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  Opinion   Oped  27 Dec 2019  Separation of powers doesn’t mean 3 capitals

Separation of powers doesn’t mean 3 capitals

The writer, a policy analyst studying economic and security issues, held senior positions in government and industry. He also specialises in the Chinese economy
Published : Dec 27, 2019, 4:30 am IST
Updated : Dec 27, 2019, 4:30 am IST

The idea seems to be driven by dispensing economic gains (and real estate) to the state’s three main socio-political regions.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy
 Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy

Separation of powers is a doctrine of constitutional law under which the three branches of government (executive, legislative and judicial) are kept separate. This is also known as the system of checks and balances, as each branch is given certain powers to check and balance the other branches. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy clearly seems very inspired by the “separation of powers” doctrine as he has announced three separate capitals for his state instead of the one new city that was contemplated by his predecessor.

Mr Jagan Mohan Reddy has announced Visakhapatam to be the “executive” capital; Amravati as the “political” (or legislative) capital; and Kurnool as the “judicial” capital. These three capitals will thus be dispersed over three main regions of the state and the idea seems to be driven by dispensing economic gains (and real estate) to the state’s three main socio-political regions, giving the notion of checks and balances a very different meaning.

In the erstwhile Andhra state, the Reddys and Kammas, which comprise 6.5 per cent and 4.8 per cent of the state’s population respectively, were the two politically dominant communities. Although the Reddys are distributed throughout the state, they are dominant in the Telangana and Rayalaseema regions. More so in Rayalaseema, which was really the reason why K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR), a Velama by caste, rejected the idea of the bifurcation of Andhra along agro-climatic lines. He also ignored the historical basis wherein the Nizam of Hyderabad ceded the area corresponding to Rayalaseema to the East India Company only in 1800. He was only cognisant of the reality that the combination of Telangana and Rayalaseema Reddys would have been too powerful for his numerically smaller Velama community.

K. Srinivasulu, a professor in the department of political science at Osmania University, writes: “The Kammas, on the other hand, are traditionally dominant in the coastal districts of Krishna, Guntur and Prakasham; their presence in other regions is marginal. It is the control of these castes over agrarian resources such as land and water that has been the most important source of their economic and political power. As the major land-owning communities and occupants of key positions of a village, they have traditionally controlled village political life. In the post-Independence period, and especially following the Green Revolution, due to the wealth it generated, they expanded their activities into other spheres of the economy — business, transport, contracts and industry. Among the other peasant castes, the Velamas, Rajus and Kapus are important communities with considerable political significance in the state, although in numerical terms they are only a small percentage of the population and spatially are confined only to small pockets. While Velamas are a politically influential land-owning community in northern Telangana and northern coastal Andhra, the Kapus are dominant in East and West Godavari districts.”

Mr Jagan Mohan Reddy’s bitterest enemy is N. Chandrababu Naidu, who while hailing from Chittoor in Rayalaseema, is a Kamma married into the powerful NTR family with strong links in the rich Kamma-dominated Krishna, Guntur and Prakasham districts. His choice of Amaravati as Andhra Pradesh’s new capital was double-edged. It gave Andhra Pradesh a new capital envisaged to cost about `1 lakh crores right in the centre of the new state, making it easily accessible to all the districts of AP with very many economic multiplier effects. But it was also right in the centre of the Kamma heartland and Mr Naidu was repeating the experiment of Cyberabad, where his clansmen and cronies cornered a good bit of the real estate in anticipation of India’s biggest boomtown. Mr Naidu succeeded spectacularly. Mr Jagan Mohan Reddy clearly is not about to give his arch political rivals more power in their pockets.

But let’s go back to the notion of separation of powers. It is the division of responsibilities into distinct branches of government to limit any one branch from exercising the core functions of another; the three branches being the legislature, executive and judiciary. It is also called the trias politica model meant to prevent the concentration of unchecked power by providing for checks and balances. This particularly applies to the United States, where the divisions are distinct. The powers of the executive are vested with an elected President, while lawmaking powers are exclusively vested with an elected legislature, represented by the US Congress.

America’s founding fathers who wrote its Constitution were deeply suspicious of an all-powerful President, who might start acting like a monarch. The elected legislature was to act as a check on the President’s power and influence. Today’s Washington D.C. owes much of its unique design to Maj. Pierre Charles L’Enfant, who came to America from France to fight in the Revolutionary War and rose from obscurity to become a trusted city planner for George Washington. L’Enfant chose the highest point in the capital for the Capitol, to house the House of Representatives and Senate, unlike Europe and elsewhere where the most prominent spot was reserved for the monarch. The White House for the President was on the other side of swamp (now the Tidal Basin), to limit the ease of the to and fro movement between the two centres of power. If we had the trias politica model in India, let alone Andhra Pradesh, this physical separation envisaged by Mr Jagan Mohan Reddy for the two branches of government might have made sense.

But in the Indian parliamentary system of government, the executive and legislature are fused together. We have a permanent bureaucracy, but the Cabinet that directs the bureaucracy is from Parliament or the Assemblies. The ministers are the bosses of the government where policies originate and who direct the working of the permanent bureaucracy. The ministers are responsible for the effecting implementation of policy and monitoring their efficacy. This system ensures the primacy of the elected government over the selected bureaucracy.

In real life, ministers have to work on a day-to-day basis through the secretaries. Assuming that the legislature functions for 100 days a year, as is recommended, it effectively takes the ministers away from the direction of government for three and a half months a year, and since the bureaucracy doesn’t function over weekends and other holidays, add at least another three and a half months to that. So we can physically have an elected government that directs the bureaucracy for less than half the year. The higher bureaucracy which is generally better educated and more experienced in the art of governance than ministers may actually welcome this, but it will not be a government by an elected executive, which is the intention of the Constitution.

The interface of the people with the government is usually through elected representatives at the various tiers. MLAs represent their grievances and the problems of the electorate, and their point of contact is with ministers. With ministers physically separated by a big distance from their secretariat staff, the effectiveness of government will be seriously impaired.

Having the high court functioning from Kurnool is actually a good idea. At one time the high court did function there, before the forced merger of the Andhra and Telangana regions by the States Reorganisation Commit-tee took it to Hyderabad. Getting justice is a major economic activity these days and the poorer Rayalaseema area will do well to get some of it. Besides justice, people are increasingly forced to go to the courts to protect their rights and get good governance. Thus, to get a separate “judicial capital” may be a capital idea. States such as Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh actually have high courts in places other than the state capital.

Mr Jagan Mohan Reddy will do well not to take the notion of separation of powers too literally. It is not so in the parliamentary system where the legislature and executive are fused together. The political and administrative centres cannot be physically separated. They have to be together. The state might actually benefit if the halls of the higher judiciary are at a place where economic justice can be better served.

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