interim order
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This article is written by Kritika Garg from National Law University Odisha. This is an exhaustive article which explains the landmark judgement pronounced by the Supreme Court in the case of Waman Rao v. Union of India.

Introduction

Waman Rao v. Union of India is a case of 1981 in which the Supreme Court examined the validity of Article 31A and Article 31B of the Constitution of India with respect to the doctrine of basic structure introduced under the Kesavananda Bharati case. The Court made an important observation regarding the applicability of the doctrine and held that the same should not have a retrospective effect which means all the decisions made prior to the introduction of the doctrine shall remain valid. The direct effect of the decision implied that all the acts and regulations that were included under Ninth Schedule of the Constitution prior to the Kesavananda decision shall remain valid while the further amendments to the schedule can be challenged on the grounds of violation of the doctrine of the basic structure. 

Facts of the case 

The Maharashtra Agricultural Lands Act, 1962 (the Act) which imposed a ceiling upon the agricultural lands was amended and the ceiling was revised time and again. The validity of the Act was being called into question before the Bombay High Court on the grounds that it violated the Fundamental Rights. Further, Article 31A and Article 31B were also challenged on the ground that they violate the Doctrine of Basic Structure of the Constitution. However, the High Court rejected the challenges. Another appeal was made in the Supreme Court against the decision of the High Court in the case of Dattatraya Govind v. State of Maharashtra(1977). However, the Supreme Court also dismissed the appeal. The judgement of the Supreme Court was delivered during the time while the proclamation of emergency was in effect. Therefore, after the revocation of the emergency, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court seeking review of the judgement passed in the Dattatraya case under the case of Waman Rao v. Union of India.

Main contention

The main contention made in this case was with regard to the constitutional validity of Article 31A, Article 31B, and unamended Article 31C. The petitioners contended that the protective nature of these Articles makes it impossible to challenge certain laws, which is violative of certain Fundamental Rights guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution of India. Further, the petitioners contended that the provisions of these Articles are in violation of the basic structure of the constitution as propounded in the case of Keshavnanda Bharati v. State of Kerala (1973). Furthermore, the petitioners challenged the 40th amendment passed during the emergency on the ground it was passed by extending the time period of the Parliament. 

Issues raised

  1. Whether by enacting Article 31A(1)(a) via 1st constitutional amendment, the Parliament transgressed its power of amending the Constitution.
  2. Whether Article 31A(1) provides protection to the laws beyond getting challenged for violation of Fundamental Rights including Article 14, 19 and 31
  3. Whether Article 31B (providing for Ninth Schedule) can be challenged for violation of Fundamental Rights enshrined under Part III of the Constitution.
  4. Whether Article 31C (aiming to achieve the goals laid down under Article 39) can be challenged on the grounds of being inconsistent with the Fundamental Rights of the citizens.
  5. Whether the 40th amendment passed during the proclamation of emergency by extending the time period of the Parliament was valid or not. 
  6. Whether the Doctrine of Stare Decisis can be applied for upholding the constitutional validity of any Article of the Constitution or is it applicable for upholding the laws protected under those Articles of the Constitution.

Court’s Ruling 

The validity of Article 31A

Article 31A of the Constitution states that notwithstanding anything contained in Article 13, no law providing for the acquisition of any estate or right by the State or modification or extinguishment of any right shall be termed as void on the ground that it is in violation of the Fundamental Rights conferred under Article 14 and 19 of the Constitution.

While addressing the first and second issue regarding the constitutional validity of Article 31A of the constitution, the court held that considering the laws which take away the Fundamental Rights as laws in violation of the doctrine of the basic structure of the Constitution is a misconception. The court drew its attention on the main reason behind the introduction of Article 31A under the 1st constitutional amendment which was to make the Zamindari Abolition Laws more effective and to overcome the difficulties that may arise in future. Further, the court emphasized the need for abridging the social and economic disparities in the agricultural sector which were done by bringing the 1st constitutional amendment. The court said that in the process of removing the existing inequalities, new marginal and incidental inequalities may come up. Inequalities so arose cannot infringe the basic structure of the Constitution. Furthermore, the court held that it is not possible for any government to overcome the inequalities without causing any hardship or injustice to any class of people who are entitled to equal treatment under the law. Therefore, Article 31A cannot be considered to be violative of the basic structure of the Constitution.

The validity of the first constitutional amendment was being questioned on six grounds in the case of Kesavananda Bharati v. The State of Kerala as well. Even then, the amendment was upheld. Before Kesavananda case, the amendment was called into question in three cases namely, Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan, I.C Golaknath v. State of Punjab and Shankari Prasad v. Union of India. In all these cases, the court upheld the constitutional amendment validating the inclusion of Article 31A and Article 31B.

The validity of Article 31B

Article 31B read with the Ninth Schedule states that all the Acts falling within the ambit of the ninth schedule cannot be termed as void for being inconsistent or in violation of the Fundamental Rights enshrined under part III of the Constitution. The law states that as and when any Act or regulation is placed under Ninth Schedule, then, it would automatically receive protection of Article 31B from being termed as void for abridging the Fundamental Rights of the citizens. Therefore, the petitioners contended that Article 31B is inconsistent with the Fundamental Rights. 

The court while deciding upon the question of the constitutional validity of Article 31B relied upon the judgement of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala. The court observed that before the judgement of the Kesavananda Bharati case, many Acts were placed under Ninth Schedule on the ground that Parliament has wide powers to amend the Constitution. It was only in the Kesavananda case, the court held that Parliament cannot exercise its power to amend the Constitution so as to destroy the basic structure of the Constitution. Before the judgement, all the changes in the titles and properties must have occurred on the belief that the laws under Ninth Schedule would not be open to challenge on the ground that it violates Article 14, 19 and 31. Therefore, upsetting the settled claims and titles would be unjustified and tantamount to introducing chaos in the legal affairs of a fairly ordered society.

Thus, the court held that all the laws included in the Ninth Schedule prior to the Kesavananda case would receive the protection of Article 31B. However, the Acts and Regulations inserted in the Ninth Schedule post the Kesavananda judgement, would not be protected under Article 31B and would be open to scrutiny on the grounds of being in violation of the basic structure of the Constitution. 

The validity of Article 31C

Article 31C was introduced by the Constitution (Twenty-fifth Amendment) Act, 1971. It provided protection to the laws specified under clause (b) and clause (c) Article 39 giving effect to the directive principles of the State. Such laws cannot be termed as void for abridging the Fundamental Rights conferred under part III of the Constitution namely Article 14, 19, and 31. 

The contention of the petitioner regarding the constitutional validity of Article 31C was set aside for the reason that the opening clause of the Article was being upheld by the decision of the court in the judgement of Keshavnanda Bharati v. State of Kerala. The decision was based on the view that the directive principles of getting protection from Article 31C are essential for the welfare of the country and its citizens. The court further held that the said Article does not infringe the basic structure of the Constitution, rather it fortifies the same by giving effect to the directive principles contained in Clause (b) and (c) of Article 39. Therefore, Article 31C was held valid.

The validity of the 40th amendment 

Apart from the challenges against Article 31A, 31B and 31C, the petitioners challenged the constitutional validity of the emergency proclaimed in 1971 and 1975, and the 40th constitutional amendment of 1976 which placed the Amending Acts 21 of 1975, 41 of 1975 and 2 of 1976 under the Ninth Schedule. The basis of the challenge was the extension of the normal term of the Lok Sabha which was due to expire on 18th March 1976. However, it was extended by the House of People Amendment Act, 1976 twice for two years. The 40th amendment was passed during the extended period on 2nd April, 1976. 

The petitioners contended that the court has the jurisdiction to question whether the power of the President to proclaim emergency under Article 352 has been properly exercised or not and whether there existed such circumstances which needed the emergency to continue or not. The petitioner further contended that the emergency was proclaimed with a mala-fide intention as there was no justification for proclaiming the emergency of 1975. 

The court held that the evidence that was brought to the attention of the court was neither cogent nor sufficient. The emergency is safeguarded under Article 352(3) since it was proclaimed during the time when there was a threat to the national security and sovereignty of the country. Therefore, the steps taken were essential and hence, lawful. 

Thus, the 40th constitutional amendment cannot be struck down on the mere ground that it was passed during the emergency by extending the time period of Lok Sabha. Hence, the amendment is valid and lawful.

The doctrine of Stare Decisis

Deciding upon the question whether the doctrine of stare decisis could be applied to the Articles of the Constitution or is it applicable only to the laws protected by the Articles, the court answered in the favour of the latter. However, the court did not give any reasons for the same.

Further, the question of invoking the doctrine of Stare decisis to upheld Article 31A was set aside because Article 31A was upheld on its own merits. In the previous case of Ambika Prasad Mishra v. State of U.P (1980), the court set aside the question whether Article 31A can be upheld by enforcing the doctrine of stare decisis to be decided in other cases. Further, the court observed that all the cases that have been relied upon including Keshavnanda Bharati case, Sajjan Singh case, Golaknath case, and Shankari Prasad case, none raised or decided the validity of Article 31A. The Shankari Prasad case focused upon the question whether the constitutional amendments fall within the purview of Article 13(2) or not. The decision was given in negation. Sajjan Singh case placed a demand for reconsideration of the Shankari prasad judgement. The Golaknath case did not bring any constitutional amendment into question, rather it focused upon the question where is this amending power located. Lastly, the Kesavananda case also did not raise the question of the validity of Article 31A evidently. 

A judicial decision given after hearing an argument can be considered as a precedent, further, turned into a stare decisis. But since the issue was not even raised, it cannot be upheld by invoking the doctrine of stare decisis. Furthermore, the court cited the principle that rules like stare decisis cannot be invoked to uphold the constitutional validity of Articles like 31A, 31B, and 31C which not only protects the past laws but future laws as well. It can be applied only to the laws protected by the Articles and not the Articles themselves. 

However, Justice Bhagwati gave a dissenting opinion and believed that the majority has upheld Article 31A by invoking the doctrine of stare decisis and not on its own merits. He believed that Article 31A was upheld in the Keshavnanda Bharati case which binds the present decision on the grounds of stare decisis. 

Conclusion

The decision passed by the apex court in this case of Waman Rao v. Union of India is one of the landmark judgements being relied upon till date. The decision demarcated a line of difference between the Acts placed under Ninth Schedule prior to the Kesavananda judgement and post the judgement. Also known as the ‘Doctrine of Prospective Overruling’, the court decided that all the laws placed under Ninth Schedule prior to the Kesavananda judgement cannot be called into question for violating Fundamental Rights, however, the laws post the judgement can be raised before a court of law. Further, this case decided upon the questions of law which were of utmost importance. The court upheld the validity of Article 31A, Article 31B which were introduced by the first constitutional amendment of 1951 and unamended Article 31C introduced under the twenty-fifth amendment Act. However, the court while dealing with the issue of the doctrine of stare decisis, did not mention any reason for its decision which left it quite uncertain. 

Apart from that, this judgement is one of the most effective judgement pronounced by the apex court. 


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