VIJAYAWADA: A three-member division bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, headed by Chief Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra, on Monday commenced daily hearings on a batch of petitions challenging the AP Decentralisation and Inclusive Development of All Regions and the CRDA Repeal Acts.
The much-anticipated hearing began on an unusual note with the State government seeking the recusal of two members of the bench — Justice DVSS Somayajulu and Justice Satyanarayana Murthy — on the ground that both “have a pecuniary interest in the form of investment made for the purpose of housing” in Amaravati. However, the Chief Justice rejected the plea.
In an affidavit filed before the bench, Y Srilakshmi, special chief secretary (municipal administration and urban development), submitted that the previous government had allotted 600 square yards each at a cost of Rs 5,000 per square yard to judges within the Amaravati capital region.
Justice Satyanarayana Murthy and Justice Somayajulu, who are part of the division bench, were in possession of such plots, Srilakshmi pointed out, adding it would not be fair for them to hear the petitions pertaining to the Amaravati issue.
Appearing on behalf of the government, senior advocate Dushyant Dave said since financial interests related to investment in the plots were involved, the two judges ought to recuse themselves from the hearing. The participation of the judges in the adjudication of the case is “inconsistent with the principle of justice not only being done but also seen to be done,” he pointed out, clarifying that the request was being made with bona fide intentions.
Several may seek recusal if plea is allowed: CJ
Objecting to the same, the Chief Justice said recusal was not possible and questioned whether he too should recuse as he was receiving salary from the government. Asserting that the division bench will hear the petitions, the Chief Justice observed that if the government plea was upheld, everyone will come up with some excuse or the other to seek recusal of judges.
Dushyant Dave at this point asked the Chief Justice to issue written orders to that effect so that they could file an appeal in the Supreme Court. But, the Chief Justice made it clear that no such orders could be given at this juncture and ruled that orders on the government request for recusal will be given at the time of delivering the final judgement on the Amaravati related petitions.
Dave argued that this was not fair as orders (on recusal) issued at the time of final judgment would be of no significance besides being a waste of the court’s valuable time. Responding to Dave, the Chief Justice said the case hadn’t progressed for a year and added that a daily hearing would be held. State’s development has come to a standstill because of the pendency of the petitions, he observed.
Finally, Dave submitted that if their own interests are involved in a case, judges hearing the case ought to recuse themselves voluntarily. The Supreme Court had ruled that judges with interests in a case become ineligible to hear the same case, he pointed out. He further requested the bench to record the government’s objections to the participation of the two judges in the case to which the bench agreed. The thrust of the government’s argument is that the main petitioners in the case had surrendered lands in the hope of getting plots in return in the capital region with a high market value.
With the trifurcation of the capital under the CRDA Repeal Act and the AP Decentralisation of the Development Act, the petitioners claim the high market value for land they had expected may not materialise. In other words, loss of anticipated monetary gain. The previous government had also sought to allot lands to incentivise first settlers in the proposed capital city for creation of a housing stock in the region. The judges were allotted lands under this policy. The value of their plots too may rise if the Decentralisation Act and CRDA Repeal Act were quashed. Hence, the argument of pecuniary gain and request for recusal.
The State government filed an affidavit saying two of the three-judge bench “have a pecuniary interest in the form of investment made for the purpose of housing” in Amaravati.