Ambit of Article 131 – Original Jurisdiction of Supreme Court of India

By | December 9, 2017
Jurisdiction of Supreme Court - Legal Bites

THE TERM ‘ORIGINAL JURISDICTION OF THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA”

Article 131[1] of the Indian constitution states the original jurisdiction of Supreme Court, critically examining the expression “original jurisdiction of Supreme Court” in the article, a court is said to have an original jurisdiction when it has authority to hear and determine a case in the first instance. Any kind of dispute may arise between the government of India and one or more states if we think from the perception of India because of its federal or quasi-federal structure of the constitution, so a forum is eventually needed for such disputes, Article 131 serves that purpose.[2]

Under this jurisdiction, the first suit brought before the Supreme Court was between West Bengal and union of India in 1961, to declare the unconstitutionality of the coal-bearing areas (Acquisition and Development) Act, 1957, was dismissed by the Supreme Court.[3]

Referring to the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India D.D. Basu said “though our federation is not in the nature of the treaty or compact between the component units, there is nevertheless a division of legislative as well as administrative powers between union and the states Article 131 of our constitution therefore vests the Supreme Court with original and exclusive jurisdiction to determine justiciable disputes between the Union and the states or between the States inter se”[4]

In State of Bihar v. Union of India the court held that the dispute between the state of Bihar and the Hindustan Steel Ltd. A registered company under the companies act, 1956, did not fall within the original jurisdiction.[5]

ORIGINAL JURISDICTION OF THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Article III, Section II of the Constitution establishes the jurisdiction (legal ability to hear a case) of the Supreme Court. The Court has original jurisdiction (a case is tried before the Court) over certain cases, e.g., suits between two or more states and/or cases involving ambassadors and other public ministers.[6]

In the United States, courts having original jurisdiction are referred to as trial courts. In certain types of cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has original jurisdiction concurrently with lower courts. The original jurisdiction of the U.S. Supreme Court is governed by Article III, Section 2 of the United States Constitution and Title 28 of the United States Code, section 1251.[7]

ORIGINAL JURISDICTION OF THE SUPREME COURT OF THE FRANCE

The lowest court of France has original jurisdiction over most civil matters except areas of specialist exclusive jurisdiction, those being mainly land estates, business and consumer matters, social security, and labor. All criminal matters may pass summarily through the lowest criminal court, the tribunal de police, but each court has both original and limited jurisdiction over a certain separate level of offenses.[8]

DISPUTES

The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Article 131 is narrow in three ways- by limitations on nature of suits, by restrictions on the types of parties to the suits and by constitutionally specified exclusions.[9]

Parties: There must be an inter-state dispute, i.e. the dispute must be between the units of the union or between the union and any one or more of the states, or between the union and any one or more of the states, or between the union and state or states on one side and one or more states on the other the supreme court in its original jurisdiction cannot entertain a suit brought by private individuals.[10]

In the case of State of Bihar v. Union of India, Hindustan steel was not considered to be a state under article 131.[11]

In the case of State of Rajasthan v. Union of India the question that arises was that whether the word states come under the meaning of the state government or not.[12] In 1977, a strange situation arose. In the entire country, one party was voted to power (through Parliamentary election) by a majority. Already at that time, another party was in power in nine states. The Central Government was of the view, that in these States, the Government should seek a fresh mandate from the electorate.

A letter to that effect was addressed by the Home Minister to the Chief Ministers of the States. Apprehending that the letter would be followed by the issue of a Presidential Proclamation under article 356 of the Constitution, the States moved the Supreme Court, questioning the validity of such a Proclamation in the circumstances of the case. The Supreme Court held that it had jurisdiction to entertain the proceeding.[13]

The legal right of the states consist in their immunity in the sense of freedom from the power of the union government and to contend that the centre has no power to dissolve the state assemblies. However, it is not necessary for attracting art. 131 that the plaintiff questions the legal or constitutional right asserted by the defendant, be it the government of India or any other state.[14]

In the case of Karnataka v. Union of India, the supreme court questioned on the scope and nature of the Article 131 of the Indian Constitution. This decision was followed by the case of Rajasthan Dissolution Case. The Central Government had issued a notification under section 3[15] of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952, to inquire into the conduct of certain Ministers of the State Government of Karnataka.[16]

“The State Government challenged the legality of this notification, mainly raising a constitutional issue connected with federalism. The principal point raised was, that the scheme of the Constitution was that the State Cabinet was collectively responsible to the State Legislative Assembly [article 164 (2) of the Constitution].

The Constitution did not contemplate a parallel overseeing of the State Cabinet (or its members) by the Centre. In the end, the contention of the State Government failed. But the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court (under article 131) to go into the above question was upheld. The point that is relevant for the present purpose, is the fact that by a majority judgment, the proceeding was held to be maintainable and it was specifically held, that in this context, the supposed distinction between the State (an abstract entity) and the State Government (its concrete representative), was immaterial.”[17]

Thus, it is clearly evident that any claim by the private individual cannot be held under Article 131.

SCOPE OF THE EXPRESSION “STATE” IN ARTICLE 131

In the case of Bihar V Union the state of Bihar filed a suit in the Supreme Court under Article 131 against the union of India as the owner of railways and the Hindustan Steel ltd., a government company, claiming damages for a short supply of iron and steel ordered by the state in connection with the Gandak Project. It was held that suit did not lie under Article 131 because its phraseology excludes the idea of a private citizen, a firm or a corporation.[18]

“The most important feature of Article 131 that it makes no mention of any party other than the government of India or any one or more of the states who can be arrayed as a disputant.”

No private party, be it a citizen, or a firm or a corporation, can be impleaded as a party in a suit under Article 131, along with a state either jointly or in the alternative[19].

The main argument was that the Hindustan steels can be regarded as the state under Article 12[20] of the Indian Constitution, but the court held that the definition of state under Article 12 of Indian Constitution could not be applied under Article 131 and therefore Hindustan Steel cannot be regarded as the state.[21]

Article 12[22]

After interpreting the definition of the Article 12 it can be understood that the word state here includes all the authorities that are under the control of the government including government and parliament of India, the government and the legislature of the state, it basically means that it includes all the statutory and constitutional authorities, “the term “local authorities” mentioned in the article refers to the municipalities, panchayats, mining settlement boards etc. the term “other authorities” used includes instrumentalities or agencies of the government, every type of public authority, a board, a university, the chief justice of the high court, a public corporation and a government undertaking.”[23] A private body or a company,[24] a non-statutory body, exercising no statutory powers is not a state e.g. a company, private bodies having no statutory power.

AJAY HASIA CASE

The main issue raised in this case was that whether a society registered under the Societies Registration Act was an ‘authority’ falling within the definition of ‘State’ in art.12 of the Constitution and procedure adopted by society for selecting candidates for admission to the college was arbitrary?”[25]

In the following judgment, Supreme Court laid down certain guidelines to test that whether the body is instrumentality government or not?

  • 1) “If the entire share capital of the body is held by the government, it goes a long way towards indicating that the body is an instrumentality of the government.
  • 2) Where the financial assistance given by the government is so large as to meet the almost entire expenditure of the body, it may indicate that the body is impregnated with governmental character.
  • 3) It is relevant factor-if the body enjoys monopoly status which is conferred or protected by the state.
  • 4) The existence of deep and pervasive state control may afford an indication that the body is a state instrumentality.
  • 5) If the functions performed by the body are of public importance and closely related to governmental functions, it is a relevant factor to treat the body as an instrumentality of the government.”[26]

The main argument was that the Hindustan steels can be regarded as the state under Article 12 of the Indian Constitution, but the court held that the definition of state under Article 12 of Indian Constitution could not be applied under Article 131 and therefore Hindustan Steel cannot be regarded as the state.[27]

“In pursuing the definition of “the state” in Article 12, the court has time and again reminded that what is the state for the purposes of article 12 need not be state for other purposes”[28]

In the case of State of Rajasthan v. Union of India, the question that arose was that whether “state” in Article 131(a) also includes within its purview “state government” majority decision received was that the article 131(a) means that a dispute must arise between the Union of India and State. The main purpose of article 131 is to provide a forum for the resolution of the disputes.[29]

Facts of the case are as follows

“In 1977 the congress party was swept of parliament office and power in the Lok Sabha elections, nine states of the India saw an almost total rejection of congress, however congress ministers continued to function in these states, home minister Charan Singh in a dated 18th April, 1977 which recommended that the chief minister call for the dissolution of the state assemblies in their respective states, six states filed suits praying for a permanent injunction against giving effect to the directive which threatened action under article 356, three writ petitions filed by the three members of the Punjab legislative assembly alleging infringement of their right to property.”[30]

The scope of article 131 the above-mentioned case:


Even if there be some grounds for making the distinction between a state’s interest and rights and those of its government or its members. I do not think that we need to take a too restrictive or hyper-technical view of the state’s right to sue for any rights, actual or fancied, which the state government chooses to take up on behalf of the state concerned in a suit under Art. 131.”

– Beg C.J.


Goswami J and Fazl Ali J upheld the objection stating that a dispute must affect the legal rights of the state and not those of the state government.[31]

In the case of Karnataka v. Union of India, the Supreme Court had considered the scope of Art. 131 of the Constitution which confers exclusive original jurisdiction to the Supreme Court. The court has decided by a majority that the suit was maintainable, dealt with the suit on the merits.

The main issue was that is the suit maintainable? And is the impugned notification ultra vires the power of the central government under section 3 of the commissions of inquiry act? Beg C.J. said, “It appears to be too technical an argument to be accepted that a suit does not lie under Article 131 of the Constitution.

It is true that there is a distinction between the ‘State’ and the ‘State Government’. But it cannot be accepted that any action or incapacity of the government may not affect the State and the State would not be interested in it.”[32]

LEGAL RIGHT- 1935 ACT

“The legal right mentioned in the proviso which is the subject of dispute here must arise in the context of the constitution and the federalism it sets up, however there can be no doubt that so far as the parties to the dispute are concerned, the framers of the constitution did intend that they could only be the constituent units of the Union of India and the Government of India itself arrayed on one side or the other either singly or jointly with another unit or the Government of India.”[33]

Article 131 has a very wide scope, it consists of both the questions of facts and the questions of law. Salmond has expressed his views on the expression “legal right” “According to him, it is an interest recognised and protected by a rule of legal justice, an interest, the violation of which would be a legal wrong done to him whose interest it is, and respect for which is a legal duty”.[34]

“The term ‘legal right’, used in section 204 [35], obviously means a right recognized by law and capable of being enforced by the power of a State, but not necessarily in a court of law. It is a right of an authority recognized and protected by a rule of law, a violation of which would be a legal wrong to his interest and respect for which is a legal duty, even though no action may actually lie. The only ingredients seem to be a legal recognition and a legal protection.

The mere fact that under the previous Act the Provincial Governments were subordinate administrations under the control of the Central Government and could only have made a representation to the Governor-General-in-Council or the Secretary of State, would not be sufficient, in itself, for holding that the former could not possibly possess any legal right, at all, against the Central Government, even in respect of rights conferred upon them by the provisions of the Act or the rules made thereunder”.[36]

All the political disputes are excluded; they cannot be covered by the article 131.

CONCLUSION

Concluding the entire topic, according to the author article 131 of the constitution shall be reasonably interpreted and the Supreme Court of India shall be considered as an exclusive jurisdiction, and if any question related to the power distribution arises when one of the party should be that of government.

All the three cases are explained in regard to the rights of the state. The state of Bihar v. Union of India is a dispute that does not involve any legal right, it is a dispute of political dimension, so it is not covered under article 131. The other two cases state of Rajasthan v. Union of India and the state of Karnataka v. Union of India are the cases that involve the legal right.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books

  • N Shukla (2013) 12th edition Constitution Of India, Lucknow: Eastern book company
  • N. Pandey (2006) 53rd Edition, Constitutional Law of India, Central Law Agency
  • P Jain (2010) 6th edition, Indian Constitutional Law: Lexis Nexis

Articles

 Essay

Websites


– Isha Bajaj

Content Writer @ Legal Bites


References

[1] 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 (a) between the Government of India and one or more States; or (b) between the Government of India and any State or States on one side and one or more other States on the other; or (c) 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 that6 the said jurisdiction shall not extend to such a dispute.

[2] V.N Shukla (2013) 12th edition Constitution Of India, Lucknow: Eastern book company, page no. 514

[3] BYJU’S (2015) Original Jurisdiction of the supreme court, Retrieved from http://byjus.com/free-ias-prep/original-jurisdiction-of-the-supreme-court

[4] Dheeraj, Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India, retrieved from http://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/india-2/jurisdiction-of-the-supreme-court-of-india/49298/

[5] Supra note 2, page no. 515

[6] United States courts (2005) About the supreme court, Retrieved from http://www.uscourts.gov/about-federal-courts/educational-resources/about-educational-outreach/activity-resources/about

[7] Wikipedia (2017) Original Jurisdiction, Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Original_jurisdiction#India

[8] ibid

[9] Raeesavakil, The jurisdiction of the Supreme court India, Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/9736568/The_Jurisdiction_of_the_Indian_Supreme_Court_An_Overview

[10] Supra note 2, page no. 514

[11] G. Mitter State of Bihar V. Union Of India  & Anr on 19 September 1969, Retrieved from https://indiankanoon.org/doc/895521/

[12] M.H Beg, State of Rajasthan &Ors. Etc v. Union of India on 6th may, 1977 Retrieved from https://indiankanoon.org/doc/174974/

[13] M.P Jain (2010) 6th edition, Indian Constitutional Law: Lexis Nexis, page no. 226

[14] Supra note 2, page no. 515

[15] Appointment of Commission. —

(1) The appropriate Government may, if it is of opinion that it is necessary so to do, and shall, if a resolution in this behalf is passed by 6 [each House of Parliament or, as the case may be, the Legislature of the State], by notification in the Official Gazette, appoint a Commission of Inquiry for the purpose of making an inquiry into any definite matter of public importance and performing such functions and within such time as may be specified in the notification, and the Commission so appointed shall make the inquiry and perform the functions accordingly: Provided that where any such Commission has been appointed to inquire into any matter—

(a) by the Central Government, no State Government shall, except with the approval of the Central Government, appoint another Commission to inquire into the same matter for so long as the Commission appointed by the Central Government is functioning;

(b) By a State Government, the Central Government shall not appoint another Commission to inquire into the same matter for so long as the Commission appointed by the State Government is functioning unless the Central Government is of opinion that the scope of the inquiry should be extended to two or more States.

(2) The Commission may consist of one or more members appointed by the appropriate Government, and where the Commission consists of more than one member, one of them may be appointed as the Chairman thereof.

7 [(3) the appropriate Government may, at any stage of an inquiry by the Commission fill any vacancy which may have arisen in the office of a member of the Commission (whether consisting of one or more than one member).

(4) The appropriate Government shall cause to be laid before 6 [each House of Parliament or, as the case may be, the Legislature of the State], the report, if any, of the Commission on the inquiry made by the Commission under sub-section (1) together with a memorandum of the action taken thereon, within a period of six months of the submission of the report by the Commission to the appropriate Government.]

[16] Teacher, Law. (November 2013). Jurisdiction Of The Supreme Court. Retrieved from https://www.lawteacher.net/free-law-essays/judicial-law/jurisdiction-of-the-supeme-court.php?cref=1

[17] ibid

[18] M.P Jain (2010) 6th edition, Indian Constitutional Law: Lexis Nexis, page no. 225

[19] Supra note 18, page no. 225

[20] In this part, unless the context otherwise requires, the State includes the Government and Parliament of India and the Government and the Legislature of each of the States and all local or other authorities within the territory of India or under the control of the Government of India.

[21] Supra note 18, page no. 225

[22] In this part, unless the context otherwise requires, the State includes the Government and Parliament of India and the Government and the Legislature of each of the States and all local or other authorities within the territory of India or under the control of the Government of India.

[23] Supra note 18

[24] Ramana v. International Airports Authority (1628)

[25] Ajay Hasia and ors. V. Khalid Mujib Sehravardi and ors. (1981), Retrieved from http://www.nja.nic.in/P-950%20Reading%20Material%205-NOV-15/1.%20Ajay_Hasia%20done.pdf

[26] Ajay Hasia and ors. V. Khalid MujibSehravardi and ors. (1981), Retrieved from http://www.nja.nic.in/P-950%20Reading%20Material%205-NOV-15/1.%20Ajay_Hasia%20done.pdf

[27] Supra note 18

[28] Supra note 2, page no. 33

[29] Supra note 2, page no. 515

[30] Supra note 12

[31] Meghakain, State of Rajasthan v. Union of India (1977) Retrieved from https://www.scribd.com/doc/181327683

[32] J.N. Pandey (2006) 53rd Edition, Constitutional Law of India, Central Law Agency, Page 531

[33] Supra note 11

[34] P.M Bakshi (2001) Constitutional mechanisms for settlement of inter-state disputes, Retrieved from http://lawmin.nic.in/ncrwc/finalreport/v2b2-2.htm

[35] (1) Subject to the provisions of this Act, the Federal Court shall, to the exclusion of any other court, have an original jurisdiction in any dispute between any two or more of the following parties, that is to say, theFederation, any of the Provinces or any of the Federated 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) a dispute to which a State is a party, unless the dispute-

(i) concerns the interpretation of this Act or of an Order in Council made thereunder,1or the extent of the legislative or executive authority vested in the Federation by virtue of the Instrument of Accession of that State; or

(ii) arises under an agreement made under Part VI of this Act in relation to the administration in that State of a law of the Federal Legislature, or otherwise concerns some matter with respect to which the Federal Legislature has the power to make laws for that State; or

(iii) arises under an agreement made after the establishment of the Federation, with the approval of His Majesty’s Representative for the exercise of the functions of the Crown in its relations with Indian States, between that State and the Federation or a Province, being an agreement which expressly provides that the said jurisdiction shall extend to such a dispute];

(b) a dispute arising under any agreement which expressly provides that the said jurisdiction shall not extend to such a dispute.

(2) The Federal Court in the exercise of its original jurisdiction shall pronounce any judgment other than a declaratory judgment.

[36] Supra note 34.


Related Links

1) WRIT JURISDICTION OF THE SUPREME AND HIGH COURTS

2) JUDICIARY: UNION & STATE

3) ABOLITION OF DUAL JUDICIAL SYSTEM

4) AN ANALYSIS OF JUDICIAL REVIEW OF PARDONING POWER OF PRESIDENT AND GOVERNOR IN INDIA

5) SALIENT FEATURES OF CONSTITUTION OF INDIA

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