With Amaravati in limbo, row erupts over location of Andhra high court

Andhra Pradesh High Court, Jagan Mohan Reddy
The legal fraternity from the coastal region wants the high court to continue functioning from Amaravati (File Photo)

With ‘Brand Amaravati’ lying in tatters following conflicting signals from the Jagan Mohan Reddy government over the future of the dream capital project, a fresh row has now broken out over the location of Andhra Pradesh high court.

In the absence of clarity on what the government plans to do with the ambitious project, conceived by the previous Telugu Desam Party (TDP) regime, the state is now witnessing a competitive agitation over the choice of location of the high court.

The lawyers of the backward Rayalaseema region have been on a warpath, demanding that the court be located in Kurnool, which had once served as the capital of the state from 1953 to 1956, before the formation of Andhra Pradesh, the country’s first linguistic state, by merging the Telugu-speaking regions of the erstwhile Hyderabad state.

Also read | Minister hints at discarding Amaravati project over ‘unsafe location’

However, the legal fraternity from the coastal region is against the proposal and wants the high court to continue functioning from Amaravati.

In a counter move, lawyers in Guntur have been staging demonstrations and boycotting duties for the past one week, opposing the plan to shift the court.

The Guntur Bar Association has called for the boycott of duties till October 11. A meeting will be held with various bar associations from Krishna, Prakasam, East Godavari and West Godavari districts at Eluru on October 12 to chalk out the future course of action.

“The plan to shift the high court is not acceptable to us and we will intensify our agitation against it,” J Lenin Babu, secretary, Mangalagiri Bar Association, told The Federal.

An ill-conceived idea

Guntur Bar Association president Ch. Narendra Babu said that the shifting of High Court was an ill-conceived idea as the existing court building was constructed at a cost of nearly ₹200 crore and the judges, judicial officers and thousands of advocates were just settling in the Vijayawada-Guntur region.

As against the sanctioned 37 posts of judges, there are only 13, including the Acting Chief Justice C Praveen Kumar. The workload is tremendous on the existing staff, he said.

The All India Lawyers’ Union State secretary N Srinivasa Rao said that any proposal to shift the high court needs clearance from the central government and the Supreme Court. “It is possible that the government may sanction a separate bench for Rayalaseema region while retaining the principal seat of High Court in Amaravati,” he said.

Also read | What next for Amaravati, the dream Andhra capital?

Rayalaseema region comprises of Kadapa, Kurnool, Anantapur and Chittoor districts. The perennially drought-prone region is under-developed as compared to other parts of the state. For the last three years, the lawyer community from this region has been raising the demand to set up the high court in Kurnool.

In 2018, the presidents and secretaries of Bar Associations of the region had met in Kadapa and passed a resolution to constitute the ‘Rayalaseema High Court Sadhana Samithi’. In a recent letter to Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy, the lawyers had made a strong case for locating the high court in Kurnool.

“The establishment of high court at one place and the location of capital at another place is not new or first of its kind. The establishment of a high court in Rayalaseema region will be a pragmatic step for the equitable development of both regions,” the letter said.

Minister’s comments trigger speculation

State Finance Minister B Rajendranath Reddy’s remark that the government was open to ‘decentralisation’ of the institutions has triggered speculation over the possible shift of the high court. However, he has clarified that no final decision has been taken on this matter.

The YSRCP lawmaker’s repeated statements over the alleged corruption by the TDP leaders in contracts related to Amaravati project have also spread confusion over the future of the dream project of former Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu.

Several senior ministers have been talking about ‘scaling down’ the scope of the project and promoting other ‘cluster of hubs’ at various locations for ‘equitable development’ of the state.

Also read | Naidu proposes, Jagan disposes: How Amaravati landed in hot water

Moreover, barring government complexes, works related to Amaravati’s development have virtually come to a halt. The real estate prices in the city had tanked after the new government’s disinterest in developing the capital became all too evident.

The ‘Brand Amaravati’ that was built assiduously by the previous government now lies in tatters. It is widely believed that the YSRCP government is interested in Amaravati being retained as the “functional capital” with administrative headquarters, while developing a cluster of hubs across the state — north coastal, south coastal and Rayalaseema regions.

‘Don’t want to repeat Hyderabad model’

“The idea is to go for decentralised development across all regions instead of concentrating all the resources on one city. We don’t want to repeat the Hyderabad model where over six decades of over-emphasis on the capital city has resulted in the neglect of other Telangana towns,” said official sources.

A cluster of hubs like agriculture and agro-processing, automobile, ports, manufacturing, transport and minerals would be developed, drawing from the natural strengths of each region, sources said.

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“In this way, we will ensure equitable development. Otherwise, the backward Rayalaseema and north coastal regions will remain backward. What the previous regime did in the name of Amaravati was nothing but a real estate scam to benefit the cronies of TDP leaders,” added the sources.

However, critics have pointed out that the possibility of creating a revenue-generating asset and forging a city with a historical and emotional connect for the born-again state will be permanently lost if the ‘Amaravati brand’ is diluted.

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