Telangana High court judge accuses TS of \'bench hunting\'

The issue arose in relation to the hearing of a petition filed over the use of Srisailam waters by Telangana for power generation

Hyderabad: Justice M.S. Ramachandra Rao of the Telangana High Court on Monday refused to recuse himself from a case relating to Krishna waters and took exception to the demand made by the state government. The issue arose in relation to the hearing of a petition filed by two farmers from Andhra Pradesh over the use of Srisailam waters by the Telangana state for power generation.

The judge said the TS government’s plea for recusal was nothing but an attempt at “bench hunting”.

Justice Rao said, “Advocate General, how could you ask the judge to recuse, without justifying the request? Why do you want me to recuse myself from hearing the petition... what is the reason? This is unreasonable and in poor taste... We don’t expect the Advocate General’s office to make such an unreasonable request. You can’t seek judges’ recusal.”

The division bench of the High Court comprising Justice Rao and Justice Vinod Kumar was dealing with a petition filed by the two farmers challenging Government Order 34 issued by the TS government for use of Krishna water for power generation.

When the writ petition came up before the bench, Additional Advocate-General (AAG) J. Ramachandra Rao appealed to the bench that it should be heard by a bench headed by Chief Justice Hima Kohli as per the roster of sitting arrangements. Justice Rao said the bench would hear the matter during the post-lunch session.

Senior counsel Vedula Venkatramana appearing for the farmers said the plea should be heard by the same bench since the petition involved issues relating to the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act. As per roster, such matters are allocated to this bench, he stressed.

AAG Ramachandra Rao made a mention before the Chief Justice bench to hear the petition, as it was an inter–state water-related issue. The CJ declined the request of the AAG and made it clear that it will be heard by the roster bench.

After the lunch break, Justice Ramachandra Rao said the bench had got a clarification from the HC registry that it should hear the matter. Advocate-General B.S. Prasad immediately requested the judge to post it before the bench headed by the CJ.

“When the matter was clarified by the CJ office, how can it be conveyed to them to hear the matter,” the judge asked.

Thereon, the AG made an appeal requesting Justice Rao to recuse himself from hearing the writ petition. This was not agreed on by the judge. Finally, the AG dropped his request and the bench proceeded to hear the matter.

When Vedula Venkataramana, senior counsel appearing for petitioners, tried to explain the issue of water usage, Justice Rao questioned counsel as to how the petition was maintainable. The judge said the Supreme Court had in 2008 decided that the issues related to inter-state water disputes shall not be entertained by any court.

This ruling from the apex court related to the Atmalinga Reddy case that had challenged the awarding of the hydel power project at Rajolibanda Diversion Scheme (RDS) to the relatives of then Chief Minister Y.S. Rajashekar Reddy.

The apex court had made it clear that when the enactment was made by Parliament to deal with sensitive issues like river valley matters, such establishments are the only authority to deal with the issues. “Such disputes cannot be the subject matter of petition either in High Court under Article 226 or in this court under Article 32 of the Constitution,” the apex court had said.

Justice Rao Ramachandra Rao directed senior counsel Venkataramana to go through the SC orders in detail and come back to court on Tuesday.

AAG Ramachandra Rao tried to intervene and read the judgment of the apex court. Justice Ramachandra Rao stopped the AAG and cautioned him that when the Advocate-General was appearing in this matter, no one should try to come in or intervene, and asked the AAG to respect the office of Advocate General.

As the judge was giving information pertaining to the judgment, AAG Ramachandra Rao tried to explain further details of the verdict. At this stage, Justice Ramachandra Rao repeated that it was not correct on the part of AAG to represent in the matter when the AG was already appearing in the hearing.

The bench told all counsels concerned to go through the judgment and come prepared to the court on Tuesday for presenting their contentions.

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