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CASE: STATE OF WEST BENGAL VS UNION OF INDIA

INTRODUCTION

We are all aware that India is not strictly a federal nation Therefore, to denote that we use the term “quasi-federal system”. Since the states also have powers granted to them by the Indian constitution, it follows that the union will always have the upper hand over them in an emergency. Let’s talk about the State of West Bengal v. UOI case,[1] which is an example of how the legislative authority of the union government interfered with the authority of the state government. State of West Bengal v. UOI involved a request for a declaration that the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act of  1957 which are passed by the Parliament was ultra vires and that the Parliament does not have the authority to enact laws which authorizing the acquisition of land or granting rights in or over land to a state. A majority decision was made in the case under consideration by Chief Justice Sinha. He provided important clarification regarding our Constitution’s rejection of state sovereignty, which instead belongs to the Union of India. As a result, the states are unable to contest the Union’s legislative authority. The Supreme Court in this case ruled that the states on behalf of the union had the authority to regulate property. According to Justice Subba Rao’s minority opinion, the Union and the States, the two coequal constitutional bodies, have equal access to the federal concepts that the Indian Constitution enshrined.

FACTUAL MATRIX

The West Bengal state is the petitioner in this case, and using its legislative authority, it passed the West Bengal Estates Acquisition statute in 1954. This act made it possible for the West Bengal state government to purchase lands that were held through ryotwari systems, etc. According to the petitioner’s plaint, parliament later passed the 3Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act of 1957, which essentially gave the union government the right to purchase any type of land within the region or the right to those properties in any location in India. The key issue in this case was one of these acts conducted in accordance with this act. Through two notifications issued in 1959 and 1960, the Union government declared its intention and purpose to purchase the coal lands held by the State of West Bengal government, the plaintiff state. The petitioner filed this petition following the emergence of a difference of interests, keeping in mind the constitutional issues that this case would raise, and asked the court to rule that the parliament lacks the authority to enact such a law or notification. The petitioner also requested that the Coal Act of 1957, passed by the Union government, be deemed ultra vires in this case because the parliament lacks the authority to pass legislation regarding it. The petitioner further requested that an injunction be issued to prevent it from carrying out its execution of the act, including the purchase of coal fields belonging to the petitioner state of West Bengal. The Court’s principal concerns were whether the Parliament had the power to pass laws that would allow it to purchase land and other assets that belonged to the State.

  • Whether or not India’s states have sovereign power.
  • Whether any of the provision of the Act or the whole act any exceeds the legislative authority of the Parliament.
  • Whether the plaintiff is eligible for relief or not.

LEGAL DISCOURSE IN THE COURT

According to Chief Justice Sinha, the 1935 Government of India Act’s relationship between the States and the Centre is the basis for the separation of powers between the two. He continued by saying that the courts alone have the authority to determine if certain activities are in violation of the Indian Constitution and to declare them to be unconstitutional. There is only one legitimate legal framework in existence, according to the Supreme Court, and there is not a different constitution for each state. States lack the power to alter it; only the Union Parliament has that power. It was determined that the 1957 Acquisition and Development Act was legitimate and was not deemed to be outside the purview of the Parliament’s powers. The Parliament may enact laws for the purchase of any State’s property, according to Entry 42 of List III of the Seventh

Schedule of the Indian Constitution. Regarding how the authority is divided between the states and federal government, the court in a way adopted a narrow perspective and stated that states only have the authority to address local issues and enact laws; when it comes to the enactment of laws for industrial, economic, and other union-related matters, it will be up to the union to handle it. It was highlighted that unlike other topics, a state does not have complete sovereignty over these issues. It was decided that there are no limitations on the use of the powers granted by entries 52 and 54 of the union lists, which also includes the ability to frame laws governing the states’ acquisition of property. The court made a distinction between the sovereign authorities under the Indian Constitution, the union and the states, when dealing with the sovereign powers over acquisition. Regarding the same, it was stated that both the union and the state would only be able to purchase private property, and neither would be required to follow any additional steps, such as paying compensation. Therefore, it would not be accurate to state that the States alone possess all sovereign power. Due to the theory of absolute state sovereignty, Parliament cannot be deemed incapable of legislating the acquisition of any property owned by the States. This was the prevailing viewpoint in the situation. Additionally, the State of West Bengal received no compensation, and the lawsuit was dismissed with costs.

JUDICIAL ANALYSIS

1. Article 131

The Indian Constitution’s Chapter IV (Union Judiciary) Chapter 131 discusses the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction. It goes like this:

Article 131, the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Subject to the constraints of this Constitution, the Supreme Court shall have exclusive jurisdiction over all matters.

(a) Between a State or States and the Indian Government; or

(b) Between any State or States and the Government of India on one side, and one or more other States on the other;

(c) Between two or more States, if and to the extent that the disagreement concerns any issue (Whether one of law or fact) pertaining to the existence or scope of a legal right. [Provided that the said jurisdiction shall not extend to a dispute

2. Article 32

Fundamental rights are defended or guarded by the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution. Citizens have the right to directly petition the Supreme Court for redress if any of their fundamental rights are violated. The SC is also the top authority on constitutional interpretation. In order to shield Indian citizens from any unconstitutional legislation that violates these rights, the Supreme Court has periodically interpreted these fundamental rights. Any issue involving the protection of citizens’ fundamental rights fall under the original jurisdiction of Supreme Court. In addition to this, the Supreme Court also serves as a court to resolve conflicts that arise between the center and the states as well as between other states.

CONCLUSION

The Supreme Court has exclusive and original jurisdiction over any legal disputes that may arise between states or between states and the Union under a special provision of the Constitution known as Article 131. All Indian citizens are guaranteed certain fundamental rights, and the court preserves those rights. Any violation of such rights may be taken before the State’s High Court directly under article 226 or the Supreme Court indirectly under Article 32 via writs granted by the Constitution. The State Government, however, is not allowed to sue for the breach of fundamental rights, unlike citizens. As a result, the Supreme Court may consider the matter in accordance with Article 131 when the State and the Centre differ on how to interpret the Constitution and the State claims that its legal rights have been violated. The State of Madhya Pradesh v. Union of India decision[v] from 2011 came to the contrary conclusion in spite of past judgements holding that Article 131 could be used to evaluate the constitutionality of a law. Federalism is strongly reliant on a few characteristics. The Union still has power over the states even if each one is allowed to make its own laws. India can therefore be described as unitary in spirit and federal in nature.

Author(s) Name: Riya Agrawal (Dharmashastra National Law University, Jabalpur)

Reference:

[1] AIR 1963 SC 1241