The Jagan Mohan Reddy government in Andhra Pradesh, caught in a political storm over its plans to shift the capital from Amaravati to Visakhapatnam, has suffered a legal setback over the issue.
The Supreme Court has refused to grant a stay on the AP High Court order for maintaining status quo on Amaravati.
A day after the apex court set aside a special leave petition filed by the state government, the High Court on Thursday (August 27) extended the status quo on retaining Amaravati as the state capital till September 21.
This will slam the brakes on the YSR Congress government’s ambitious plans to shift the executive capital to Visakhapatnam at the earliest and showcase the coastal Andhra city as a potential investment destination.
The legal setbacks come as a morale boost for the opposition parties — the TDP, the Congress and the Left — who have thrown their weight behind the agitating farmers of the Amaravati region in coastal Andhra, demanding that Amaravati be retained as the sole capital of the state.
“The government has been bulldozing its way to implementing its three-capital plan. It has been particularly insensitive in handling the farmers’ protests,” political analyst Ramesh Kandula said.
More than 55 public interest litigation petitions have been filed in the High Court challenging the laws pertaining to the creation of three capitals — Visakhapatnam as the executive capital, Amaravati as legislative capital, and Kurnool as judicial capital — and seeking the abolition of the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) which was constituted during the previous TDP regime.
This is the third time that the High Court has stalled the plan of the state government on the three capitals. The status quo was first ordered on August 4 till August 14, which was later extended till August 27. Now, it has been further extended till September 21.
About 15 senior advocates, mostly from Delhi, have been appearing for the nearly 70 petitioners challenging the Jagan government’s decision to create three capitals and to abolish the CRDA.
The High Court said the government could file its counter on the objections raised by the petitioners before September 11 and the petitioners could present their version by September 17.
The division bench said it would like to hear the petitions in person, rather than in virtual mode, if it was convinced about the safety in view of the COVID-19 pandemic situation. “We shall take a call on holding the court physically or virtually a week before the next hearing on September 21,” the HC said.
The Supreme Court also rejected the plea of the state government to direct the high court to expedite the hearing. “We cannot fix a deadline to the High Court to complete the hearing. But we hope it will settle the issue at the earliest,” the bench said.
Senior counsel Fali S Nariman, arguing for the farmers of Amaravati, said the High Court was formed in Amaravati as per a presidential order. As such, the state government cannot decide the judicial capital as Kurnool, he said.
Meanwhile, the farmers of Amaravati filed a separate petition in the High Court questioning the delay in annuity for their lands surrendered to the state government for construction of capital in 2015.
According to the agreement signed with the CRDA in 2015, each farmer has to be paid a yearly amount of Rs. 30,000 per acre for drylands to Rs.50,000 per acre for wetlands for a period of 10 years. Besides, landless poor who were working as agriculture labourer in the surrendered lands have to be paid Rs. 2,500 per month.
“The amount has to be paid in June. Though the government has issued orders last month itself, the money has not been paid till now,” Idupulapati Seetharamaiah, a farmer, told the court.
Caught in the crossfire
Over 24,000 farmers across 29 villages in the region, who had given 33,000 acres of land under the land pooling scheme for developing the new capital, are now caught in the political crossfire.
Soon after storming to power in the 2019 elections, the YSR Congress had announced the shelving of Amaravati, a dream project of former Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu. Instead, it opted for trifurcation model on the ground that it would lead to the removal of regional imbalances and ensure all-round development.
However, the farmers’ protests have intensified ever since Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan gave his assent to the Andhra Pradesh Decentralisation and Inclusive Development of All Regions Bill 2020 on July 31.
“We are hopeful of clearing the legal hurdle as well. This is a temporary setback,” said municipal administration and urban development minister B. Satyanarayana.
With the shifting of the offices of the Chief Minister, Governor, ministers and secretaries to the coastal city of Visakhapatnam, it will become the seat of power.