ABC of capital cities in India

By: Sujai Karampuri

What is a state’s capital?

A state could have administrative, legislative and judicial capitals. ‘Legislative’ capital houses the state assembly, while the ‘administrative’ capital houses the state’s government offices. Judicial capital houses the state high court. When we refer to the capital city of a state, it is usually a city that hosts both administrative and legislative capitals. A state could operate its high court from another city – for example, Uttar Pradesh has its high court in Allahabad while the state capital is Lucknow.

Who decides the capital city for a state in India?

Contrary to the prevailing opinion in Andhra Pradesh, the Union Government does not decide where a state’s capita should be, nor does it mention the state’s capital in the state reorganization bill. The responsibility of choosing a state capital resides with each state. It can decide to host its administrative and legislative capitals out of any city, town or village within its territory. And the territory of a state is defined clearly in the state reorganization bill, listing all its districts and constituencies. Though it is not the common practice, a state could choose more than one state capital. For example, Maharashtra has Mumbai and Nagpur as its capital cities. And the state could change its capital city any time – Gujarat moved its capital city from Ahmedabad to Gandhinagar.

And who decides the judicial capital?

Since the Indian judicial system is a ‘unitary system’ with Supreme Court as the apex body, the location of high court for a state has to be decided by the Union Government, and is done through an act of Parliament. Therefore, choosing a judicial capital is outside the purview of a state government. Most commonly the state reorganization bill could create a new high court for the new successor state, or could make the existing high court common to both new states by renaming it. There are many states that operate their high courts out of cities of other states. For example, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland have their judicial capitals in Guwahati, Assam.

Can a state have its capital city outside its territory?

There is no direct provision for a state to operate its administrative or legislative capitals in a territory that is beyond its defined boundaries.

What are the precedents of operating a city as common capital for two states?

There have been many demands for operating a city as common capital during the time of the state divisions, but in most cases, those demands were discarded. When Andhras demanded that Madras should remain a common capital in 1953, it was rejected by Madras State. Andhra State formed its new capital city in Kurnool. When Gujarathis demanded a similar model for Bombay city, it was rejected by Maharashtra. Gujarat operated out of Ahmedabad before constructing a new capital city in Gandhinagar.

There are two precedents from post-Independent Indian history where a city was operated as common capital for two states.

Chandigarh was created as Union Territory under central administration to serve as joint capital for the two new successor states of Punjab and Haryana. The Punjab State Reorganization Act of 1966 created three entities – two new successor states and one union territory. Though the original intent was to hand over Chandigarh to Punjab after a certain period, no such time limit was specified in bill. Chandigarh continued to be the joint capital for over fifty years now though Punjab made many demands that the city be given to them.

The other model is to make it work out of goodwill, as was done in case of Shillong in 1971 which served as a joint-capital for two states of Assam and Meghalaya for about a period of one year, after which Assam moved its capital to Dispur. No explicit provision was made in reorganization bill to impose this joint-model on the two states – Meghalaya allowed it and therefore there was no problem.

What is the possible model to make Hyderabad common capital for Telangana and Andhra Pradesh?

It is not practically feasible to operate a capital city for Seemandhra out of Hyderabad, unless the new state of Telangana allows it out of goodwill, or Hyderabad is turned into Union Territory (without calling it one). There has been a talk of using Article 258A to confer certain powers of the State, like law & order, land and revenue, to the Union Government to facilitate this. However, it should be noted that such powers cannot be transferred to the Union Government by the State Governor unless they are explicitly ratified by the State Government of the newly formed Telangana.

If the State Government of Telangana decides not to transfer these powers to the Union Government as per Article 258A of Indian Constitution, Seemandhra can work out of Hyderabad only upon the goodwill of Telangana. No state in India was formed with the imposed conditions that it has to surrender its law & order, revenue, or land responsibilities of its territories to the Union Government according to Section 258A. Telangana should not be the first one.

Example of New Delhi does not apply here because New Delhi started out as Union Territory and continues to remain so, while certain evolution mechanism towards statehood through 69th Amendment in 1991 has conferred state-like powers, providing it with a Legislative Assembly and a Council of Ministers, but wherein the Union Government retained the powers over Entries 1, 2 and 18 in the State List. Here, Article 258A was not used by New Delhi; instead the Union Government introduced two new articles 239AA and 239AB to grant state-like administrative powers to New Delhi, while retaining the listed powers for itself.

Which is the new state? Telangana or Seemandhra?

There seems to some confusion amongst Seemandhra leaders and activists when they repeatedly use the words like ‘new state’, ‘parent state’, ‘daughter state’, etc. They use these words to drive home one point – that since Telangana people are demanding for a new state, why is Seemandhra being asked to build a new capital city?

They believe that there is some kind of rule that a region which houses the capital city cannot demand a new state, and that a new capital city should be always given to the new state which demands separation.

But, no such rules exist.

In fact, the reorganization bill does not mention which region ‘asked’ for statehood, and does not get into the business of talking about capital cities either. Coming to the separation of Telangana, the state reorganization bill will refer to Telangana and residual Andhra Pradesh as two new successor states, without referring to either of them as mother state or daughter state. The original state from which these two new states are carved out will be referred to as ‘existing State of Andhra Pradesh’.

And, the two new successor states are free to choose any city, town or village, within their territory as their capital city. Those capital cities are not mentioned in the bill.

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