The Justice Srikrishna Committee, which is looking into the feasibility of a separate Telangana State, is expected to submit its report by tomorrow. It might be useful at this point in time to revisit the recommendations of the 1953 States Reorganization Commission (SRC) – the Commission that had first examined the Telangana issue in detail. However, it must be kept in mind that some of those arguments and recommendations may not be applicable today. Background Before independence, Telangana was a part of the Nizam's Hyderabad State and Andhra a part of the erstwhile Madras Province of British India. In 1953, owing to agitation by leaders like Potti Sreeramulu, Telugu-speaking areas were carved out of the Madras Province. This lead to the formation of Andhra Pradesh, the first State formed on the basis of language. Immediately afterward, in 1953, the States Reorganization Commission (SRC) was appointed. SRC was not in favour of an immediate merger of Telangana with Andhra and proposed that a separate State be constituted with a provision for unification after the 1961/ 62 general elections, if a resolution could be passed in the Telangana assembly by 2/3rd majority. However, a 'Gentlemen's agreement' was subsequently signed between the leaders of the two regions and this lead to a merger. The agreement provided for some safeguards for Telangana - for instance, a 'Regional Council' for all round development of Telangana. Thus, a unified Andhra Pradesh was created in 1956. In the years that followed, Telangana continued to see on-and-off protests; major instances of unrest were recorded in 1969 and in the 2000s. The SRC 1953 report The full SRC report can be accessed here. Summarized below are its main arguments and recommendations related to Telangana. Arguments in favour of 'Vishalandhra'
Arguments in favour of a separate Telangana State
SRC recommendations The Commission agreed that there were significant advantages in the formation of 'Vishalandhra'. However, it noted that while opinion in Andhra was overwhelmingly in favour of a larger unit, public opinion in Telangana had still to crystallize. Even though Andhra leaders were willing to provide guarantees ensuring development focus on Telangana, the SRC felt that any guarantee, short of Central Government supervision, could not be effective. In addition, it noted that Andhra, being a relatively new State, was still in the midst of developing policies related to issues like land reform. Thus, a hurried merger could likely create administrative difficulties both for both units. The SRC thus recommended the creation of a separate Telangana State with provision for unification after the 1961/62 general elections.
Tribunals function as a parallel mechanism to the traditional court system. Tribunals were established for two main reasons - allowing for specialised subject knowledge in disputes on technical matters and reducing the burden on the court system. In India, some tribunals are at the level of subordinate courts with appeals lying with the High Court, while some others are at the level of High Courts with appeals lying with the Supreme Court. In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament may create an alternative to High Courts provided that they have the same efficacy as the High Courts. For an overview of the tribunal system in India, see our note here.
In April 2021, the central government promulgated an Ordinance, which specified provisions related to the composition of the search-cum-selection committees for the selection of members of 15 Tribunals, and the term of office for members. Further, it empowered the central government to notify qualifications and other terms and conditions of service (such as salaries) for the Chairperson and members of these tribunals. In July 2021, the Supreme Court struck down certain provisions of the Ordinance (such as the provision specifying a four-year term for members) stating that these impinged on the independence of the judiciary from the government. In several earlier judgements, the Supreme Court has laid out guidelines for the composition of Tribunals and service conditions to ensure that these Tribunals have the same level of independence from the Executive as the High Courts they replace.
However, Parliament passed the Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021 in August 2021, which is almost identical to the April Ordinance and includes the provisions which had been struck down. This Act has been challenged in the Supreme Court. For a PRS analysis of the Bill, please see here.
On 16th September 2021, the central government notified The Tribunal (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2021 under the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021. A couple of the provisions under these Rules may contravene principles laid out by the Supreme Court:
Appointment of the Administrative Member of the Central Administrative Tribunal as the Chairman
In case of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), the Rules specify that a person with at least three years of experience as the Judicial Member or Administrative Member may be appointed as the Chairman. This may violate the principles laid down by the past Supreme Court judgements.
The CAT supplants High Courts. In 1986, the Supreme Court stated that if an administrative tribunal supplants the High Courts, the office of the Chairman of the tribunal should be equated with that of the Chief Justice of the High Court. Therefore, the Chairman of the tribunal must be a current or former High Court Judge. Further, in 2019, the Supreme Court stated – “the knowledge, training, and experience of members or presiding officers of a tribunal must mirror, as far as possible, that of the Court it seeks to substitute”.
The Administrative Member of the CAT may be a person who has been an Additional Secretary to the central government or a central government officer with pay at least that of the Additional Secretary. Hence, the Administrative Member may not have the required judicial experience for appointment as the Chairman of CAT.
Leave Sanctioning Authority
The Rules specify that the central government will be the leave sanctioning authority for the Chairperson of tribunals, and Members (in case of absence of the Chairperson). In 2014, the Supreme Court specified that the central government (Executive) should not have any administrative involvement with the members of the tribunal as it may influence the independence and fairness of the tribunal members. In addition, it had observed that the Executive may be a litigant party and its involvement in administrative matters of tribunals may influence the fairness of the adjudication process. In judgements in 1997 and 2014, the Supreme Court recommended that the administration of all Tribunals should be under a nodal ministry such as the Law Ministry, and not the respective administrative ministry. In 2020, it recommended setting up of a National Tribunals Commission to supervise appointments and administration of Tribunals. The Rules are not in consonance with these recommendations.