Two years after Telangana was carved from Andhra Pradesh, the bifurcation has thrown the state judiciary in turmoil with lawyers and judges protesting the provisional allocation of judicial officers between the two states.
The protest is being spearheaded by the Telangana Judges’ Association, who played a significant role in the demand for a separate state between 2009 and 2013.
What initially started as a silent agitation through court petitions has mushroomed into a mass protest, with lawyers boycotting the Hyderabad high court. On June 29, more than 200 judges from Telangana went on a mass indefinite leave.
Angered over the developments, the court suspended two senior judges, K Ravinder Reddy and V Varaprasad, the president and secretary of the Telangana Judges’ Association. As the protests intensified, nine more judges were suspended for misconduct.
A memorandum was submitted to governor ESL Narasimhan seeking his intervention in the matter.
What is the issue?
Following the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh (AP) and Telangana in 2014, employees from all wings – executive, legislature and judiciary – had to be divided between the two states. The division of judges and judicial staff was taken up by the full bench of the Hyderabad high court which, as per the AP Reorganisation Act, 2014, will remain common for both the states till AP creates infrastructure to set up its own high court.
On May 3, 2016, the court released the provisional list of judges being allotted to AP and Telangana, resulting in protests from Telangana judges who contended that the court deviated from the guidelines of the AP Reorganisation Act.
According to Telangana Advocates’ joint action committee convenor, A Sriranga Rao, the high court is dominated by Andhra judges. Out of 21 judges in the court, 18 are from Andhra and only three are from Telangana. “This regional imbalance in the high court was reflected in the allotment of subordinate court judges between the two states, as it went by the options given by them,” he said.
Of the total 827 subordinate judges in the combined state of AP, 497 were allotted to Andhra and 335 to Telangana. However, of those allotted to Telangana, 143 judges were from AP. Apparently, the high court made its decision based on the options given by the judges for allotting them.
What are the demands?
Telangana judges describe the provisional allotment as arbitrary, as Andhra judges opted for posting in Telangana despite vacancies in their state. Going by the AP Reorganisation Act, this would mean the vacancies in AP will be filled with Andhra judicial officers, while Telangana judges lose out in their state.
Thus Telangana judges have called for a fresh allotment list through an independent judicial advisory committee. They also want the system of seeking options from judges be done away with.
The protesters also want the Centre take steps to divide the high court at the earliest to avoid a regional imbalance. Telangana judicial officers have categorically said that they do not want to work under “Andhra judicial rulers”.
What is the Andhra side of the argument?
Though they have not openly voiced their views, Andhra judicial officers feel attributing a regional bias to the judiciary was not a healthy sign. “We have to work wherever we are posted and we never deliver judgements based on the regional status of the parties,” some said.
According to AP Lawyers’ Joint Action Committee convenor, Narisetti Srihari, the judicial officers from Andhra have every right to opt for posting in Hyderabad as it is common capital for the two states for a period of 10 years under the AP Reorganisation Act. The high court too is common for the same period, he argued.
Further, they condemned the attack on an Andhra judge in a Warangal court by Telangana advocates during one of the protests.
What did the Telangana government say?
The Telangana government has supported the protest with chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao saying he would take up dharna at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi if necessary. Rao has also written a letter to Union home minister Rajnath Singh pointing out the regional imbalance in the high court and alleged flaws in the allotment procedure.
While demanding that the court be divided immediately, the Telangana government said the Andhra high court could continue to operate from Hyderabad till a new building was set up at the new capital of Amaravati. The Telangana government also offered to provide an alternate building to host the AP high court in Hyderabad.
What was the AP government’s response?
Chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu’s government said it was not against the division of the high court, but would only be able to shift its court proceedings to a new building once Amaravati was ready with the required infrastructure. “We are ready to allot land for the construction of high court building and the residential quarters for judges. But it is the responsibility of the Centre to provide all the necessary infrastructure for the court,” Union minister YS Chowdary said.
How has the Centre responded?
The Central government threw the ball back into the Andhra Pradesh court with Union law minister Sadanand Gowda saying it was up to the Andhra government to decide on when to make the move.
“We are ready to provide all the necessary infrastructure for the AP high court, but the AP government has to provide the land and buildings for the same,” he said.