Constitutional showdown unfurls in Andhra over three-capitals bill

TDP has warned the government against using the legislature secretary’s shoulders to fire at the constitutional authority

Andhra Pradesh, TDP, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, YSRCP, three capitals, Legislative Council
The Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy and his party colleagues attacked the council for obstructing the bills passed by the assembly. File Photo: PTI

Can a secretary of state legislature defy the directions of the legislative council chairman?

In an unusual confrontation, the legislature secretary of Andhra Pradesh Assembly refused to implement the order issued by the council chairman, a TDP functionary on the constitution of a committee to study the bills pertaining to formation of three capital cities.

The controversy has acquired political overtones with the YSR Congress government accusing the opposition of blocking the key bills, taking advantage of its majority in the upper house.

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The decision of the TDP-dominated Council to refer the bills on decentralisation of the capital to a select committee is being seen by the government as obstructionist tactic.

The TDP, on the other hand, has alleged that the legislature secretary P Balakrishnamacharyulu was under pressure from the government to defy the order of the Council chairman Mohd Ahmed Shariff on constitution of the select committee.

Legal tangle

The situation appears heading towards a crisis as the TDP has warned the government against using the legislature secretary’s shoulders to fire at the constitutional authority. The opposition party has vowed to take up the matter with the President of India and also seek judicial intervention to protect the rights of the council chairman.

The chairman has sent back the file pertaining to the constitution of select committees to the legislature secretary, with a strong note that his orders on the issuance of bulletin forming the select committees be complied with within 48 hours, failing which action would be initiated against the official.

The council chairman was angry with the secretary returning the file to him twice and refusing to constitute the select committees on the ground that the chairman’s decision was against the laid down procedure since no motion was moved in the council and opinions of the members were not taken as per the procedure before referring the twin bills to select committee.

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Shariff shot back saying the legislature secretary had no right to defy his order to constitute the select committees as it was done using his discretionary powers under Rule 154 of the legislature.

He ruled that there was no possibility of voting on the select committees, given the situation prevailing in the House when the matter was taken up.

“The decision of the council chairman is final. A legislature secretary cannot defy or question,” constitutional expert and former Central Information Commissioner (CIC) Prof M Sridhar Acharyulu told The federal.

Pointing out that the constitution of select committee was part of a healthy democratic tradition and was entirely the prerogative of the house chairman, he said that the legislature secretary has no authority to raise any questions of procedural nature nor can he act in defiance of the chairman’s ruling.

“Politics should not be brought into this matter,” Prof Acharyulu said.

Mounting pressure

It is clear that Balakrishnamacharyulu has taken into consideration the objections raised by the ruling party over the way the chairman referred the bills to the select committee in the name of discretionary powers.

“The formation of the select committee doesn’t fit into the norms under section 154 of the business rules of the legislature as no motion was moved in the council and no opinion of the members was taken as per the procedure,” the secretary wrote in the file while sending it back to the chairman.

This is an unprecedented situation in the history of the state legislature, wherein the legislature secretary openly defied the orders of the council chairman. It is a virtual showdown between the legislature and the executive.

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The assembly had already cleared the two bills — AP Decentralisation and Inclusive Development of All Regions Bill, 2020 and the AP Capital Region Development Authority (Repeal) Bill.

They are essentially meant for the creation of three capital cities—Visakhapatnam as executive capital, Amaravati as legislative capital and Kurnool as the judicial capital.

But, the bills were blocked by the 58-member legislative council where the TDP has the majority. They were referred to the select committee, a move seen by the government as an obstructionist tactic.

However, as per the rules, even if the council rejects any bill, the assembly can consider it as deemed to have been passed and send it the Governor’s assent.

“Even if the council chairman forms the select committee at this stage, they are not valid,” the Deputy Chief Minister P Subhash Chandra Bose said.

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Countering the argument, the leader of the opposition in the council and former Finance Minister Y Ramakrishnudu said that the mandatory 14-day period for referring the bills to a select committee applied only to the money bills.

“Since the proposed twin bills are not money bills, the select committee can still be constituted even without the YSRCP members,” he said.

Ramakrishnudu, who had also served as the assembly speaker in the combined Andhra Pradesh, warned that the legislature secretary could face contempt charges if he continued to defy the chairman.

Meanwhile, the TDP has decided to send a delegation of the MLCs members to Delhi soon to prevail upon the Centre not to give its nod to the state government’s recommendation to abolish the legislative council.

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The state assembly had last month passed a resolution, recommending abolition of the upper house.

“We will seek the appointment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, and explain how the YSRCP government’s decisions are driven by political vengeance,” the TDP MLC Ashok Babu said.

Political battleground

The upper house has become a battleground to settle political scores. The Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy and his party colleagues attacked the council for obstructing the bills passed by the assembly.

Shifting of the capital from Amaravati to Visakhapatnam has become a prestige issue for Jagan who appears to be keen on erasing the political legacy of his bete noir and former Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu. Amaravati is the brainchild of Naidu who conceived it as ultramodern Greenfield capital.

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Even as the council abolition issue is before the Centre, the chairman has called for names from different parties to constitute the select committee and asked Finance Minister Rajendranath Reddy to head it as per the convention. The minister, however, refused to follow the directive while the ruling party also declined to join the panel on the ground that the fate of the council hangs in balance.