What Is Article 131, Under Which Kerala Has Challenged CAA?

Under Article 131, the constitution allows the SC original jurisdiction in special matters. How will that affect the cases of the Kerala and Chhattisgarh governments?

The state of Kerala has filed a suit to challenge the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, stating that it is violative of Articles 14 (equality before the law), 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) and 25 (freedom of religion) of the Indian constitution as well as against the secular fabric of the nation.

It also challenges the Passport (Entry to India) Amendment Rules 2015, and Foreigners (Amendment) Order 2015, which had regularised the stay of non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, who had entered India before December 31, 2014, on the condition that they had fled religious persecution from their home countries.

A day later, the Chhattisgarh government challenged the NIA Act. Both governments have filed their challenges under Article 131 of the Indian constitution.

The Wire explains Article 131, which deals with the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, under which the suit challenging the validity of CAA has been filed.

What is jurisdiction?

Jurisdiction of a court is its power or authority to hear and determine a matter.

Jurisdiction could be pecuniary (power of court based on the amount of money involved in the matter), territorial (power of court based on the geographical limit where the cause of action arises or offence is committed), subject-wise (power of court based on a particular subject matter), original (power of court to hear a case from its beginning), appellate (power of court to hear a case on appeal)

Why is jurisdiction relevant?

A judgment passed by a court without jurisdiction is a corum non judice (in presence of a person, not a judge). It is null and void and its validity can be challenged at any stage.

Also read: Is Article 131 Being Observed in Letter and Spirit?

What is original jurisdiction?

Original jurisdiction of a court refers to its power to hear a case first.

In criminal matters, offences under the Indian Penal Code are triable by the courts specified in the First Schedule of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).

Courts of chief judicial magistrate, judicial magistrate of the first class, metropolitan magistrate and judicial magistrate of the second class have a limit on the amount of sentence they can pass, therefore, the case is committed to higher grade courts.

A high court exercises its original criminal jurisdiction only if the subordinate courts are not authorised by law to try such matters for lack of jurisdiction.

High courts, session judge or additional session judge can pass any sentence authorised by law, provided that the death sentence passed by court of session is confirmed by the high court.

In civil matters, generally, suits are instituted in the court of the lowest grade competent to try it. Although the courts of higher grade can also entertain any case, the idea is not to overburden them.

The constitution of India, under Article 131, confers the Supreme Court original jurisdiction in certain special matters.

What are the matters where the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is provisioned?

Any dispute involving a question of law or fact on which existence of legal right depends comes under original jurisdiction of the SC. The disputes may be:

  1. between the government of India and one or more states;
  2. between the government of India and any state/states on one side and one or more states on the other;
  3. between two or more states

What is the need for original jurisdiction in such matters?

The Indian constitution divides power between the central government and the state governments. However, there may be differences over the interpretation of the federal structure. In order to settle such issues, the Supreme Court of India acts as an arbitrator.

Also read: Chhattisgarh Files Suit Against Centre in Supreme Court Challenging NIA Act

Is there any bar on the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court?

Yes, the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court does not extend to:

  1. A dispute arising out of any treaty, agreement, covenant, engagement or other similar instrument executed before the commencement of the constitution and continues to be in operation or which provides that the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court shall not extend to such a dispute;
  2. The parliament may exclude the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in disputes relating to the use, distribution, or control of the water of any inter-state river;
  3. Suits brought by private individuals against the government of India.