In our Indian Constitution, it has been mentioned that the Supreme Court is the Apex Court of India as well as the guardian of the Fundamental Rights. Mainly, Article 131 of the Indian Constitution says that it provides whole and original jurisdiction to the Supreme Court of India where there is an issue of law or fact and the conflict is between two or more states, government of India and one or more states or government of India and any other states. However the conflict may include a procedural or objective matter on which the existence / extent of a legal right depends but any suit brought against the Centre by a private citizen or a state before the Supreme Court under this Article it cannot be entertained.
The original and exclusive jurisdiction power have given to Supreme Court of India as the higher judicial body of our constitution because constitutional makers considered the Article 131 was the most important aspect of Constitution of India because of the quasi-federal structure of Governance in India. In this structure the chances of conflict between the states or between the Center and State are likely to arise and their matters were only seen by Supreme Court but the Supreme Court has no special jurisdiction over cases where the dispute arises because of a signed contract, an arrangement, engagement or other similar agreements that were entered into due to the start of the Constitution, and these documents are defined by the executive. In this article, 5 major instances are mentioned when referencing Article 131 against the laws or regulations passed by the Centre.
1. State of Karnataka v. Union of India
In this case State of Karnataka v. Union of India, the Central Government did not have the power to constitute any inquiry commission so government challenged under Section 3 of the Commissions of Inquiry to examine the actions of certain ministers of the Karnataka state government. The Central Government did not have the power to constitute any inquiry commission. The State Government challenged it on the grounds of federalism and the scheme of the Constitution. Under Article 164(2) of the Constitution, the Cabinet of State was directly accountable to the Legislative Assembly of the State and not to the Centre. The inquiry commission investigated the actions of the Chief Minister of State and the other ministers, and it was also a question of the relationship between the Center and the Government. In the end, the State Government’s claim failed but the Supreme Court has jurisdiction under Article 131 to address the above question was upheld by 4:3 majority. The fact that the proceedings are considered to be maintainable by a majority decision and the supposed distinction between the States (an abstract entity) was specifically held.
2. State of Madhya Pradesh v Union of India
In the case of State of Madhya Pradesh v. Union of India, it was that in the year 2004 the State of Madhya Pradesh has filed under Article 131 of the Constitution of India calling for the records relating to the impugned Orders. Section 58(3) and 58(4) of the MP Reorganization Act, 2000 allowed the Central Government to transfer MP’s Electricity Boards’ assets and liabilities without any reasonable guidance. The act was challenged by Madhya Pradesh Government as being invalid and unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated Article 14 of the Constitution. Under Article 131 the two Judge Bench did not enter the plea as they believed that the suit was not maintainable. .They claimed that laws which are challenged on the basis that they violate some of the constitutional rights granted under the Indian Constitution can be challenged before the State High Court and the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution. It was the first case in which a claim brought by the State under Article 131 for violation of a constitutional right had to be reviewed by the Supreme Court.
3. State of Jharkhand v. Union of India
The Judgment passed by the Two-Judge Bench in Madhya Pradesh v Union of India, was used as precedent by the defendants to challenge the legitimacy of the maintainability of the suit. In this case Justice Chelameswar and Justice Bodbe did not agree with the judgment passed in the Madhya Pradesh v Union of India. As from their opinion they thought that if a question was raised by the Centre or state that questioned the statutory validity of a law or legislation then the Supreme Court is qualified to review the same.
4. State of West Bengal v Union of India
In the case of State of West Bengal v Union of India, it was the first time in which a State invoked Article 131 against the Government of the Union, Sections 4 and 7 of the Act were challenged as ultra vires and the Parliament had passed Acquisition and Development Act, 1947 which gave the central government the power to obtain the state’s property and rights. The West Bengal state claimed that since the Constitution is federal, the state is independence and the parliament has no power to pass a law and acquire the coal fields owned by the state. Then the Supreme Court held that the Constitution of India is not federal and in other ways restrictions are placed on the State, even though there is a division of powers and afterward no claim was given to the West Bengal State and the claim was dismissed with costs.
There are some issues that were raised before the Court:
- Is the Indian states are a sovereign body or not?
- Whether Parliament has the power to purchase land and other State-owned and private properties by enacting a law
No issues were raised for the violation of Fundamental Rights and secondly the judgement will not challenge Central Legislation subject to Article 131 of the Constitution, as no issues were raised in this way.
5. State of Kerala v. Union of India
Over the last few months, people around the country have come down on the streets to demonstrate their disapproval of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA). The Act seeks to offer citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian immigrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, who entered India before December 31 and are living without documentation. In this act it does not talks about Muslims who have been living in India. Under Article 25 of the Constitution, the State of Kerala will be bound to comply with rules and terms of CAA, hence a conflict emerged between the State and Union of India. State of Kerala filed a suit not only challenges CAA but also it challenged various other connected amendments: The Passport (Entry to India) Amendment Rules, 2015, The Passport (Entry to India) Amendment Rules, 2016, The Foreigners (Amendment) Order, 2015 and The Foreigners (Amendment) Order, 2016 as being unconstitutional. According to Government of Kerala they contended that CAA is violation of Article 14, Article 21 and Article 25 of the Constitution.
Moreover, they have argued that since the Act in question allows religion and country of origin the requirements for awarding citizenship, so it is violation of the concept of secularism, it is unreasonable and unconstitutional, and the same should be declared ultra vires, and thus be held invalid.
The State also questioned that the Centre an explanation as to why are not minorities from our neighboring countries like Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar are being given the same benefits and if the objective of the Act is to protect the minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, then why not Muslim minorities of these countries entitled to the benefits that are being awarded to individuals of other communities or religion.
As the problem raised questions of law and facts in regards to the violation of fundamental rights, other constitutional rights, as well as legal rights of the State, the maintainability of the suit was not challenged by the defendant, so far. Similar suit was filed by the State of Chhattisgarh against the National Agency Amendment Act in 2019
Article 131 of the Indian Constitution is a special provision which gives the Supreme Court primary and original jurisdiction in the event of legal disputes arising between the States or the State and the Union. No other High Court has at that kind of jurisdiction. There are two important things that should be in kept in mind, and these are the parties to the dispute that can only be a State (federal units) or the Union Government itself. Article 131 of the Constitution does not apply, if the other party is a public sector corporation. A claim by a private individual cannot be entertained under article 131. The court shall maintain the constitutional rights granted to all people of the country and any violation of these rights may be directly ruled by the High Court under Article 226 or by the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution.
Article 131 was first invoked by the State of West Bengal in 1963. The suit was filed questioning the constitutional validity of an Act passed by the Centre which gave the latter the power to acquire the state-owned land. In this no issue was raised.
Then the State of Kerala has to challenge the law Under this case, the petition filed by the State was dismissed but the maintainability of the suit was considered by the Court and by a majority of 4:3, the Court held that Supreme Court had exclusive and original jurisdiction under Article 131 in this matter.
In Madhya Pradesh v Union of India, a suit was filed by the State alleging infringement of fundamental rights and the Court held that Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction under Article 131 in regards to violation of the fundamental right and thus the suit was not maintainable. In the case of the State of Jharkhand v Union of India, a contrasting opinion was given and a higher bench was referred to the issue of the maintainability of the claim.
- V.N. Shukla’s Constitution of India by Prof (Dr.) Mahendra Pal Singh, 13th Edition, Eastern Law Book
Frequently asked Question
- Explain some cases in which Article 131 has been invoked?
- Which court has the power to take the legal disputes between the states or the state and the union?
- There is uncertainty about whether states will question the constitutionality of a Central law under Article 131 of the Constitution. What does the law say in this regard?
- Whether a State may file a suit under Article 131 against the Union challenging a central law?
- What happens when a State feels its legal rights have been violated by another State or by the Centre?
 V.N Shukla, Constitution of India, (514-519), (EBC, Lucknow, 12th edition, 2013)
 AIR 1978 SC 68 para 53: (1977) 4 SCC 608
 (2011) 12 SCC 268
 1963 AIR 1241 1964 SCR (1) 371
 [State of Bihar Vs. Union of India, AIR 1970 SC 1446]