Article 131 of the Constitution and CAA

Context

  • The Kerala government moved the Supreme Court against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
  • The Pinarayi Vijayan-led government, the first state to challenge the law, filed a petition under Article 131 of the Constitution and asked for the law to be declared unconstitutional and in violation of Articles 14 (equality before law), 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) and 25 (freedom of conscience and free profession, practice, and propagation of religion).

What is Article 131 of the Constitution?

  • The Article vests the Supreme Court with original jurisdiction over disputes occurring between states or between states and the Centre. The original jurisdiction of a court means the power to hear a case for the first time, as opposed to appellate jurisdiction, in which the court reviews the decision of a lower court.
  • Unlike the original jurisdiction under Article 32 (which gives the top court the power to issue writs, etc.), the jurisdiction in Article 131 is exclusive, meaning it is only the Supreme Court which has this authority. Under Article 226, the High Courts too have the power to issue writs, directions etc.

Article 131 reads, “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, engagement, sanad, 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.”

What kinds of disputes are covered under Article 131?

  • In ‘State of Rajasthan vs Union of India’, 1977, the Supreme Court ruled that the existence or extent of a legal right is a precursor before a suit under Article 131 is entertained, and that “mere wrangles between governments have no place in the scheme of that Article”, and upheld its jurisdiction in that case.
  • Similarly, in the 1978 case, ‘State of Karnataka vs Union of India’, which involved the Centre’s authority to order an inquiry into a state Chief Minister’s conduct, jurisdiction under Article 131 was held valid.
  • In the present case filed by Kerala, central legislation (CAA) is being challenged. In 2011, a two-judge Supreme Court Bench in ‘Madhya Pradesh v Union of India’ had held such a suit was not maintainable.
  • Later in 2013, another two-judge Bench in ‘State of Jharkhand v State of Bihar and Another’ disagreed with the previous verdict and referred the matter to a larger Bench. Kerala’s plaint relies on the 2013 verdict.

Source: IE