Year 2020: Andhra witnesses confrontation between Executive and Judiciary
Andhra Pradesh had many tales to tell of the year 2020 that just slipped into history, but the tussle between the different organs of the Constitution seemed the most unpleasant of all.
A rare confrontation between the Judiciary and the Executive in particular reached a crescendo when, towards the end of the year, Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy shot off a letter to Chief Justice of India SA Bobde against a Supreme Court judge, AP High Court Chief Justice JK Maheshwari (since transferred) and several judges of the HC.
The year started with the people’s agitation for a capital city for the state. The local bodies election fever then gripped Andhra Pradesh, but it abruptly abated.
The spread of coronavirus turned everything turtle, a calamity not unique to the state.
The styrene vapour leak in Visakhapatnam was a major tragedy that hit the state as it claimed 12 lives.
And, the court litigation over the state government’s many moves seemed never ending.
The year 2020 will be remembered more for the seeming humiliation suffered by the state government in the High Court and also the Supreme Court and the tussle it caused between the Executive and the Judiciary.
The courts annulling many decisions of Reddy’s administration like painting government buildings in the YSR Congress party colours, converting school education into English medium, shifting of Vigilance Commission offices to Kurnool, besides striking down the abrupt removal of the State Election Commissioner, seemed to have left the CM embarrassed.
Incidentally, at the fag end of the year, a HC bench, while hearing a case,referred to the transfer of Chief Justice Maheshwari by the Supreme Court Collegium and said this could give an undue benefit to the Andhra Pradesh government.
The bench had said whether by the act of sending an “unceremonious” letter to the Supreme Court chief justice, the CM will get final relief or not, the “fact remains that he succeeded in getting undue advantage at the present moment.” Towards the end of 2019, Reddy had suggested that the state have three different capitals and in January 2020 tried to enact a law to give effect to his plan.
This faltered at the very first step as the Legislative Council stalled the legislation and, despite a brute majority in the Assembly, the ruling party could only remain helpless.
The YSRC subsequently passed a resolution in the Assembly, seeking abolition of the Council.
Close to 30,000 farmers and their families, who had given up over 33,000 acres of their fertile land for building the state capital city Amaravati, took to the streets opposing the government’s decision to trifurcate the capital.
People across the state expressed solidarity with the Amaravati farmers while all opposition parties rallied behind them in opposing the three capitals move.
This also led to litigation in the High Court, which stayed the government’s move.
Elections to local bodies became another contentious issue and caused a direct confrontation between the CM and the State Election Commissioner, a constitutional authority, after the latter put off the poll process when coronavirus started spreading and the nation went into a lockdown.
The government sacked SEC Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar through an ordinance in what it termed “a part of the reform process,” but courts struck it down and restored him to the post.
Hostilities between the SEC and the government continued, with the long overdue elections to the local bodies becoming the casualty, a court order notwithstanding.
AP was one of the top-ranking states in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases (8.72 lakh) and deaths (7111), but the good thing to emerge out of the crisis was the ramping up of the state healthcare infrastructure, be it the testing labs, or hospital beds, critical care equipment and the like.
From zero, 150 labs were set up to test Covid-19 cases while thousands of beds with oxygen supply and ventilator facility were added, right down to Primary Health Centres in villages, rendering critical service during the pandemic.
The May 12 styrene vapour leak in the LG Polymers unit at Visakhapatnam left 12 people dead and over 500 sick and shook up the entire government machinery, forcing a relook into facilities in all hazardous industrial units handling chemicals.
Port city Visakhapatnam, which the state government sought to make the Executive Capital of the state, also saw another major industrial accident in the Hindustan Shipyard Limited when a crane crash claimed 11 lives in August.
Natural calamities, including the extremely severe cyclone Nivar and at least three floods in rivers Godavari and Krishna left the farmers in complete despair.
It was a triple whammy as Kharif and Rabi crops in lakhs of hectares were damaged in successive months from August.
On the political front, the BJP and the TDP saw the appointment of new state committees. The Congress too revamped its state committee only to prove its existence.
Political discourse between the major players touched new lows with hardly any trace of civility.
The impending by-election to the Tirupati Lok Sabha (SC) seat, caused due to the death of YSRC’s sitting MP B Durga Prasad in September, will be the first major test for all parties post-2019 general election.