The Telangana High Court has dismissed a batch of PILs challenging the State Cabinet's decision to modify/ demolish the present Secretariat Building in order to construct a new Secretariat Building complex.
The Telnagana Cabinet had decided to either modify or demolish the present Secretariat Building, given its debilitated state. Upholding this "interim decision" of the Government, a division bench comprised of Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice A. Abhishek Reddy has held,
"The respondents are justified in claiming that it will be difficult to maintain and operate from the buildings which have lost their utility."
The court noted that the Cabinet was still in the process of reviewing the reports submitted by various departments, and that it was yet to decide whether to modify the building or to demolish it altogether. It thus observed,
"obviously, the decision is not a final one, but is an interim one. Hence, the entire premise of the arguments of the learned Counsel for the petitioners, that the impugned decision is a final one to demolish the Secretariat complex, is highly misplaced."
The Petitioners had agitated the construction of a new Secretariat while claiming that the Cabinet was not in possession of any material so as to conclude that there is a necessity of constructing a new Secretariat complex.
The Court however held that the material being collected by the Government, in terms of calling reports from Sub-Committees, Technical Committee and Indian Green Building Council (IGBC), were all "pre-decisional" steps and it cannot be said that a final decision had been taken as to the fate of the Secretariat, without considering any material.
Further, relying on the Supreme Court's decision in Narmada Bacho Andolan v. Union of India, the bench held that a decision, with regard to the construction of infrastructure, is a "policy decision". Further, in the present case, the Government was only at the stage of conception or planning and it was yet to (ii) take a decision to undertake the project; (iii) execute of the project.
Adequacy of present Secretariat
The Petitioners had argued that the present premises consisted of eight blocks, and only one of such blocks was in a dilapidated condition; whereas two blocks were recently constructed in 2012 and the remaining five still had a life span of 30-60 years.
It was also submitted that after the State of Andhra Pradesh had vacated its portion of the Secretariat complex, the State of Telangana had sufficient space to run its Secretariat comfortably from the existing Secretariat complex.
Dispelling these "spurious" submissions, the division bench expressed concurrence with a report submitted by the State Disastrous Response and Fire Service Department on October 10, 2016, as per which,
There was neither any logic, nor any systemic, nor any coherence either esthetically, or architecturally within the entire campus.
"If and when a new Secretariat needs to be constructed, the complex must rise homogeneously. Simultaneously, a Secretariat complex cannot be divided into a new complex while retaining parts of the old complex. Even the location of the old complex (North 32 and South H blocks) may not permit a unified design for the new Secretariat, which may be required to be constructed," the bench said. Further it observed that the buildings were not constructed in accordance with the requirements of the IGBC, National Building Code, the Energy Conservation Building Code, or the Pollution Control Board.
It also held,
"The issue whether the present buildings are adequate, or inadequate, is an issue that the Court cannot go into. For, the very words 'adequate' or 'inadequate' are relative terms. What may be sufficient and adequate for one party need not necessarily be sufficient and adequate for another party. Therefore, it is for the Government to decide whether the present buildings are adequate, or inadequate for its needs and requirements."
Separation of Powers
The Petitioners had argued that the State of Telanagana was already "reeling under a great debt" and therefore the expenditure, which would be incurred for construction of a new Secretariat, cannot be afforded by the State exchequer.
However, emphasizing on the doctrine of Separation of Power, the court said,
"It is not for the judiciary to decide as to how and when expenditure is to be incurred by the Executive. The availability of the capital, the incurring of expenditure are issues which fall squarely in the arena of the Executive. The Judiciary should be weary of entering into the territory reserved for the Executive." Reliance was placed on a verdict of the Gujarat High Court in Rajesh Laxmichand Mota v. State of Gujarat, (2012) SCC Online Guj 1190.
Power of cabinet in matters of allocation of Government buildings
The Petitioners had submitted that the Cabinet's decision to demolish the Secretariat was passed without any law since the power to take decision on demolition/ reconstruction of a new Secretariat building can be taken only by the Governor in his individual capacity.
They relied on Section 8(2) of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganization Act, 2014, as per which, the responsibility of the Governor shall extend to matters such as law and order, internal security and security of vital installations, and management and allocation of Government buildings in the common capital area.
Emphasizing on the relevance of the words "common capital area" the division bench said,
"Section 8 of the Act while dealing with "allocation of Government buildings" would be relevant as long as Hyderabad continue to be a common capital for the twin States of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. However, as presently, Hyderabad is no longer a common capital of the twin States, the very question of "allocation of Government buildings" would no longer be alive."
Holding thus, the bench said that the Petitioners are unjustified in claiming that the power to allocate a building rests only with the Governor, and could not be exercised by the Cabinet.
"Since the buildings of the Secretariat no longer need to be allocated between the State of Telangana, and the State of Andhra Pradesh, the question of His Excellency, The Governor invoking his power under Section 8 of the Act would not even arise," the bench held.
Case Title: T. Jeevan Redy v. State of Telangana & Ors.
Case No.: WP (PIL) Nos. 136/2019 (with other connected matters)
Quorum: Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice A. Abhishek Reddy
Appearance: Senior Advocate S. Satyam Reddy with Advocate KV Rajasree (for Petitioners); Advocate General BS Prasad (for State)
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