Article 131 of the Indian Constitution
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Article 131 of the Indian Constitution

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Article 131 of the Indian Constitution 

Why in news?

Recently Kerala and Chhattisgarh have filed a suit in the Supreme court challenging the constitutional validity of various central laws such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (Kerala) and the National Investigation Agency Act (Chhattisgarh), under Article 131 of the Indian Constitution.  

Why the states have challenged the Centre under article 131?

Kerala:

Kerala has filed a suit to challenge the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, stating that it is violative of Articles 14 (equality before the law), 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) and 25 (freedom of religion) as well as against the secular fabric of the nation.  

It also challenges the Passport (Entry to India) Amendment Rules 2015, and Foreigners (Amendment) Order 2015, which had regularised the stay of non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and  Afghanistan, who had entered India before December 31, 2014, on the condition that they had fled religious persecution from their home countries.  

Chhattisgarh:

It has sought a declaration that the NIA Act, 2008, is unconstitutional on the ground that it is “beyond the legislative competence of Parliament”.

As ‘Police’ is a subject reserved for the States, having a central police agency, which has overriding powers over the State police, with no provision for consent from the State government for its operations, is against the division of legislative powers between the Centre and the States.

And thus NIA is against the federal spirit of the Constitution.  

About Article 131

Article 131 of the Constitution talks about the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, where the apex court deals with any dispute between the Centre and a state; the Centre and a state on the one side and another state on the other side; and two or more states.

This means no other court can entertain such a dispute.  

Criteria:

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. 

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.

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

The original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court does not extend to:

A dispute arising out of any treaty, agreement, covenant, engagement or other similar instrument executed before the commencement of the constitution and continues to be in operation or which provides that the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court shall not extend to such a dispute;  

disputes relating to the use, distribution, or control of the water of any inter-state river;

Suits were brought by private individuals against the government of India. 

Significance of Article 131

India’s quasi-federal constitutional structure: Intergovernmental disputes are not uncommon, therefore, the framers of the Constitution expected such 

differences, and added the exclusive original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court for their resolution.  

Resolve disputes between states: Unlike individuals, State governments cannot complain of fundamental rights being violated or cannot move to the courts under Article 32 (Remedies for enforcement of rights). Therefore, the Constitution provides that whenever a State feels that its legal rights are under threat or have been violated, it can take the “dispute” to the Supreme Court.

States have filed such cases under Article 131 against neighboring States in respect of river water sharing and boundary disputes.

Additional debate vis-à-vis Article 131 Power to declare legislation unconstitutional under Article 131:  

In 2011, in the State of MP v Union of India, the Supreme Court held that the validity of central laws can be challenged under Article 32 of the Constitution and not under Article 131.  

However, a 2012 dispute between Bihar and Jharkhand is currently pending for consideration by a larger Bench of the Supreme court whose decision would have a bearing on the Court’s power to decide the validity of the law under article 131.  

Way forward 

Supreme Court, should constitute a larger bench to decide the question of whether the suits challenging central laws are maintainable under article 131 or not. In that case, if the suits are declared maintainable, the same bench may also adjudicate the disputes.  

Other Jurisdictions of the Supreme Court

Advisory: Under its advisory jurisdiction, the President has the power to seek an opinion from the apex court under Article 143 of the Constitution.

Appellate: Under its appellate jurisdiction, the Supreme Court hears appeals from lower courts. 

Extraordinary original jurisdiction: The Supreme Court has exclusive power to adjudicate upon disputes involving elections of the President and the Vice President, those that involve states and the Centre, and cases involving the violation of fundamental rights.