Can The Principal Seat Of Andhra Pradesh High Court Be Shifted?

Recently a statement was made in the Andhra Pradesh State Assembly that there would be three capitals in three different regions, i.e., (1) Legislative capital at Amaravathi, (2) Executive capital at Visakhapatnam and (3) Judicial capital at Kurnool. There is a proposal of shifting the principal seat of High Court of Andhra Pradesh from Amaravathi to Kurnool and treat the same as the judicial capital. The executive can take the first two decisions. In order to make the third decision, it is necessary to examine the legal aspects.

The State of Andhra was formed under Section 3(1) of the Andhra State Act, 1953. The districts comprising Srikakulam, Visakhapatnam, East Godavari, West Godavari, Krishna, Guntur, Nellore, Kurnool, Kadapa and Chittoor Districts and Alur, Adhoni and Rayadurg Taluqs of Bellari districts in the State of Madras were ceased to form a part of State of Madras and were made into a separate State know as State of Andhra.

Section 28 of the Andhra State Act, 1953 had contemplated a separate High Court for the State of Andhra from January 01, 1956, referred as High Court of Andhra. The State Reorganization Act, 1956 was enacted by the Parliament to provide for the Reorganization of States of India.  Under Section 3 of the State Reorganization Act, 1956, Andhra Pradesh was formed by adding certain districts to the State of Andhra from erstwhile Hyderabad. Section 50 of the Reorganization Act, 1956 abolished certain courts.

The High Court at Hyderabad, which was established in the year 1872, was abolished and High Court of Andhra Pradesh was established under Section 65 of the State Reorganization Act, 1956. Section 51(1) of the State Reorganization Act, 1956 specifies that the principal seat of the High Court for the new State shall be at such place as the President may, by notified order, appoint. The principal seat of High Court of Andhra Pradesh was notified at Hyderabad. Till now, once the principal seat was notified under the provisions of the Reorganization Act, it was not shifted. However, certain division benches were established by virtue of the power conferred under the Acts.

There is a proposal of shifting the principal seat of High Court of Andhra Pradesh from Amaravathi to Kurnool and treat the same as the judicial capital. Image courtesy to Livelaw.in

The A.P. Reorganization Act, 2014 came into force w.e.f., 02.06.2014. Section 30(1) of the Act states that on and from the appointed day, the High Court of Judicature at Hyderabad shall be common High Court for the State of Telangana and the State of Andhra Pradesh, till a separate High Court for the State of Andhra Pradesh is constituted under Article 214 of the Constitution r/w Section 31 of the Act.

Section 31(1) of the Act contemplates that there shall be a separate court for the State of Andhra Pradesh, which shall be called High Court of Andhra Pradesh. Sub-section 2 contemplates that the principal seat of the High Court shall be at such place as the President may, by notified order, appoint. Sub-section 3 contemplates that the Judges and division courts of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh may sit at such other place or places in the State of Andhra Pradesh other than its principal seat as the Chief Justice may, with the approval of the Governor of Andhra Pradesh, appoint.

The aforesaid provisions show that once a principal seat of High Court of Andhra Pradesh is notified, the Chief Justice may appoint Division of Court at any other place with the approval of the Governor of Andhra Pradesh. A writ petition was filed by one T.Dangopal Rao before the then Common High Court praying for initiating the process for the constitution of separate High Courts for the State of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh under Article 214 of Constitution r/w Section 32 of the A.P. State Reorganization Act, 2014. The Divisional bench of the then Common High Court had examined the provisions of the State Reorganization Act, 1956 and the A.P. State Reorganization Act, 2014.

The Divisional bench had disposed of the writ petition directing to identify and locate the site where the permanent High Court of the State of Andhra Pradesh would be constituted in the territory of Andhra Pradesh and to appraise the Hon’ble Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh High Court. The bench also requested the Hon’ble Chief Justice to take a decision in consultation with the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh regarding the choice of location of the High court.

The matter was carried to the Hon’ble Supreme Court. The Hon’ble Supreme Court was pleased to record that the judges of the High Court, who would become judges of Andhra Pradesh, are satisfied with the facilities in the said building in as much as a full court of High Court has approved the proposal after inspection committee of judges submitted a report in the said behalf. The Hon’ble Supreme Court had expected a notification to be issued by January 01, 2019, so that two High Courts function separately.

Pursuant to the said order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court a notification was issued dated 26.12.2018 notifying that the High Court of Andhra Pradesh is constituted w.e.f., January 01, 2019 with the principal seat of such High Court at Amaravathi in the State of Andhra Pradesh. A reading of this notification shows that the same is issued under Section 31(2) of the A.P. State Reorganization Act, 2014.

In the light of a notification issued under Section 31(2) of A.P. State Reorganization Act, 2014, constituting High Court of Andhra Pradesh with the principal seat at Amaravathi, the principal seat cannot be shifted unless the said notification is cancelled and a new seat is re-notified under Section 31(2) of the Act.

But a reading of Section 31 shows that such a power is not contemplated. The only power that is contemplated is to establish divisional benches at other places but cannot shift the principal seat of the High Court. It’s a peculiar situation wherein a common High Court was initially established under Section 30(1)(a) of the Act, and the common court was bifurcated under Section 31(1) of the Act, and on such bifurcation, the notification of the principal seat of High Court of Andhra Pradesh under Sub-section 2 was notified by the President of India.

Though the power to cancel is not contemplated under the Act, since the Act continues to be in force, it may be argued that the President may have the power to re-notify the same. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in State of Maharashtra Vs. Narayan Sham Rao Puranik and others, held that the Act is a permanent piece of legislation on the statute book and the power can be exercised when the occasion arises. But the question is whether the notification issued by the President under Sec.31(2) of the Act can be re-notified or the statute continues in operation only for other aspects such as the establishment of divisional benches.

Whether the President has such a power or not is a legally debatable issue. The other major hurdle is with regard to the approval of the report submitted by the inspection committee of judges by the full court of the then common High Court with regard to the satisfaction. Therefore, it would be a difficult task for the government to pursue the shifting of the principal seat from Amaravathi to Kurnool though it is a wise political decision.

The above article was first published here.

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