhapatnam, the proposed executive capital of Andhra Pradesh”.
The bench assured the petitioners’ counsel that the court would consider all the points raised by him before taking a view on the subject.