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What is article 131? Why has Kerala Government invoked article to challenge CAA in Supreme Court?

Article 131 vests the Supreme Court with original jurisdiction over any dispute arising between the states or between the centre and state.

Jan 15, 2020 18:31 IST
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The Kerala government invoked Article 131 to file a petition against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in the Supreme Court on January 14, 2020. Kerala has become the first state to move the apex court challenging CAA.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act will provide Indian citizenship to religious minorities belonging to six non-Muslim religions, who have faced religious persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

Kerala has become the first state to challenge the law, stating that it violates Article 14, Article 21 and Article 25 of the Indian constitution, which guarantees basic principles such as equality before the law, protection of life and personal liberty and freedom of conscience and free profession, practice, and propagation of religion.

Let us now understand what is article 131 under which the state government has filed its suit in the Supreme Court.

What is Article 131?

Article 131 vests the Supreme Court with original jurisdiction over any dispute arising between the states or between the centre and state. The article gives the Supreme Court the power to take up such cases straight instead of going through a lower court or reviewing a lower court’s judgement.

Under the article, the Supreme Court will have the power to hear a case firsthand, as against appellate jurisdiction, in which the apex court has to review a lower court’s judgement.  

What is the scope of Article 131?

Article 131 of the Indian constitution gives exclusive power to the Supreme Court, which means that only the top court has the authority to take up cases firsthand.

Article 131 of Indian constitution

Under Article 131, “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 —

- Between the Government of India and one or more States

- Between the Government of India and any State or States on one side and one or more other States on the other

- Between two or more States

( if the dispute involves any question (whether of law or fact) on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends)

When can Article 131 be invoked?

Article 131 can be invoked by a state whenever there is a difference of opinion between the centre and state on the question of interpretation of the Constitution, which will affect the exercise of government powers that are attributes of a state.

How is Kerala Government’s petition different from other petitions?

Kerala Government’s writ petition is not the same as the other challenges that are scheduled to be heard before the apex court on January 22. Kerala has filed its petition challenging the constitutional validity of the CAA act by invoking article 131 of the Indian constitution hence it is an original suit. The petition invokes the mechanism for the states to challenge the centre.

Several petitions have been filed against the CAA act in the Supreme Court. The apex court may hear the petitions separately or club them together but Kerala Government’s petition cannot be clubbed with those petitions.  

Has Article 131 been invoked before?

Article 131 was invoked by the state of Madhya Pradesh in 2011 challenging certain aspects of its reorganization following bifurcation and formation of Chhattisgarh. In the state of MP vs Union of India case, the Supreme Court had refused to accept the plea under Article 131 and held that validity of central laws can be challenged under Article 32 (infringement of fundamental rights).

However, this ruling was challenged in 2014 during the hearing of the State of Jharkhand vs State of Bihar case over dispute after bifurcation. The two-judge bench comprising Justices Chelameswar and SA Bobde disagreed with the earlier 2011 judgement and held that there was no bar on Article 131 being used to hear such matters. The bench had referred the case to a larger bench, which has not been constituted till now.

This means that the Supreme Court will have to take a decision on the prior reference before passing any judgement on Kerala Government’s petition. It would also need to set up a larger bench to hear the previous case.

Background

The new Citizenship (Amendment) Act seeks to provide Indian citizenship to six religious minority communities – Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian- who migrated to India before December 31, 2014 from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh to escape religious persecution.

The law’s passing by the Indian Parliament led to nation-wide protests, which turned violent in several cities. Following this, several petitions were filed before the Supreme Court challenging its constitutional validity. The Supreme Court issued a notice to the centre on December 18 and sought its response by the second week of January.

The Supreme Court listed all the anti-CAA petitions for hearing on January 22. The apex court, however, stated that it will hear the pleas only if all the violence stops.

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