State Of Karnataka v. Union Of India: A Case Study-Jus Dicere

Article 131 deals with the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Under this original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, the honourable court does not entertain cases where a private party sues another private party. Under the original jurisdiction, only cases between following parties will be entertained – the government of India and state(s), the government of India and state(s) against the state(s), case between state(s). In the present case, the contention of the petitioner is that “state(s)” in the article 131 does not mean the government of the state(s). Petitioners in the case of State of Karnataka vs Union of India[1] contended that state does not mean the government of state as the article did not mention government of state like it mentioned government of India.

They stated before the apex court that under article 131 state means abstract entity and not the government of a state. According to the petitioner government of state means agency or machinery through which will of the state is enforced[1]. Here the locus standi of the government of the state under the original jurisdiction was questioned by petitioners. According to general causes act (section 2) “State”[2]- (a) as respects any period before the commencement of the Constitution (Seventh Amendment) Act, 1956, shall mean a Part A State, a Part B State or a Part C State; and  (b) as respects any period after such commencement, shall mean a State specified in Schedule I to the Constitution and shall include a Union Territory[3],”State Government”[4]- (a) as respects anything done before the commencement of the Constitution, shall mean, in a Part A State, the Provincial Government of the corresponding Province, in a Part B State, the authority or person authorized at the relevant date to exercise executive government in the corresponding Acceding State, and in a Part C State, the Central Government[5];

If any action by the central government affects any permanent body of the state only then can the Article 131 be invoked according to the petitioner? State refers to a permanent body while the government of a state talks about the temporary body of the state. The government of the state is considered to be a temporary body as the majority party who holds the office would change after every election, unlike the state, which is a permanent body. If an act by the central government affects the functioning of a government official of a state in his personal capacity and not in the official capacity then original jurisdiction under article 131 cannot be invoked. If an act by the central government affects the functioning of a government officer in the public capacity the present article or the jurisdiction can be invoked.

The court in the present case after looking into the contentions of the petitioner held that the difference between state and state government is not recognized under the original jurisdiction of the apex court under article 131 of the constitution of India, as it is recognized under the general clauses act. The court while stating that it does not take into consideration the difference between state (permanent body) and government of state (temporary body) while deciding whether the court should entertain the case or not, but the difference is taken into consideration to decide the degree of jurisdiction of the court in the matter before it. For example if the court has to address two cases one dealing with the dissolution of state legislative council and the other related to an ad-hoc body established by the government of the state then the case related to dissolution of state legislative council would be preferred to be entertained by the court prior to the case related to ad-hoc body.

The honourable court held that the subject matter in the present issue is about the existence of the legal right. It held that the present jurisdiction of the apex court can be invoked only when the case related to a legal issue. It also stated in the judgment that if any party invokes original jurisdiction in the mattes related to politics purely then such cases will not be entertained under this article by the Supreme Court. If there is a legal question involved along with a political question then this article can be invoked. The question as to whether the court entertains a case under the present article solely depends on whether there exists a legal question or not. If there exists a legal question then the case will be entertained and if the case does not involve any question related to legality then such cases would be refused to invoke original jurisdiction by the apex court. In civil cases sometimes the third party can be the one whose rights have been affected.

When it comes to the original jurisdiction if the party who invoked original jurisdiction was unable to prove that its right has been affected then by default its presumed that the right of the party against whom the original jurisdiction has been invoked, rights have been affected. In Hohfeldian model rights included liberty, power, and immunity. A person is said to have liberty if it is not necessary for him to do or abstain from doing anything (i.e.,) no one can force him to do or abstain from doing the certain act. A person is said to have power if he is capable of altering legal relations. A person is said to enjoy immunity if the person’s legal relations cannot be altered. The Supreme Court in the present case held that “right” under article 131 should not be understood in the only strict sense but should also be understood in the conventional sense. It held that if the matter is related to power, liberty, and immunity then the original jurisdiction of the apex court can be invoked.

[1] State of Karnataka Vs. Union of India, 1978 AIR 68

[2] Matin, Abdul. The General Clauses Act, 1897 (act X of 1897). Tahia Enterprise, 1995.

[3] Matin, Abdul. The General Clauses Act, 1897 (act X of 1897). Tahia Enterprise, 1995.

[4] Matin, Abdul. The General Clauses Act, 1897 (act X of 1897). Tahia Enterprise, 1995.

[5] Matin, Abdul. The General Clauses Act, 1897 (act X of 1897). Tahia Enterprise, 1995.

By Chitra Divya Shree, Symbiosis Law School.