The Srikrishna Committee on separate statehood provision for Telangana had rightly observed that the “Telangana movement can be interpreted as a desire for greater democracy and empowerment within a political unit.” Indeed, in the quest for greater democracy and empowerment as a right for the citizens of Telangana, the struggle for separate statehood finally culminated in the creation of the Telangana state with its own executive and legislature in the year 2014. However, democracy cannot be understood in binary terms – as achieved or not achieved – by the mere creation of a state. It is a continuous process by which a society evolves through the maturation of the three so-called pillars of a democratic society – the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary – as first laid down by Montesquieu, the French Enlightenment philosopher. The generations of struggles for greater democracy in Telangana indeed successfully brought about a separate and mature legislature and an executive for the state, yet the statehood movement’s aims would be deemed as fully achieved when the state would have a separate high court as a dedicated judicial body for its people.
As a nation, we rightly pride ourselves to be one of the greatest exemplars of the success of democracy around the world. Yet we are a country with nearly 40.54 lakh cases pending across 24 high courts (Indian Judiciary Annual Report, 2015-2016). With a shortfall of almost 44% in the number of required judges, we are severely deficient in facilitating the full functioning of the democratic process in the nation. In the case of the high court of Hyderabad in particular, the shortfall of judges is disheartening as well – at 54% (with 33, out of the 61-sanctioned strength of the HC judges) – while the court is grappling with a pendency of 2,78,695 cases out of which 24,606 are over 10-year old. Faced with such high pendency rates and the egregious shortfall in the number of judges, the citizens of both the states -Telangana and Andhra Pradesh – are bereft of exercising their fundamental right to judicial remedy to the fullest.
Only last year (2016) a five-member constitutional bench at the Supreme Court held that “access to Justice is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 14 & 21 of Constitution”. With ex-Chief Justice of India, Justice T.S. Thakur, the bench concluded that four main facets that constitute “access to justice” are – (a) the need for adjudicatory mechanism; (b) the mechanism being conveniently accessible in terms of distance; (c) the process of adjudication being speedy and; (d) the process of adjudication being affordable to all citizens. On these counts, it behooves the government of India and of Andhra Pradesh to consider these aspects, especially those of the distance that people of Andhra Pradesh have to cover to travel all the way to Hyderabad, the costs attached to such travel in terms of time, effort and money as well as the timeliness of adjudication of their cases at the Hyderabad high court. Once these considerations are well appreciated by the central government and the government of Andhra Pradesh, the logic of a speedy bifurcation of high courts would become clear to the respective governments.
In a nation, it is the duty of the central government to ensure that the citizens of two of its states – Telangana and Andhra Pradesh – have equal and adequate access to justice. The action of the government to provide for a separate high court within fifteen days of the creation of the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand respectively, was indeed laudable. But one wonders as to why such an action was never seriously considered for the state of Telangana? This is when already three and a half years back, the Telangana government appreciating the need for the bifurcation of the high courts for the two states came forward and offered a new building complex to set up the high court for Andhra Pradesh or alternatively move out of the current high court building temporarily, into a new one that may serve as its own high court.
In conjunction with the issue of access to justice is the issue of access to equal opportunities for the judges and judicial officers of Telangana. Historically, judges of Telangana origin have suffered from a lack of opportunity – a virtual glass ceiling – when it comes to being elevated to the high court merely 7 out of the 33 judges at the Hyderabad high Court are of Telangana origin, 1 from Tamil Nadu, 1 from Delhi while the rest are from Andhra Pradesh. It is imperative for the strengthening of the state as a whole that it cultivates space for a judiciary that understands the unique needs and problems of its people by virtue of hailing from the same state and communities itself.
Finally, it is to be noted that the bifurcation of the Hyderabad high court is not merely a test for the people of the two states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh in their quest for gaining equitable access to justice, it is also a test of the central government’s commitment to democracy itself. After all, justice delayed is justice denied – postponing or stalling the bifurcation of high courts for the two states would be concomitant to denying justice to their people.
 “HC-PENDENCY 3 LAST,” accessed December 27, 2017, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/hc-pendency-3-last/1/856784.html.
 “Access to Justice Is a Fundamental Right Guaranteed under Article 14 & 21 of Constitution: SC Constitution Bench,” Live Law, July 20, 2016, http://www.livelaw.in/access-justice-fundamental-right-guaranteed-article-14-21-constitution-sc-constitution-bench/.