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Law and Other things and the Indian Express have a series of posts and articles on Mayawati and her understanding of the constitution; the latest being Vinay Sitapati’s article in the Indian Express available here.

In a gist, Vinay argues that while most legal commentators view individual rights as being the core of the Constitution, group identities as mere political concessions, Mayawati subscribes to the inverse idea — of the Constitution being a power-sharing agreement between groups. He also adds that in Mayawati’s view, the provisions for weaker sections were the result of a political compromise.

Perhaps the only politician who is so vocal about the constitution during the times of elections has been Mayawati and we must give the devil her due for that. She also has raised some serious questions that Vinay brings forth but doesn’t go further into. For instance, would we have specific provisions for the minorities if there hadn’t been a political compromise as he puts it ?

Most of the provisions today in the Constitution talk of group rights and identities within the paradigm of individual rights; Articles 15, 16 (reservations), prohibition of untouchability (Article 17), rights to administer minority institutions (Article 30) etc…. They make you think as to whether they would’ve existed even if there wasn’t an Ambedkar in the 1950s being a part of drafting the Constitution. I wasn’t alive back in the 1950’s but the recent examples of South Africa and its struggle for the inclusion for group rights makes me understand that it surely wasn’t an easy thing to attain and incorporate. Readers may read Barbara Oomen’s article here to get an idea of the same.

In the Constitution, we do talk of the individuality of rights. That part III incorporates the civil and political rights that are primarily individual in nature and part IV is to have social and economic rights that are group rights. But having a lot of these group rights in part III for the benefit of minorities is not such a bad thing either. India and now South Africa mark a shift in this traditionalist thinking and perhaps maybe for the better. If the Constitution is a power sharing agreement between groups, then the rights are surely the result of a political compromise. It took 300 odd people sitting for more than 2 years to debate and frame our constitution, in exchange for the discrimination that the dalits had faced and their rights (may be not for a separate state as mayawati argues though) some provisions in Part III may be considered as a compromise to them.

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Part I of the 1st Socio- Legal Debate is now online (view here). (The remaining here) The above video covers just the introduction to the debates. The rest is in line. The propositions were;

Proposition 1

Mathew J. in Keshavananda Bharti v. State of Kerala quoted Lord Reid to say,

“.. there was a time when it was almost indecent to suggest that judges make law- they only declare it. But we do not believe in fairly tales anymore and the function of this Court is not only to declare but also to make law that is binding on all the Courts of this Country”

¬The following are to be addressed in the proposition;

1) In an era of judicial lawmaking, should the judiciary still/still not be a State under Article 12 of the Constitution ?
2) Does the Constitution empower the judiciary with the power of law-making?
3)Whether the function of the Supreme Court under Article 141 is Constitutive or Declaratory in nature ?
4) Judicial activism v. judicial restraint.

Proposition 2

To treat constitutional law same as the Constitution would then mean to submit to government by judiciary which is surely not intended in any democratic nation. Such would be utterly inconsistent with the very idea of rule of law.”

The above is Abhraham Lincoln’s criticism of the US Supreme Court decision of Dred Scott v. Sanford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1856). Chandrachud J. in In re Special Court’s Bill termed this decision as the ‘great usurpation of power’ and cautioned the Court.

The following issues are to be addressed in this propostion;

1) What role does the Basic Structure doctrine have in defining the contours of judicial supremacy in India?
2) The legitimacy of the Court as a undemocratic/unelected body making the law.
3) The legitimacy of judicial decisions when the Court introduces/ ‘reads in’ a concept not existent in the Constitution, i.e. ‘due process of law’ in Article 21 despite the framers specifically rejecting this concept.
3) Ancillary issues such as the power of contempt, the Court appointing its own judges, interfering with the working of the parliament/ assemblies etc…

Part II here

It took over three months to materialize, but its finally here, and with a bang. The first in the Socio-legal Debate series was held at the M.K. Nambyar SAARCLaw Centre in NALSAR. The theme – ‘Role of the Supreme Court in Indian Governance’ – was extensively deliberated and argued upon by three eminent members of the academia and the Bar:

1. Mr. Shyam Divan, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India

2. Mr. Raju Ramachandran, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India

3. Mr. Sudhir Krishnaswamy, Professor of Law, NUJS – Kolkata.

The Debate was held over two sessions in the day, with the speakers discussing two propositions closely related to the theme. The event, we are proud to say, went down very well with students and faculty in NALSAR and the response was extremely encouraging.

At this juncture, we are thankful to LexisNexis Butterworths Wadhwa & Co, and NALSAR authorities for providing valuable financial and administrative support in conducting the event. If this Debate was anything to go by, the next one (to be held in July 2009) promises to be bigger and better.

Photos and videos (of the entire Debate) will be uploaded in a couple of days on this site.

The papers today write about a petition filed in the Supreme Court stating that the ‘Right to Property’ must be brought back to the Constitution thus reversing the 44th Amendment of the Constitution that removed this right.

This is an interesting development; especially after the case of IR Coelho v. State of Tamil Nadu, where a nine judge bench in 2007 opened up the ambit of judicial review stating that even constitutional amendments have to pass the test of some basic fundamental rights (14, 19 and 21). In this post I propose to talk about the history of the ‘Right to Property’ and how this petition affects the precedents in this matter.

Under the Original Constitution, the right to property was guaranteed in two places; as a positive right to acquire under Article 19 (1)(f) and as a negative right under Article 31 where no person shall be deprived of his property save by the authority of law. Article 31 was subjected to various amendments where the nature of this right was changed (Articles 31-A and 31-B) and has been the subject of numerous litigation. All this was later brought to a stop when the 44th Amendment removed this right from Part III and inserted Article 300 – A in the Constitution.

As rightly said in the present petition before the Court, the idea behind the removal of this right by the Moraji Desai government was the abolishment of the zamindari system. In Kameshwar Singh v. State of Bihar, when the Bihar Zamindari Abolition Act was held unconstitutional, the Government intervened and inserted Articles 31-A and 31-B by the 1st Amendment thus restricting the scope of this right. Later cases have not challenged this right on merits but only the adequacy of compensation that can be provided under this right.

In Keshavananda Bharti v. State of Kerala, the opinion of Justice Khanna clearly held that the right to property is not a part of the Basic Structure of the Constitution. Though he later clarified this position as regards the Basic Structure in Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain, he maintained the above as regards the right to property.

 

Coming to the present petition, Harish Salve appearing for the Centre for Good Governance director SK Agarwal argued that,

“The PIL seeking restoration of the right to property in the third chapter of the Constitution, which enumerates the fundamental rights enjoyed by every citizen, argued that it was made a statutory right in 1978 to abolish large land holdings with zamindars and rich and their distribution among landless peasants. 

Having achieved the purpose behind the legislative action in the late 1970s, the government should now initiate fresh measures to put ‘right to property’ back in the fundamental right basket”

 

As stated earlier, because of the decision in IR Coelho’s case, all the Constitutional Amendments after 1st January 1974 can be challenged on the ground of violation of basic structure and Articles 14, 19 and 21. This petition seeks to do the same since the 44th Amendment was passed after this date.

Explaining why the lawsuit was filed nearly three decades after the status of the right to property was diluted to that of an ordinary legal right, Salve told the court that there was a legal hitch in fling the lawsuit anytime before 2007.

For the first time in 2007, a nine-judge bench had clarified that any fundamental right of citizen is the basic structure of the constitution, which cannot be altered.”

 

I understand that the Court has now issued notices to the Centre to respond to this petition and it’d be interesting to see how this case goes ahead. Property has always been an issue in this Country, especially after the acquisition of land for the purposes of SEZs and the displacement of lakhs of people (generally poor). Perhaps, if the 44th Amendment is now declared unconstitutional we could now see a new trend in terms of recognizing the rights of slum dwellers and other persons.

 

 


State of West Bengal v. Bela Bannerjee : Vajravelu v. Deputy Collector : State of Madras v. Narsimharaju Mudaliar

 

 

The Supreme Court has now stated in an Order that strikes and bandhas are a part of the freedom of expression. As reported by the Times of India, this despite a Supreme Court ruling in 1998 that the calling of a bandh is not permitted by the Constitution. This post may be treated as explaining the nature and history of this right under the Constitution.

The right to strike as such is held to be sacred to the history of labour movements and unfolds with the idea of socialism and industrial disputes in our Country. While the Industrial Dispute Act has appropriate provisions to regulate the calling of strikes, in Kameshwar Prasad v. State of Bihar, AIR 1962 SC 1166. the Court held that there is no right to resort to a strike under the Indian Constitution and doing so would be violative of the fundamental rights of the citizens who would be affected by it. In TK Rangarajan v. Gov. of Tamilnadu, the Court while deciding on Jayalalitha’s sacking of service officers for striking held that;

“law on this subject is well settled and it has been repeatedly held that the employees have no fundamental right to resort to a strike. Take strike in any field, it can easily be realized that the weapon does more harm than any justice. The sufferer is the society- the public at large”.

 As regards bandhs, the case referred to by the Times of India is that of Communist Party of India v. Bharat Kumar, (1998 ) 1 SCC 201. The court held here that there cannot be any right to call or enforce a bandh which interferes with the exercise of the fundamental freedoms of other citizen, in addition to causing national loss in many ways. Under no circumstances, does the Constitution give sanction to such a right. Interestingly, this case was an appeal from the kerala HC on a decision that the present Chief justice Balakrishnan (then as a HC judge) had ruled.

 So day before yesterday when the Court was asked to issue a stay on the bandh issued by the DMK as a protest for the treatment of the tamils in Srilanka; there was clear precedence that the Court should have done so. However, what the Court did do was to state;

“What has this Court to do with stopping strikes? India is a democratic state where everyone has a right to express their feelings”

In one sitting, taking not more than an hour I am told, the Court deviated from years of precedence and ruled otherwise. This is outrageous in my personal opinion. Writing on the Indian judiciary, one foreign author wrote that what is fascinating about the Indian Supreme Court is how serious questions of policy and law are decided by an unelected elite in just a few minutes of argument in Court. This departing from a formal process of lawmaking which takes months of thinking in that area.

The author has made a right comment and it has a great bearing in the present situation. The Court should not have stated something like this. When the case comes up for hearing again on the 15th of feb., it is hoped that it would realize its folly and make amendments to its order.