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Article 131 – Special Powers of Supreme Court – The Big Picture – RSTV IAS UPSC

  • IASbaba
  • January 23, 2020
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Article 131 – Special Powers of Supreme Court

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TOPIC: General Studies 2

  • Indian Polity
  • Judiciary

Recent suits under Article 131

Kerala: Kerala became the first state to challenge the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) before the Supreme Court. However, the legal route adopted by the state is different from the 60 petitions already pending before the court. The Kerala government has moved the apex court under Article 131 of the Constitution.

Chhattisgarh: The Chhattisgarh government filed a suit in the Supreme Court under Article 131, challenging the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act on the ground that it encroaches upon the state’s powers to maintain law and order.

Article 131 of the Constitution.

Original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the Supreme Court shall, to the exclusion of any other court, have original jurisdiction in any dispute

  1. between the Government of India and one or more States; or
  2. between the Government of India and any State or States on one side and one or more other States on the other; or
  3. between two or more States, if and in so far as the dispute involves any question (whether of law or fact) on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends: Provided that the said jurisdiction shall not extend to a dispute arising out of any treaty, agreement, covenant, engagements, and or other similar instrument which, having been entered into or executed before the commencement of this Constitution, continues in operation after such commencement, or which provides that the said jurisdiction shall not extend to such a dispute

In simplest terms, this gives Supreme Court original jurisdiction—meaning the Supreme Court can hear the case first-hand rather than reviewing a lower court’s judgment—to mediate disputes between states or between the Centre and states.

For a dispute to qualify as a dispute under Article 131, it has to necessarily be between states and the Centre, and must involve a question of law or fact on which the existence of a legal right of the state or the Centre depends.

Article 131 cannot be used to settle political differences between state and central governments headed by different parties.

In a 1978 judgment, State of Karnataka v Union of India, Justice P N Bhagwati had said that for the Supreme Court to accept a suit under Article 131, the state need not show that its legal right is violated, but only that the dispute involves a legal question.

How is a suit under Article 131 different from the other petitions challenging the CAA?

The other petitions challenging the CAA have been filed under Article 32 of the Constitution, which gives the court the power to issue writs when fundamental rights are violated. A state government cannot move the court under this provision because only people and citizens can claim fundamental rights.

Under Article 131, the challenge is made when the rights and power of a state or the Centre are in question. However, the relief that the state (under Article 131) and petitioners under Article 32 have sought in the challenge to the CAA is the same — declaration of the law as being unconstitutional.

But can SC test validity of law under Article 131?

In 2011, in State of MP v Union of India, the Supreme Court held that validity of central laws can be challenged under Article 32 of the Constitution and not under Article 131. In the case, Madhya Pradesh had sought to challenge — under Article 131 — the constitutional validity of certain provisions of the Madhya Pradesh Reorganisation Act, asserting that they violated Article 14 of the Constitution.

  • The two-judge bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and B.S. Chauhan, however, felt that a petition under Article 32 would’ve been more appropriate for the challenge.   
  • Three years later, in 2014, another two-judge bench — hearing the case of State of Jharkhand v State of Bihar — disagreed.
  • This bench, comprising Justices J. Chelameswar and S.A. Bobde, held that Article 131 could be used to examine the constitutionality of a statute. 
  • The question was then referred to a three-judge bench, headed by Justice N.V. Ramana. It is currently pending there. 

Is it unusual for states to challenge laws made by Parliament?

Under the Constitution, laws made by Parliament are presumed to be constitutional until a court holds otherwise. However, in India’s quasi-federal constitutional structure, inter-governmental disputes are not uncommon. The framers of the Constitution expected such differences, and added the exclusive original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court for their resolution. The quasi-federal structure envisaged in 1950 has consolidated into defined powers of the states.

Kerala’s arguments

  • The Kerala government has sought from the apex court that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 be declared as violative of Articles 14 (Equality before law), 21 (Right to life and personal liberty) and 25 (Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice, and propagation of religion).
  • CAA is violative of the basic principle of secularism enshrined in the Constitution. 
  • The Passport (Entry to India) Amendment Rules, 2015 and Foreigners (Amendment) Order are ultra vires (beyond Centre’s authority) the Constitution and be declared void.
  • The CAA, the amended Passport Rules and Foreign Order are class legislations harping on the religious identity of an individual, thereby contravening the principles of secularism, which has been recognised by the court as a basic structure of the Constitution.
  • These amendments make religion and a person’s country of origin a criteria for grant of citizenship and result in classifications based on religion and country, which are discriminatory, arbitrary, unreasonable and have no rational nexus with the object sought to be achieved. The religious classification brought forth violates the twin test of classification under Article 14, the protection of which is not limited or restricted to citizens alone and extends to all persons.
  • The CAA and rules and orders are bereft of any standard principle or norm in discriminating migrants from other countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bhutan, which are sharing international borders with India and to which and from which there has been trans-border migration. If the object of the CAA is to protect the minorities who faced religious persecution in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, then the Ahmaddiyas and Shias from these countries are also entitled to treatment equal to that being now extended to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities.
  • In accordance with the mandate of Article 256 of the Constitution, the plaintiff state (Kerala) will be compelled to ensure compliance of Impugned Amendment Act (CAA) and the Rules and Orders, which are manifestly arbitrary, unreasonable, irrational and violative of fundamental rights.

“Thus, there exists a dispute, involving questions of law and fact, between the plaintiff state of Kerala and the defendant Union of India, regarding the enforcement of legal rights as a State and as well for the enforcement of the fundamental, statutory constitutional and other legal rights of the inhabitants of the State of Kerala. Hence, this Original Suit under Article 131 of the Constitution is being preferred,” the plea said.

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