What Is Article 131 Of Constitution? [Explainer]

Viswajith Anand

19 Jan 2020 3:25 AM GMT

  • What Is Article 131 Of Constitution? [Explainer]

    Article 131 of the Constitution, a rarely used provision, was in the news last week with two unusual suits filed by the Governments of Kerala and Chhattisgarh, challenging two central legislations.The State of Kerala challenged the Citizens Amendment Act (CAA) by invoking the Original jurisdiction mentioned under Article 131 of the Constitution. The State of Chhattisgarh filed a suit the...

    Article 131 of the Constitution, a rarely used provision, was in the news last week with two unusual suits filed by the Governments of Kerala and Chhattisgarh, challenging two central legislations.

    The State of Kerala challenged the Citizens Amendment Act (CAA) by invoking the Original jurisdiction mentioned under Article 131 of the Constitution. The State of Chhattisgarh filed a suit the next against NIA Act.

    These respective progresses happened in the Supreme Court cannot be dubbed as an unprecedented event. In severalother instances multiple states had invoked Article 131 in challenging a Central statute.  

    But it is equally notable that the number of suits Under Article 131 in comparison with the utilisation of other Constitutional remedies are much lesser in number. According to Durga Das Basu, an eminent jurist, the central reason for this imbalance is the excessive dependence of the states upon the Union. He further adds that , "Whatever disputes that may have arisen directly between the Union and the States must have been settled by negotiation and agreement. Even in matters arising between two states , the advice and intervention of the Union usually settle the difference. "


    The very subject nature of the Article 131 is itself an Original and exclusive jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Here, the eminence of the words 'Original' and 'Exclusive' is very much significant to note. It means that Court has the power and authority to address, hear and rule a decision in the initial instance. The exclusivity factor of the jurisdiction provides an exceptional and particular power to the Court to hear and decide the matter than any other Courts.

    The construction of the provision laid under Article 131 is provided below as:

    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-

    (a) between the Government of India and one or more states; or

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

    (c) between two or more States,

    If and in so far as the dispute involves any question (whether of law or fact) on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends:

    [Provided that the said jurisdiction shall not extend to a dispute arising out of any treaty, agreement, covenant, engagement, sanad or other similar instrument which , having been entered into or executed before the commencement of this Constitution, continues in operation after such commencement, or which provides that the said jurisdiction shall not extend to such a dispute.]

    Apart from Article 131, through the Constitution (Forty- second Amendment) Act of 1976 a definite provision ,i.e., 131-A ,to deal with the Exclusive Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in regard to questions as to constitutional validity of Central Laws was inserted. But the same was later repealed by the Constitution (Forty-third Amendment) Act , 1977.

    The wisdom and rationale behind the creation of Article 131 is deeply rooted in the credible anticipation that being a country which is governed by a constitution constructed on a federal or a quasi- federal governance structure, the risk of a dispute between the Central Government and one or multiple states, or between two or more states is prophetic in nature. In the actuality of such a scenario, the character and capacity of the forum that decides the dispute must be foremost and well defined. According to the framers of the Constitution, the Supreme Court being the towering judicial institution of the country, will serve the said purpose.

    For the exercise of the original jurisdiction under Article 131, there must be certain requisites and condition need to be satisfied. If a private nidividual is bringing up a case against the Government of India, the appropriate forum to approach in the first instance is the court under the local limits. And the same party can approach the Apex Court in the form of an appeal, if it satisfies the conditions laid under the respective law.

    The land mark observation made in the case between the State of Bihar and the Union of India (1970) 1 SCC 67 justifies the same proposition. The Court observed that the dispute between the State of Bihar and the Hindusthan Steel Limited, a company registered under the Companies Act of 1956 never attracts the Original Jurisdiction under Article 131. The Court's reasoning was that, the party Hindusthan Steel Limited can never be considered as a 'state'.

    One of the indispensable requirement needed for the invoking of Article 131 is that, there must be an Inter-state dispute. And the category of the dispute as laid under Article 131 is that, the dispute must be between the Government of India and one or more States ; or between the government of India and any State or Sates on one side and one or more other states ; or between two or more States.

    In Tashi Delek Gaming Solutions Ltd v. State of Karnataka (2006)1 SCC 442, the court took an identical stand. In that instant case the court denied accepting the jurisdiction under Article 131 for the reason that the state approached the Court along with an agent to whom an alternative remedy was available in the form of Writ remedies.

    The Rajasthan Dissolution Case (State of Rajasthan v. Union of India, (1977) 3 SCC 592) contributed some clarity to the interpretation of Article 131. The court in that decision clarified the actual substance of Article 131(a), "the dispute between the Government of India and one or more states". The court remarked that the idea of dispute mentioned under Article 131 (a) is not the variance of opinions of the offices of the Central Government and the State Governments. Instead, the predominant motive of the provision is to bring room for the conclusion of disputes associated with the question of law or facts on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends. The subject matter of the dispute must never be a political one.

    In State of Karnataka v. Union of India (AIR 1978 SC 68), the court had decided on a similar situation, where the pertinence of Article 131 was debated. The question debated was regarding the rights of the State government ,when the central Government notified the engagement of an enquiry commission on the charges of corruption against the Chief Minster and other Ministers. The majority opinion of the bench in the respective case was in favour of the maintainability of the Suit filed under Article 131.

    For the safe utilization of the law laid under Article 131, the appointees of the Subject matter is also crucial. The flamboyant jurist Salmond had defined the legal right as an interest recognized and protected by a rule of legal justice and the disobedience of the same would invite the conduct of a legal wrong. The question (both law or facts) on the transgression of any of the legal rights must reside as a reason for the invoking of Article 131. In the State of Karnataka case (Supra) it was also held that, the dispute must involve the declaration or a manifestation of a legal right of the Government of India or a State. It is not even necessary that the said legal right must hold the nature of a constitutional right. All that is needy is that it must be in the form of a legal right.


    Equally for lawyers and laymen, the fundamental conception that they bear regarding the nature and purpose of a suit is almost identical. Though there lacks a structural definition regarding the suit, everyone is aware of the characteristics of a Suit. Though the term "Suit" is being widely used for the Purpose of Article 131, the same cannot be equalised with a Suit of Civil nature. The term "Suit" used here is in generic sense. The facets like "Cause of actions" and other allied requirements for the enunciation of a suit is non-existent under Article 131. The working of the provision will be solely depends on the essence and type of the dispute brought before the Court. Also the modus of adjudication is also dissimilar to that of the Ordinary Courts of laws.

    The holistic adjudication of matter linked with strict rules of procedures are not the guiding light here instead as observed in the State of Bihar v. Union of India (AIR 1970 SC 1446), that the party who hold the grievance can directly approach the Supreme Court with the aid of a full statement of the relevant facts and praying for the declaration of rights against other disputants. Once this process is over, the function of the Supreme Court as per Article 131 will conclude. Also the Supreme Court can decide to the refer the matter for mediation for the purpose of settlement even without entering into the merits of the Case.(State of H.P v. Union of India, (2010) 15 SCC 107).


    As mentioned earlier the functionality of Article 131 cannot be equated with a normal Civil remedy confined under the Civil Procedure Code.The modus operand is completely dissimilar. It was observed in  State of Haryana v.State of Punjab ((2004) 12 SCC 673) that , "a decree passed under Art 131 has to be complied with and it cannot be contented that the execution of the decree could not be implemented on the ground that there could be violence if the same is implemented. Such a stand would be contrary to Art 144 which will result in Art 131 becoming a dead letter. It is the Constitutional duty of those in power to create an appropriate political climate to ensure respect for the Constitutional processes and not ignore the binding decisions only to gain political mileage."

    The language and the law portrayed under Article 131 is silent about the procedures involved in the conduct of the Suit and regarding the prerequisites. The Process of 'Execution' in a Suit is a preponderant part which brings justice to the litigant who wins. Article 131 neither prescribes nor mandates any procedure that portrays the the execution of a decree. Also in Article 131 the possibility of filing an appeal against the decision is almost unrealistic. So there exist no scope for any review as well.


    Though the Supreme Court enjoys exclusive jurisdiction under Article 131, in certain matters the said exclusivity is compromised. The jurisdiction under Article 131 does not extent to the dispute arising out of any treaty, agreement, covenant, engagement, sand or other similar instruments in which India entered before the commencement of the Constitution , which continues in operation after the commencement of the Constitution . If such dispute arises, it is the exclusive domain of the executive to interpret such documents.

    The matters that are referred to the finance Commission (Article 280) and the accommodation and adjustments of expenses and other related financial engagements between the Central Government and the States (Article 290) are all excluded from the Purview of Article 131. In State of Hariyana v. State of Punjab (AIR 2002 SC 685) it was observed that the dispute regarding an agreement between two states for the construction of water canals are not a considerable matter under Article 131.


    The legal status of Article 131 is clear and settled and the applicability and scope in the present scenario attracts some unsureness. The Suit filed by both the states can be considered as a bold move regardless of any preconceptions. The 2014 two -Judge bench decision in the case of State of Jharkhand v.State of Bihar consisting of Justices J.Chalameshwar and S.A. Bobde decided in favour of the notion that Article 131 is a credible tool to test the Constitutionality of a Statute.

    But in the later stage this question was referred to a higher bench headed by Justice N.V.Rmanan and the matter is still pending.


    The original jurisdiction under Article 131 also possess power to invalidate a statute. The same has been settled by the Supreme Court in the landmark Mullaperiyar Case (State of Tamil Nadu v.State of Kerala).

    On a suit filed by the State of Tamil Nadu under Article 131 of the Constitution challenging Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation (Amendment) Act, a 2006 legislation passed by the Kerala legislature. The supreme Court held that the 2006 Kerala legislation is unconstitutional and ultra vires in its application to, and effect on, the Mullaperiyar dam. The Court opined that the, "A Suit filed in Original Jurisdiction of this Court is not governed by the procedure prescribed in Civil Procedure Code save and except the procedure which has been expressly made applicable by the Supreme Court rules."

    The Apex Court in the Mullaperiyar Case ruled authoritatively that the Suit filed by the state of Tamil Nadu is maintainable under Article 131 of the Constitution.

    The Court commented that : "There is yet another facet that in federal disputes, the legislature (Parliament and State legislature ) cannot be judge in their own cause in the case of any dispute with another state. The rule of law which is basic feature of the Constitution forbids the Union and the States from deciding, by law, a dispute between two states or between the Union and one or are States. If this was permitted under the Constitution, The Union and the States which have any dispute between them inter se would enact law enabling its claim or right against the other and that would lead to contradictory and irreconcilable laws.The Constitution makers in order to obviate any likelihood of contradiction and irreconcilable law being enacted has provided for independent adjudication of federal disputes, Article 131 of the Constitution confers original jurisdiction upon this Court in relation to the disputes."


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