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  Dec 30, 2020


Q. What is Article 131 or Original jurisdiction?

The Supreme Court possesses Original jurisdiction enshrined in Article 131 of Constitution  to decide the disputes arising between different units of the Indian Federation like:

(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

  • In the above-mentioned cases, the Supreme Court has exclusive original jurisdiction, which means that no other court in the country can decide such disputes and SC has the power to hear such disputes in the first instance & not by the way of appeal.
  1. The dispute must involve a question of law or fact on which the existence/extent of a legal right depends. Thus, the questions of political nature are excluded from it.
  2. Any suit brought before the Supreme Court by a private citizen against the Centre or a state cannot be entertained under this article.

Article 131, therefore, allows a state to file a suit in the Supreme Court in case of any dispute that it may have with the central government, invoking the court’s “original jurisdiction”.

Q. What are the issues in Article 131? 

  • Ambiguity of Article 131: Which gives Parliament a leeway to amend or pass laws without worrying about repercussions.
  • The pre-requisite for filing a suit under Article 131 is the existence of a dispute between the parties. Also, the dispute must involve a question of law or a question of fact that transcends a legal or a constitutional right, and should not include political conflict, unless legal rights are at stake. 
  • Contradicting verdicts : Over the decades, the Apex Court has taken contradicting decisions on whether a State can challenge a Central enactment under Article 131. In the case of State of Madhya Pradesh v Union of India, the Court held that Central enactments could be only challenged as writ petitions under Article 32 and 262 of the Constitution and not under the original jurisdiction of the Court under Article 131.
  • But a few years later, in another case, it disagreed with the previously mentioned judgement stating that Article 131 works as an addition to Article 32 to deal with Centre-State Dispute.
  • Furthermore, the Court explicitly mentioned that it was unable to accept that the constitutional validity of a Central Law can be challenged under Article 131.
  • As the Court did not have the requisite bench strength to overturn the prevision decision, it left the matter open for a larger bench to decide. However, this inconclusive situation has not been resolved yet, which allows both the judgements to be used as a precedent for future references.
  • No High court in India has that kind of jurisdiction. 
  • The parties to the dispute can only be a State (federal units) or the union Government itself. The meaning of the word State in article 131 is not the same as or as wide as given in article 12 of the Constitution that means that a corporate body or a private body which is treated as a State will not be treated as a State under article 131 of the Constitution. 
  • Only the legal rights of the State are to be considered and not the political rights. All disputes that are not in the category of legal rights of the State then immediately it is outside the jurisdiction of the court under article 131.

Q. What are the two issues that are very relevant when we talk about Article 131?

1. Can the states file an original suit under Article 131?

  • There have been two conflicting judgments from the Supreme Court on whether a State can file an original suit under Article 131 to challenge the constitutionality of central law. 
  • The first judgment was reported in 2012 in the State of Madhya Pradesh vs Union of India case which held that the States cannot challenge a central law under Article 131.
  • The second judgment in the State of Jharkhand Vs State of Bihar case took an opposite turn in 2015 and was referred to a larger bench of the Supreme Court for final determination. This case is still awaiting the final judgment.

2. Can the Supreme Court test the validity of a central law under Article 131?

  • A central law can be challenged under Article 131 under the following cases:
  • Legislative Competence: the law can be challenged if it is not in compliance with the law making powers of the framing authority and has an excessive delegation of essential functions of the legislature. 
  • Violation of Rights: a law can be challenged if it violates Part III of the constitution which deals with Fundamental Rights.
    • Kerala’s petition is based on the premise that CAA is a violation of fundamental rights and not about the legislative competence of the Parliament.
  • Violation of the Constitution: The law can also be challenged on the basis that it is a violation of the constitution.