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Indian Federalism: An Analysis Of States' Power To Challenge Central Laws

There are two commonly observed trends of federalism across countries. Federalism is primarily founded on the principle of "competitive federalism," as viewed in countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia, which suggests that there is much competition between central and national governments.

The notion of federalism has, however, evolved over time to 'cooperative federalism,' and in the face of such considerations as the rise in warlike conditions, the growing importance of a welfare state and improvements in transportation and connectivity, etc., all governments acknowledged their interdependence.

In the modern world, the concept of 'cooperative federalism' has been increasingly adopted by the nations. However, this concept has been incorporated with respect to mutual cooperation with the adoption of a centralized trend. This means that there is a division of powers between the central and state governments with a more powerful central authority.

This is because there are some issues that can be handled best by the national government, while the other issues can be handled better by the regional governments who can well handle the issues of local interest.[1] However, a strong government at the Centre does not imply weakness of the state governments rather the state governments work as administrative agents for carrying out the policies of the Centre.[2] This approach will be addressed in greater detail in India, especially with regard to the ability of states to question the validity of central laws with regard to the provisions of the Indian Constitution.

Nature of Indian Federalism

The India Constitution introduces the concept that the centre has greater rights than the states of the country as 'cooperative federalism'. Therefore, "Indian federalism has been called quasi federal or unitary with federal principles and thus, has not been prevented from being predominantly federal in nature".[3] The Indian Constitution separates the regions to be governed separately by the provincial and central legislatures.

In this respect, a Union List (List 1), a State List (List 2) and a Competition List (List 3) set out under The Seventh Schedule of the Constitution specifically differentiate between the issues addressed by the legislative processes of the two tiers of government. In this respect, the federal and state governments have sole right to legislate on subjects referred to in Schedule 7 List 1 and List 2 respectively. Furthermore, List 3 provides the Center and the States with authority to legislate in certain respects.

However, the center's rule will prevail in the event of any differences between the two levels of government. Pursuant to Article 246 of the Indian Constitution, the right to make laws on issues specified in Schedule 7 has been accorded.

The Union Government has the sole right to exercise its powers under Article 246(1) of the Constitution of India in the fields of defence, international affairs, citizenship, railways, airways, aircraft, currency, among others. It can also clearly imply that the central administration alone has the authority to regulate these matters. There is no right of state governments to challenge power of the central government.

Moreover, it is compulsory for States to respect laws adopted by the central legislature under Article 256 of the Indian Constitution. Which means that the conduct of States refusing to be bound by central laws does not come under the powers conferred on them by the Indian Constitution. This ensures that States are bound by central rules and have no legislative authority to refuse them. That refuses the State governments the right, before the courts rule that the central law is applied, to by means of a resolution or a decree calling it unconstitutional.

As a result, the States do not have the right to challenge the centre in its law-making procedure considering the separation of competency between the central and state governments. It is contradictory to the definition of federalism enshrined in Article 246. In such a case, it is only the initial suit referred to in Article 131 of the Indian Constitution before the Supreme Court of India that is required before States to appeal the laws passed by it. The following parts of the project will discuss this.

Analysis of Article 131 of the Constitution

In the way that the people may resolve it in the event of violation of their rights, the Supreme Court shall be the guardian of the Indian Constitution. Citizens can appeal to the Supreme Court in writing, or Article 226, to any High Court for the restitution of their rights pursuant to Article 32 of the Constitution of India. Likewise, in the event of a violation of all law, states still have the authority to approach the Supreme Court.

Article 131 can be invoked in this context when a conflict exists between the central and state governments. It grants the Supreme Court initial and exclusive competence to address those discrepancies.

"Original jurisdiction means that the Supreme Court has the power to hear the merits of the disputes in the first instance. Further, the phrase 'exclusive jurisdiction' means that the Supreme Court is the sole source of authority that has the power to handle the disputes between the central and state governments.

No other court or tribunal has the power to do so".[4] "However, there are certain requirements enshrined under Article 131 of the Constitution of India that need to be met. These requirements are-
  1. The dispute must be between the centre and the states or between two or more states, and
  2. The dispute must be involving a legal issue".[5]

Considering these aforementioned conditions, one of the most important requirements relates to the fact that the Supreme Court takes up any dispute between the centre and the states only when there is a question of law or fact on the basis of the extent of the legal rights involved.[6] The competence of the Supreme Court may then be drawn only if any conflict between the Center and the State is breached by the law.

The word legal right has been described as an interest recognised and secured by the rule of lawfulness by eminent scholar Salmond, which is an interest violated as a legal mistake for those whose interest it is and whose respect is a legal obligation.[7] Renowned jurist Holland also described the statute when he claimed that 'if irrespective 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'.[8]

"The first interpretation of the term 'legal right' was made in the case of U.P. v. G. G. in Council.[9] The word legal right was established in this case in the case by Justice Sulaiman in relation to provincial governments in Section 204 of the Government of India Act of 1935.

In his voice:
the term 'legal right', used in section 204, obviously means a right recognised by law and capable of being enforced by the power of a State, but not necessarily in a court of law. It is a right of an authority recognised and protected by a rule of law, a violation of which would be a legal wrong to his interest and respect for which is a legal duty, even though no action may actually lie. The only ingredients seem to be a legal recognition and a legal protection.

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 made a representation to the Governor-General-in-Council or the Secretary of 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 thereunder".

The same principle was also upheld in the case of State of Rajasthan v. Union of India[10]
Wherein it was held that the Supreme Court has the power to provide any type of relief in case it is important to enforce the legal right of any state if such legal right has been established by the Government of the state.[11] "However, no political differences shall be entertained by the Supreme Court.[12]

In the same case, the Supreme Court ruled that it was not compulsory for the government to refer the matter to the Supreme Court under Article 131 only in violation of its legal right. Instead, the State Government(s) can, under the present clause, sue any move by the Central Government for its breach of the law or for its constitutional validity. These disputes are then determined in accordance with the procedural rights of the parties to the conflict. The Supreme Court serves as the interpreter of the different units of the union and establishes the privileges thereof.

As happened in the case of State of Karnataka v. UoI[13], The maintenance of the suits brought in accordance with Article 131 was debated by Justice Bhagwati. It is him who says, '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'.[14] This implies that the States do not bring an initial suit in accordance with Article 131 of the Constitution unless a legal conflict exists. The Court has no right to entertain a political controversy between the States and the Centre.

An analysis of Article 131 leads to the inference that even though the state governments cannot question the central laws because it was passed within the legislative powers of the central government,[15] In compliance with Article 131 of the Constitution, state governments may file an original lawsuit. Invoking this article requires states to appeal central statutes because they have ignored constitutional requirements and because the underlying framework of the Constitution has been violated.

The key issue, though, is whether the state government will reject a central rule. For Article 365 specifically states that the State Government is obliged to observe in exercising its executive powers in accordance with the Constitution, among the many other clauses of the Constitution. In view of this, it is an issue for discussion whether the state government will oppose the central government and a central rule. In its legal opinions over the years, the Supreme Court took opposing decisions with regard to the sustainability of such a petition. Which will be Further Discussed.

Issue of Maintainability: Differing Opinions

In the State of Karnataka v. Union of India[16] case of 1977, the judgement of the Supreme Court established fundamental norms in relation to the maintenance of petitions, which were also illustrated in the preceding section. Article 131 was held to be valid only in cases involving a disagreement between the Center and the States with respect to their constitutional provisions.

In this situation, the majority decision emphasized on "when differences arise between the representatives of the State and those of the whole people of India, on questions of interpretation of the Constitution, which must affect the welfare of the whole people, and, particularly that of the people of the State concerned, it is too technical an argument to be accepted that a suit does not lie under Article 131 of the Constitution".[17]

In 2011, in contravention of the constitutional requirements, the state of Madhya Pradesh opposed a law passed by the Centre. This was the case with State of Madhya Pradesh State v. Union of India[18].

The question of whether states would appeal central laws in accordance with Article 131 of the Constitution was one posed in the Court. The judges' bench of Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice B. S. Chauhan claimed that only Articles 32 and 226 of the Indian Constitution could oppose a centralised rule.

The judges' contention was that, under the 43rd Amendment Act 1977, Article 131-A, which gained the Supreme Court exclusive authority in such cases, was omitted on the grounds that it limited the right of judicial review of the High Courts in compliance with Article 226 of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court thus no longer has the sole authority, under Article 22 or Article 326 of the Indian Constitution, for the assessment of the substantive validity of laws enacted by a central legislative assembly. The judges rejected the maintainable authority of the suit in this context according to Article 131 of the Constitution, which is unique and original.

In 2014 Judge Bench J. S. A. Bobde and J. J. Jasti Chelameswar, in their judgement in the State of Jharkhand v. State of Bihar[19], dismissed the rationale in the State of Madhya Pradesh v. Union of India[20]. The bench underlined the fact that, in compliance with Article 131 of the Constitution, the exclusive and original competence of the Supreme Court is inextricably related to that of Article 32 of the Constitution.

In this case, the judges have interpreted Article 131 of the Constitution of India as including any disagreement between the Center and the State (s). In this respect, the bank uses the test in the case of State of Karnataka v. Union of India,[21] stated that, 'we are unable to agree with the proposition that this Court cannot examine the constitutionality of a statute in exercise of its exclusive original jurisdiction under Article 131'.[22]

Since two judge's benches made the judgments of both cases, the matter has been appealed to a wider bench. The question is still still relevant and there has been no decision in this respect. Consequently, the Court has not yet addressed the issue of maintainability in accordance with Article 131 of the Constitution.

The State of West Bengal had presented a written petition pursuant to Article 32 of the Indian Constitution in order in 2017 to question the substantive legitimacy of the Adhaar Act in Binoy Viswam v. Union of India.[23] using the method outlined in the State of Madhya Pradesh v. Union of India[24].

Two Judge Bench A.K.Sikri and the Judge Ashok Bhushan noted that, in cases where the legislation has been approved within the legal authority of the centre, the State does not have the right to appeal a central law.

If such an approach is adopted, the States would find it hard to demonstrate that their acts are maintainable, undermining the constitutional legitimacy of central rules. However, Article 131 is interpreted as specifically requiring that in the event of any infringement of any legal rights, a State may claim the initial and exclusive competence of the Supreme Court.

Moreover, in the case of the State of Karnataka v. Union of India[25] as a whole, if the values are respected, they are subject to sustainability. There is no guarantee, though, since the case is pending before the Indian Supreme Court.

In the Indian Constitution, the essence of federalism is such that the central has greater influence than the nations. The states shall comply, in this regard, with every order or regulation passed by the central parliament. Any such action is illegal. However, under Article 131 of the Constitution of India, these states will object to the central laws of the Supreme Court of India for the reason that they contradict the Constitution.

The issue with this solution is the maintenance of these fits. By interpreting Article 131, it can be concluded that all the conditions to be kept maintainable by the original suits that challenge the statutory legitimacy of the central laws under Article 131 of the Constitution, as a matter of law. The important concern is, however, the relevance of the fundamental legitimacy of core laws of Indian federalism.

The states have no power to reject central legislation, because of the obvious obligation of the states to comply with the Constitution. However, whenever the Supreme Court of India determines that certain rules are ultravires to the Constitution, they are abolished. That will only happen if the charges brought by the state governments can be retained. The Supreme Court's decision is then supposed to become transparent and fix the issue entirely.

  1. D.D. Basu, Comparative Federalism p 1-2 (Wadhwa and Company, Nagpur, 2nd ed. 2008).
  2. Granville Austin, The Indian Constitution: Conrnerstone of a Nation p.187 (Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 13th impression, 1966).
  3. K.C. Wheare, Federal Government p. 27, 33 (1963).
  4. Union of India v. State of Rajasthan (AIR 1977 SC 1361).
  5. M.P Jain, Indian Constitutional Law p.226 (Lexis Nexis Butterworths, Wadhwa, Nagpur, 6th edition, 2010).
  6. V.N. Shukla, Constitution of India p.514-519 (EBC, Lucknow, 12th Ed., 2013).
  7. ibid.
  8. Avtar Krishna Kaul, "Article 131 of the Indian Constitution: Some Observations", 13 JILI 121-126 (1971).
  9. AIR 1939 FC 58.
  10. AIR 1977 SC 1361.
  11. H.K.Saharay, The Constitution of India: An Analytical Approach p.450 (Eastern Law House, Kolkata, 3rd Edition, 2002).
  12. ibid
  13. AIR 1978 SC 68.
  14. ibid.
  15. The Constitution of India, 1950, art. 246.
  16. AIR 1978 SC 68
  17. ibid at para 143.
  18. (2011) 12 SCC 268.
  19. (2015) 2 SCC 431.
  20. (2011) 12 SCC 268.
  21. AIR 1978 SC 68
  22. ibid at para 17.
  23. (2017) 7 SCC 59.
  24. (2011) 12 SCC 268.
  25. AIR 1978 SC 68.

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