Judges and lawyers in Telangana were up in arms over the appointment of Andhra Pradesh judges in their state. However, the judges returned to work following appeals by the Chief Justice of India, the governor and the acting Chief Justice of Hyderabad High Court.
By R Ramasubramanian
“We feel we are working under the High Court of Andhra Pradesh and not under the High Court of both states. We are afraid of their future intervention in political and executive administration of Telangana. We cannot work under Andhra Judicial rulers.” This was part of a memorandum submitted by the Telangana Judges Association to the governor of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
Since June 28, some 200 judges from munsiff-level to district-level in ten districts of Telangana have been on a 15-day mass casual leave, joining a strike originally launched by the Telangana Advocates Association on June 6. Both were protesting the appointment of Andhra Pradesh judges in the Telangana region.
The immediate provocation for the present crisis was the selection list for the posts of subordinate judges released by the High Court on May 5. The list comprised of 335 subordinate judges for Telangana and 495 for Andhra Pradesh. But out of the 335 allotted for Telangana, 130 were of Andhra Pradesh nativity. “Younger judges of Andhra Pradesh are posted in Telangana and older judges are posted in Andhra Pradesh. This means these younger judges will have bright chances of getting elevated to the High Court when the older ones retire. This means that Andhra Pradesh will continue to have a numerical grip in the High Court at the cost of Telangana’s representation,” one of the striking subordinate judges told India Legal on condition of anonymity.
The situation reached a flashpoint on June 26 when hundreds of judges belonging to ten districts of Telangana took out a rally in Hyderabad and marched towards the Raj Bhawan. They submitted a memorandum to the governor. They carried placards condemning what they called as a “step-motherly treatment” of the High Court and threatened to resign en masse if their demands were not met.
The High Court of Judicature of Hyderabad hit back the next day by suspending two district judges—K Ravinder Reddy, president of the Telangana Judges Association, and V Varaprasad, its secretary. Nine more judges were suspended along with eight administrative staff. In a retaliatory move, over 200 judges went on mass leave.
The High Court’s move further deepened the parochialism in the Telangana region. “The total strength of Hyderabad High Court judges is 25 and out of this, 18 are from Andhra Pradesh, three from Telangana and the other four are from outside these two states. So you can gauge the actual reasons for these suspensions,” said K Srikkanth, a Telangana lawyer.
The agitating judges and lawyers are now putting forth four demands to withdraw their stir.
- Cancel the appointment of judges to Telangana with Andhra Pradesh origin
- Revoke the suspension of 11 judges and eight court staff
- Have a time-bound action plan to construct a new High Court for Telangana
- Explain the mode of appointment for selecting 200 judges for both states on the basis of an examination conducted in 2015.
Observers feel that one of the major reasons for the present crisis was the decision of the Hyderabad High Court to ask for service options from judicial officers from both states. “The reason behind this was that though Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated in 2014, the High Court was not,” explained a retired IAS officer from Andhra Pradesh. “This means that the judicial officers can be posted anywhere. But Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekhar Rao in a letter to then Union law minister DV Sadananda Gowda insisted that domicile should be the basic criteria for the appointments. As both Hyderabad and Secundrabad were allotted to Telangana during the bifurcation, one can understand the clamor of those with Andhra Pradesh nativity for these postings.”
Meanwhile, rumors and conspiracy theories are floating in Hyderabad with regard to this crisis. One of them is that pressure is being exerted by a Supreme Court judge in the selection of subordinate judicial officers. “There are four judges in the Supreme Court who are from Andhra Pradesh. One of them is showing undue interest in posting Andhra Pradesh judges in Telangana. This is a larger conspiracy. Politicians who were driven out of Telangana are now trying to control Telangana through the top judiciary of the country,” claimed MP Bargav, a Telangana advocate from Ranga Reddy district and co-convener of Joint Action Committee.
He said that when Telangana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh and became the 29th state of India in 2014, the arrangement was that Andhra Pradesh would have its own High Court. “As per the Andhra Pradesh Reorganization Act 2014 – which is the blueprint for the bifurcation — the two states are to share a common High Court – the High Court of Judicature at Hyderabad – till Andhra Pradesh constructs one of its own. But Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu is showing little interest in constructing a new High Court for his state,” said Bargav.
The original Andhra Pradesh High Court was rechristened as Hyderabad High Court and is situated in Hyderabad in Telangana. “Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao in February called on Chief Justice of India Justice TS Thakur and pleaded with him for a separate High Court for Telangana and offered to allot land for that purpose. His logic was that since it would take a long time for Andhra Pradesh to construct a new High Court at its proposed new capital in Amaravathi, it could use the present Andhra Pradesh High Court (Hyderabad High Court) and Telangana would construct its own High Court in Hyderabad itself. But unfortunately, no headway was made after that proposal,” said Bargav. He said the Supreme Court seemed hesitant to entertain this demand because it did not want two high courts in one city as this would be an awkward proposition. Rao has now threatened to stage a protest at Jantar Mantar in Delhi to demand the setting up of a separate High Court for his state.
One of the main fears of Telangana politicians and their CM is that Andhra Pradesh’s judicial officers could pass orders against Telangana in important matters such as irrigation-related disputes between Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. P Madhusudana Reddy, a lawyer in Hyderabad, justified the fear of Telangana. “How can any state and its citizens accept judgments on its laws, actions and welfare of its people by judicial officers from another state? This undermines not only the self-respect of everyone in Telangana but challenges its very authority.”
However, at an extraordinary general body meeting of Telangana Judges Association on July 6, the protesting judges decided to call off their mass leave protest and rejoin work immediately. “The extraordinary general body meeting of Telangana Judges Association here decided to call of the mass leave protest in view of the appeals made by the CJI, Governor of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and the acting CJ of Hyderabad High Court,” a judicial officer later told media.
When asked about their main demand—revocation of the suspension of 11 judges—he said: “The acting CJ of Hyderabad High Court will take care of it. It takes its own time and there is a process for that. The CJI, governor and the acting CJI advised us not to continue with the protest and we decided to call it off.”
However, the lawyers have vowed to continue their stir till all their demands are met. “By using the CJI’s appeal as a face-saver and without getting any concrete assurances about the revocation of the suspensions of 11 judges and eight employees, the judges are rejoining. Even if their suspensions are revoked, they will not get their original postings and places,” said Bhargav. He also made it clear that the advocates’ struggle will continue. “It is to protect not only the dignity of lawyers but also of judges that we lawyers have launched our protest. Till all our demands are met, we will continue our court boycott.”
There are reports that a section of lawyers may convene an extra general body meeting soon to take stock of the situation. This section too wants to withdraw their strike and rejoin work. But unlike the Judges Association, opinion is deeply divided among lawyers, as some want to continue the strike till all their demands are met.
With the protesting Telangana judges retreating, the higher judiciary has won the first round in the Telangana judicial crisis.