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Analysis of Article 131 of The Indian Constitution Along With The Legal Rights of The State And Its Legislative History
Article 131of the Indian Constitution-
In our Indian Constitution, it has been mentioned that the Supreme court is the guardian of the Fundamental Rights guaranteed to us under Article 14, thus any kind of violation of our fundamental rights we can go directly to the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution (this being a fundamental right too). But when there is a dispute which arises between the States of India or between the StateGovernment and the Union Government then it is the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Article 131 of the Constitution that gives it the power to resolve these kinds of disputes.
Article 32 gives the Supreme court original jurisdiction but not exclusive jurisdiction because of the reason that even the High Courts have that jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution. It is only Article 131 that gives the court original and an exclusive jurisdiction as it can solve disputes which arise out of the Presidential and vice-presidential elections.
We say that a court enjoys original jurisdiction when it has got the authority to hear the case in its first instance, but when we say that it also enjoys exclusive jurisdiction then it means that it is the whole and sole authority to hear and determine the case and that no other court has the power.
A bare text reading of the Constitution tells us that Article 131 talks about the original and exclusive jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India. It talks about the fact that the Supreme Court shall have an exclusive jurisdiction in disputes which arise between the Government of India and some of the States in India, between the Government of India and one or more States on one side and some other States on the other hand and between 2 States themselves. These disputes can be taken up by the Supreme Court only when there is a question on law or fact depending upon the extent of the legal right involved.
The proviso of this Article says that the Supreme Court shall not have any kind of jurisdiction in disputes arising out of any “treaty, agreement, covenant, engagement, sanad or any other similar instrument which came into being before the commencement of our Constitution”.
Original jurisdiction is in the matters of the election disputes as mentioned earlier and the exclusive jurisdiction because it is the only the Supreme court is the only court in India that has the power to settle disputes between the State Government and the union Government or between more than one StateGovernments. This was given in Union of India v State of Rajasthan.
As it has been given in the bare text that only matters involving legal rights will be entertained any kind of political conflict will not be entertained. “The term legal right has been construed liberally. It means assertion or vindication of any legal right of the Union Government or of a State It apparently includes a Constitutional right” .
Thus, the only limitation from which this Article suffers is-
a) who will be the parties to the dispute
b) what will be the subject matter of the dispute between the parties.
Who can be the parties to the dispute-
The answer to this question was given by Justice Bhagwati in the case of State of Karnataka v UoI AIR 1978 SC 143. He said “ The Article is a necessary concomitant of a federal or a quasi federal form of Government and it is attracted only when the parties to the dispute are the Government of India or one or more States arranged on either sides”.
Meaning of the word ‘State’-
Article 131 talks about State disputes, but the word ‘State’ does not have the same meaning like that in Article 12 of the Indian Constitution. Under Article 12 there are many organizations that can be qualified as a State if they fulfill the 6 conditions given in the Ajay Hasia v Khalid Mujib Case (AIR 1981 SC 487). Thus, it means that private parties are not be a part of the cases which fall under Article 131 which is resolved by the Supreme Court.
Thus, under this Article 131 of the Constitution the court cannot take a dispute which involves a private party and a Government on the other side. So, in the case of State of Bihar v UoI the StateGovernment had filed a case against the Central Government on behalf of the Railways and a company which was treated as a State under Article 12 of the Indian Constitution. But the court said that the case could not be brought under the jurisdiction under Article 131 as the meaning of the word ‘State’ did not include any private citizen, company or a Government department even if it had filed a complaint along with any StateGovernment.
Why are private parties excluded?
The main reason as to why the court wants to exclude the private parties or in other words all those entities termed as States under Article 12 are not within the meaning of State under Article 131 is that the settling of the inter-Governmental disputes should be at the Highest forum of any country and it should be done as quickly as possible. In a country like India where there are 29 States then there will be 29 different StateGovernments which in turn means that there will be a huge possibility that inter-Governmental disputes will always be present at some point or the other, thus to reduce the burden on the Apex court of our country the meaning of State under Article 131 is restricted. And also the fact that when there is a dispute which arises between 2 State Governments then it would be difficult to decide as to which State’s High court will get the matter to resolve, thus only the Supreme Court will have the exclusive jurisdiction.
This Article will only be applied when there is question on the legal rights of the State or the Union vis-à-vis the other States. Thus in the case of Tashi Delek gaming solutions Ltd v State of Karnataka, the lottery agents of the States Sikkim and Meghalaya challenged the banning of lottery games by the State of Karnataka. The Karnataka High Court held that this dispute held the legal rights of all the three States, hence the remedy will be under article 131 only. But the Supreme court held otherwise and said that these agents were given the right to represent the State Governments and hence were private parties thus not coming under the jurisdiction of article 131. Such an agent had the right to sue and be sued in his own name and thus it would not come under this article 131.
Ambit of the court under Article 131 and what are legal rights? -
Thus, the ambit of Article 131 is not that wide as disputes that arise between the departments of the Union Government and the State Government do not fall within the meaning of the word ‘State’.
Now, the Article itself starts with the phrase “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution…” which means that Parliament can make laws which will actually effect the jurisdiction of the court, like it has done in the case of inter-State water disputes (Article 262 of the Constitution). So, by the commencement of the Inter-State Water Dispute Act, 1956 the parliament actually gave the powers to the tribunal to resolve the conflicts between the States but when the time comes for the binding of the award then the Supreme Court gets the powers as now the dispute is between the States and the water conflict has been solved and it is no longer within the ambit of Article 262.
So, in the case of State of Rajasthan v UoI it was said that the Supreme Court has got the power to give any kind of relief if it is necessary to enforce the legal right of any State on dispute if such legal right has been established by the Government of the State.
As mentioned by the author earlier that this Article 131 suffers from 2 kinds of limitations and one of them being the subject matter of the dispute i.e. only those case between the Governments can be entertained by the Supreme Court which are based on the legal rights of the State Government or the Union Government. As it has been said by Salmond that a “a legal right is an interest recognised and protected by the 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”.
The definitions of legal rights by Holland is as follows-“If irrespectively of his having, or not having, either the right, or moral right on his side, the power of the State will protect him in so carrying out his wishes, and will compel such acts or forbearance on the part of other people as may be necessary in order that his wishes may be so carried out, then he has a “legal right” so to carry out his wishes.”
Thus, for any case to be entertained by the Supreme Court under Article 131 of the Constitution what has to be kept in mind is that the controversy which is arising or the question which is asked must be based on the legal rights of someone (only a State Government or the Central Government) and any kind of non-legal questions is not maintainable.
This is what was also held in the Rajasthan Dissolution case that the suit filed was maintainable because of the fact that the suit was trying to enforce the legal right of the State as there had been a gross in violation of their legal rights due to the power (unconstitutional exercise of power) used by the President under Article 356 of the Constitution which lead to the infringement of the rights of the individual members of the Legislative Assembly and the rights of the State as well. Another question that was asked in this case was whether the word State Government was included within the meaning the ‘State’? So, the majority in this case said that whenever there is a case under this Article 131 then it means that there is a dispute between the Central Government and the State Government and it does not mean that there is a dispute between the offices in the Government. It is not the political parties that should be fighting, it is the whole Government per se that is fighting against the violation of some of their legal rights. Article 131 gives both the Governments a forum to fight on legal issues and not on mere political issues. Thus, the order given by the Government of India to the State Governments ordering the Chief Minister to tender advice to the Governor of the State is not a mere political issue but a legal right.
Now what the majority of the judges say in this case is that it is not necessary that in every case being filed under this Article that the State Government or the plaintiff has to prove that their legal right is being violated but they can also question the legal right or the Constitutional validity of any action taken by the Union Government or the State Government or the defendant per se.
The minority in this case had a different view and they said that the word “State” didn’t include within itself the State Government. They said that a dispute between the Government of India and any StateGovernment will not come under the purview of Article 131 as even after the Assembly is dissolved, still the State will continue to have a Government.
The author would like to point out the fact that according to Article 300 of the Indian Constitution it has been explicitly mentioned that the Government of India will be sued or will sue under the name of the Union of India and that the StateGovernment will be sued or will sue under the name of the State only. The explanation of this Article says that there is a difference between the terms Union of India and Government of Indiaand that the latter is not a legal entity and that the former is, which is like a corporate body with rights and obligations. The same way even the State has been given a juristic personality with power to sue and to be sued. It also mentions an exception that except in Article 131 of the Constitution every suit involving the Government and its employees will be seen by the other ordinary courts.
Again, in the case of State of Karnataka v UoI J. Bhagwati emphasises on the point that all the cases which are under Article 131 of the Constitution should only talk about the legal rights of either of the parties, any kind of non-legal aspect will not be entertained. Thus, defining the scope of Article 131 the hon’ble judge said “What has, therefore to be seen in order to determine the applicability of Article 131 is whether there is any relational legal matter involving a right, liberty, power or immunity qua the parties to the dispute. If there is, the suit would be maintainable but not otherwise.”
In this above mentioned case, the main contention of the State Government was that under the Commissions of Enquiry Act, the Central Government did not have the power to constitute any inquiry commission which would look into the matters of a State legislation and executive. Thus, the inquiry commission looked into the behaviour of the Chief minister of the State along with the other ministers, thus it was a question of Centre-State relationship. But the union Government said that the Supreme Court will not have the power to look into this matter as there was jurisdiction under Article 131 of the Constitution as it was a matter of the centre and State Government. But the Supreme Court said otherwise and said that the Government of India and the Union will be the one and the same and that the ‘State’ would include the Government of the State. J. Bhagawati also mentions that the State Government is nothing but the agent of a State the words State and Government of a State can be used interchangeably. The case also tells us that a legal right is that which are enforceable by an action in a court of law.
In the case of State of Bihar v UoI, when the State of Bihar had filed a suit against the Central Government on behalf of the Railways wanting some kind of compensation then the Supreme Court said that this case was not maintainable as the question of legal rights of a private consignor was risen thus it was outside the jurisdiction mentioned under Article 131.
Meaning of the word “Cause of Action” that has been used in Order 23 Rule 6(a) of the Supreme Court Rules 1966 means the same, i.e. all the types of disputes that have been mentioned from (a) to (c) under Article 131 of the Constitution. That is it must involve a question on legal rights of either of the parties to the suit and that if the cause of action is somewhat different, then it would not be maintainable under this order. This was mentioned in the State of Haryana v State of Punjab.
What it seems is that under this article the Supreme Court acts as an interpreter and a platform to determine the rights of the Federation and the units of the Federation. Thus, such disputes are determined on the bases of the legal rights of either of the parties.
Legislative History of Article 131-
It is a known fact that Section 204 of the Government of India Act, 1935 was similar to this Article 131 of the Indian Constitution. And thus, the case to be discussed is the United Province v Governor General of Council. This was a case which was filed under section 204 of the Government of India Act, 1935. This section talked about the exclusive original jurisdiction of the federal court just like the present Article 131 of the Constitution. In this case the plaintiff brought a case to recover a certain sum of money from the defendant because it had been wrongly credited to the cantonment fund. But now the defendant said that the case was not maintainable as a Province could file a case against the Government of India and that it was not within the original and exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal court. But the court agreed otherwise and said that in this particular case there was a question which talked about the legal right of the provinces thus this case was maintainable under section 204 of the act.
While giving out the judgement Justice Sulaiman said a very interesting thing and this was “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 a representation to the Governor-General-in- Council or the Secretary of the 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 under”.
Under this section 204 of the Government of India act, 1935 it was construed that the Provinces could go to the Federal Court to fight for their legal rights but could not go if it was against the Central Government. A careful reading of the section 204 of the Government of India Act says that the framers of the act had in mind to make the Federal court the tribunal of all those disputes which arise between the constituent units of a federation and also specified the nature of jurisdiction which the court had upon these disputes. The only limitation which the federal court had at that point was that it could not give out a proper judgement and that it could only give a declaratory agreement.
What has been understood so far is that Article 131 is the original and the exclusive jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India when it is looking at the disputes which has risen between the Union and State or between two States. No High court in India has that kind of jurisdiction. There are basically two important things that has to be kept in mind and that is 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. The next important thing is that 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.
The confusion which arose was whether the State and the StateGovernment will be the same and that answer has now been answered in the affirmed as it is one and same and it has also been explicitly mentioned in article 300 of the Constitution.
What is a legal right and what is not has not been given explicitly anywhere but the courts according to their discretion while resolving cases determines whether a right is a legal right or a political right of a state.
Dr. K.C Joshi, The Constitutional Law of India, (462), (Central Law Publications, Allahbad, 2nd edition, 2013)
V.N Shukla, Constitution of India, (514-519), (EBC, Lucknow, 12th edition, 2013)
Dr. K. C Joshi, Supra note 1.
 M.P Jain, Indian Constitutional Law, (226), (Lexis Nexis Butterworths Wadhwa, Nagpur, 6th edition, 2010)
 Available at (http://www.nja.nic.in/P-950 Reading Material 5-NOV-15/1. Ajay_Hasia done.pdf) Last retrieved on (21/3/17)
 M.P Jain, Supranote 7
 V.N Shukla, Constitution of India, (514-519), (EBC, Lucknow, 12th edition, 2013)
DD Basu, Commentary on Constitution of India, ( Lexis Nexis Nagpur, 8th edition, 2009)
Dr. K.C Joshi, The Constitutional Law of India, (463), (Central Law Publications, Allahbad, 2nd edition, 2013)
 Gopal Sankaranarayanan, The Constitution of India, (Article 131), (EBC, Lucknow, 8th edition, 2015)
Dr. K.C Joshi, Supra note 1, at 463 and 464.
 H.K Saharay, The Constitution of India , An Analytical Approach, (450) ( Eastern Law House, Kolkata, 3rd edition, 2002)
 V.N Shukla, Supranote 12.
Avtar Krishna Koul, “Article 131 Of The Indian Constitution: Some Observations”, Journal Of The Indian Law Institute, [Vol. 13: 1]
V.N Shukla, Supranote 12
V.N Shukla, Supranote 12
 As per J. Gupta, J. Goswami and J. Fazal Ali see V.N Shukla, Constitution of India, (516), (EBC, Lucknow, 12th edition, 2013)
 V.N Shukla, Supranote 12, at 893
Ibid at 894
 M.P Jain, Indian Constitutional Law, (297), (Lexis Nexis Butterworths Wadhwa, Nagpur, 6th edition, Volume 2, 2010)
M.P Jain, Supranote 26at 299
 DD Basu, Commentary on Constitution of India, (5640) ( Lexis Nexis Nagpur, 8th edition, 2009)
M.P Jain, Supranote 26at 300
 M.P Jain, Supranote 26at 302
Avtar Krishna Koul, Supranote 19
V.N Shukla, Supranote 12
V.N Shukla, Supranote 12
Avtar Krishna Koul, Supra note 19.
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