WAMAN RAO & ORS. v. UNION OF INDIA & ORS.

By:- Haseeb Khan[1]

In the Supreme Court of India

NAME OF THE CASEWaman Rao & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors.
CITATION(1981) 2 SCC 362, 1981 2 SCR 1.
DATE OF JUDGEMENTNovember 13, 1980.
APPELLANTWaman Rao & Ors.
RESPONDENTUnion of India & Ors.
BENCH/JUDGEJustices Y Chandrachud, A Sen, P Bhagwati, V Tulzapurkar, V K Iyer.
STATUTES/CONSTITUTION INVOLVEDThe Indian Constitution, 1950.Maharashtra Agricultural Lands (Ceiling on Holdings) Act, 1961.The Insurance (Amendment) Act, 2002.
IMPORTANT SECTIONS/ARTICLESThe Indian Constitution, 1950, Articles 14, 19(1)(f), 31A, 31B, 31C & 368.

ABSTRACT

In this case, the main challenge was to check the constitutionality of Articles 31A, 31B, and the un-amended Article 31C of the Constitution. The amendments made to the Maharashtra Agricultural Lands (Ceiling on Holdings) Act were challenged in the Bombay High Court, as the ceiling made by the act was lowered along with other changes. Over 2660 petitions were filed for this particular reason. In spite of this, the Court declared that the validity of these acts cannot be questioned as they are completely constitutional in nature. An appeal filed before the Bombay High Court was rejected by the Supreme Court while the emergency was proclaimed. After the emergency was over, petitions were filed asking for a review of the Supreme Court’s decision, and thus the matter eventually reached the Supreme Court, where the doctrine of Stare Decisis was also discussed and the constitutionality of the aforementioned Articles of the Indian Constitution was proven.

INTRODUCTION

The term ‘Stare Decisis’ originates from Latin. It means ‘to abide by things decided.’ The doctrine of Stare Decisis is used by all courts in all cases or legal issues. A doctrine is nothing but a principle or instruction. Still, it is not fundamentally a hard and fast rule that can not be broken. For example, if the Supreme Court passes a judgement and it becomes a precedent, as per the doctrine of Stare Decisis, the lower courts must follow such a judgement. The same principle has been mentioned in Article 141 of the Constitution.

The doctrine of Stare Decisis means that courts can refer to the former, comparable legal issues to guide their verdicts. These issues are known as “precedents”. Precedents are legal principles or rules that are created by the verdicts given by courts. Precedents become an authority for the judges to decide like cases in the future. The doctrine of Stare Decisis creates an obligation on courts to apply precedents when taking a certain decision.

The Legislature lays down the rules to be applied in the adjudication of debates between parties, and the final authority for the interpretation of these rules is the judiciary. The doctrine of Stare Decisis makes the decisions of courts, generally, the higher courts, binding on the inferior courts in cases wherein like questions of law are brought before the court. The use of the said doctrine ensures that there is certainty within the law. The said doctrine saves the time and energy of the judiciary and helps in excluding arbitrary and prejudiced actions on the part of the judges. The doctrine of Stare Decisis is thus within the interest of public policy, and it creates confidence in the public by making sure that their conduct is in agreement with the law.

FACTS OF THE CASE

A ceiling on agrarian personal properties was put in Maharashtra by the Maharashtra Agricultural Lands (Ceiling on Holdings) Act, 27 of 1961, which was brought into operation on January 26, 1962. The ceiling fixed by that Act (the Principal Act), was lowered and certain other amendments were made to that Act by Acts 21 of 1975, 47 of 1975 and 2 of 1976. The validity of these Acts was challenged in the Bombay High Court in a large group of over 2660 pleas. A Division Bench of the High Court sitting at Nagpur repelled that challenge by a judgment dated August 13, 1976, in Vithalrao Udhaorao Uttarwar v. State of Maharashtra.[2] The High Court held that the contents of the foreamed Acts were not open to challenge on the ground that they abridged any of the rights conferred by Part III of the Constitution, since those Acts were placed in the Ninth Schedule by the Constitution 17th Amendment Act, 1964, and the Constitution 40th Amendment Act, 1976, and also because of the promulgation of the Emergency, as a result of which the rights under Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution could not be implemented.

The High Court also repelled the challenge to the validity of Article 31B itself by holding that far from damaging the elementary structure of the Constitution, the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951, which introduced Article 31B into the Constitution, fortified that structure by sub serving a basic constitutional purpose. Certain provisions of the Principal Act and of the Amending Acts; particularly the notion of ‘family unit’ were challenged before the High Court on the ground, inter alia, that they were outside the ambit of Article 31A. On an overall consideration of the movement of agricultural reforms, with particular reference to the applicable statistics in regard to Maharashtra, the High Court rejected that challenge too on the ground that those schemes formed a part of an integral scheme of agrarian reforms under which large agrarian holdings had to be reduced and the excess land distributed amongst the landless and others.

The petitions filed against the decision of the Bombay High Court were dismissed by this Court by a judgment dated January 27, 1977 in Dattatraya Govind Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra[3]. The only point prompted in those pleas was that the Principal Act, as amended, was void because it violated the second proviso to Article 31A(1), in so far as it created an artificial ‘family unit’ and fixed the ceiling on the agrarian effects of such family units. The argument was that the violation of the particular provision deprived the impugned laws of the protection conferred by Article 31A. That argument was rejected by the Court on the view that if the impugned provisions were violating the second proviso, they will be protected by Article 31B by reason of the inclusion of the Principal Act and the Amending Acts in the Ninth Schedule. The Court considered whether, in fact, the contents of the impugned Acts were violative of the second proviso and held that it was entirely for the legislature to decide what policy to take up for the purpose of restructuring the agrarian system. The second proviso to Article 31A(1) was held not to have been violated.

The judgment of this Court in the pleas aforesaid was delivered on January 27, 1977 while the proclamation of emergency was in operation. On the cancellation of that proclamation, appeals were filed in this Court by the petitioners for the review of the judgment in Dattatraya Govind Mahajan[4] on the ground that several contentions, which were open to them for assailing the constitutional validity of the impugned Acts, could not be made by reason of the emergency and that they should be permitted to make those contentions since the emergency was lifted. New Writ Petitions were also filed in this Court in which those contentions were put forward. The Court having accepted the request for the review of the judgment in Dattatraya Govind Mahajan[5] these matters have come before us for consideration of the other points involved in the appeals.

ISSUES RAISED BEFORE THE COURT

  1. Whether the Articles 31A, 31B and the un-amended Article 31C of the Constitution of India are constitutionally sound?
  2. Whether the doctrine of Stare Decisis is applicable in this case?
  3. Whether in enacting Article 31A(1)(a) by way of an amendment of the Constitution, Parliament transgressed its power to amend the Constitution?

ARGUMENTS FROM THE APPELLANT SIDE

  1. The learned counsel for the appellant argued that the very provisions of the Constitution on which the respondents rely for saving the impugned laws are invalid, since these particular provisions of the Constitution, which were introduced by later amendments, damage or destroy the basic structure of the Constitution within the meaning of the ratio of the majority judgment in Keshavananda Bharati case.
  2. Shri M.N. Phadke, who led the argument on behalf of the petitioners, argued against the vires of Article 31C. The learned counsel addressed an interesting argument on the principles governing the theory of precedent, and he argued that, in the welter of judgments delivered in Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala[6] it is impossible to discern a ratio because different learned Judges gave different reasons in support of the conclusions to which they came.

ARGUMENTS FROM THE RESPONDENT SIDE

The learned counsel for the respondent met the various grounds of challenge to the Principal Act and the Amending Acts by relying on the provisions of these Articles which throw a protective cloak around laws of a certain description and variety, by excluding challenge thereto on the ground that they are violative of certain articles of the Constitution.

RELATED PROVISIONS

  1. The Constitution of India, 1950[7]
    1. “Article 14. Equality before law.

The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.”

  • “Article 19. Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, etc.
    •  All citizens shall have the right
      • to freedom of speech and expression;
      • to assemble peaceably and without arms;
      • to form associations or unions;
      • to move freely throughout the territory of India;
      • to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; and
      • omitted
      • to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.”
    • “Article 31A. Saving of laws providing for acquisition of estates, etc.
      • Notwithstanding anything contained in Article 13, no law providing for
        • the acquisition by the State of any estate or of any rights therein or the extinguishment or modification of any such rights, or
        • the taking over of the management of any property by the State for a limited period either in the public interest or in order to secure the proper management of the property, or
        • the amalgamation of two or more corporations either in the public interest or in order to secure the proper management of any of the corporations, or
        • the extinguishment or modification of any rights of managing agents, secretaries and treasurers, managing directors, directors or managers of corporations, or of any voting rights of shareholders thereof, or
        • the extinguishment or modification of any rights accruing by virtue of any agreement, lease or license for the purpose of searching for, or winning, any mineral or mineral oil, or the premature termination or cancellation of any such agreement, lease or license, shall be deemed to be void on the ground that it is inconsistent with, or takes away or abridges any of the rights conferred by Article 14 or Article 19: Provided that where such law is a law made by the Legislature of a State, the provisions of this article shall not apply thereto unless such law, having been reserved for the consideration of the President, has received his assent: Provided further that where any law makes any provision for the acquisition by the State of any estate and where any land comprised therein is held by a person under his personal cultivation, it shall not be lawful for the State to acquire any portion of such land as is within the ceiling limit applicable to him under any law for the time being in force or any building or structure standing thereon or appurtenant thereto, unless the law relating to the acquisition of such land, building or structure, provides for payment of compensation at a rate which shall not be less than the market value thereof.”
    • “Article 31B. Validation of certain Acts and Regulations Without prejudice to the generality of the provisions contained in Article 31A, none of the Acts and Regulations specified in the Ninth Schedule nor any of the provisions thereof shall be deemed to be void, or ever to have become void, on the ground that such Act, Regulation or provision is inconsistent with, or takes away or abridges any of the rights conferred by, any provisions of this Part, and notwithstanding any judgment, decree or order of any court or tribunal to the contrary, each of the said Acts and Regulations shall, subject to the power of any competent Legislature to repeal or amend it, continue in force.”
    • “Article 31C. Saving of laws giving effect to certain directive principles Notwithstanding anything contained in Article 13, no law giving effect to the policy of the State towards securing all or any of the principles laid down in Part IV shall be deemed to be void on the ground that it is inconsistent with, or takes away or abridges any of the rights conferred by Article 14 or Article 19 and no law containing a declaration that it is for giving effect to such policy shall be called in question in any court on the ground that it does not give effect to such policy: Provided that where such law is made by the Legislature of a State, the provisions of this Article shall not apply thereto unless such law, having been reserved for the consideration of the President, has received his assent Right to Constitutional Remedies.”
    • “Article 368. Power of Parliament to amend the Constitution and procedure thereof
      • Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, Parliament may in exercise of its constituent power amend by way of addition, variation or repeal any provision of this Constitution in accordance with the procedure laid down in this article.
      • An amendment of this Constitution may be initiated only by the introduction of a Bill for the purpose in either House of Parliament, and when the Bill is passed in each House by a majority of the total membership of that House present and voting, it shall be presented to the President who shall give his assent to the Bill and thereupon the Constitution shall stand amended in accordance with the terms of the Bill: Provided that if such amendment seeks to make any change in:
        • Article 54, Article 55, Article 73, Article 162 or Article 241, or
        • Chapter IV of Part V, Chapter V of Part VI, or Chapter I of Part XI, or
        • any of the Lists in the Seventh Schedule, or
        • the representation of States in Parliament, or
        • the provisions of this article, the amendment shall also require to be ratified by the Legislature of not less than one half of the States by resolution to that effect passed by those Legislatures before the Bill making provision for such amendment is presented to the President for assent.
      • Nothing in Article 13 shall apply to any amendment made under this article.
      • No amendment of this Constitution (including the provisions of Part III) made or purporting to have been made under this article whether before or after the commencement of Section 55 of the Constitution (Forty second Amendment) Act, 1976 shall be called in question in any court on any ground.
      • For the removal of doubts, it is hereby declared that there shall be no limitation whatever on the constituent power of Parliament to amend by way of addition, variation or repeal the provisions of this Constitution under this article PART XXI TEMPORARY, TRANSITIONAL AND SPECIAL PROVISIONS.”

JUDGEMENT

The Supreme Court stated that in these proceedings, the main challenge is to check the constitutionality of Articles 31A, 31B, and the unamended Article 31C of the Constitution. The grounds of challenge to the Principal Act and the Amending Acts were met on behalf of the respondents by relying on the provisions of these Articles, which throw a protective cloak around laws of a certain description and variety, and by ruling out challenge thereto on the ground that they are violative of certain articles of the Constitution.

The bench further proceeded that Articles 14, 19, 31A. 31B, 31C (as unamended) and 368 are familiar to lawyers and laymen alike, so great is their impact on law and life. Article 14, the savior of the rule of law, injuncts that the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India. Article 19 confers upon the citizens rights like the freedom of speech and expression, the right to assemble peaceably, the right to form associations, the right to move freely throughout the territory of India, the right to reside and settle in any part of India, and the right to practice any profession or to carry on any trade, business or calling. These rights make life meaningful and, without the freedoms conferred by Article 19, the goal of the Preamble will remain a dream unfulfilled. The right to property conferred by Articles 19(1)(f) and 31 was deleted by the 44th Amendment with effect from June 20, 1979.

The Apex court said that there was no doubt, nor indeed is it disputed, that the Agricultural Lands Ceiling Acts, which are impugned in these proceedings, fall squarely within the terms of Clause (a) of Article 31A(1). Those Acts provide for the extinguishment and modification of rights in an ‘estate’, the expression ‘estate’ being defined by Clause (2)(a)(iii) to mean “any land held or let for purposes of agriculture or for purposes ancillary thereto.” It must follow, as a necessary corollary, that the impugned Acts, are entitled to the protection of Article 31A(1)(a) when the result that their provisions cannot be deemed, and therefore cannot be declared, to be void on the ground that they are inconsistent with or take away or abridge any of the rights conferred by Articles 14, 19 or 31.

This is the reason why and the contest in which the validity of Article 31A(1)(a) is itself assailed by the petitioners. If a constitutional provision, which deprives the petitioners of the benefit and protection of Articles 14, 19 and 31, is invalid, the petitioners will be entitled to challenge the impugned laws on the ground that they are inconsistent with or that they take away or abridge the rights conferred by Part III of the Constitution. Article 13(2), has a sensitive touchstone. Not only does it mandate that the State shall not make any law which takes away or abridges the rights conferred by Part III but, it provides that any law made in contravention of the clause shall, to the extent of the contravention, be void. Mere abridgement, that is to say curtailment, and not necessarily abrogation, that is to say total deprivation, is enough to produce the consequence provided for by Article 13(2).

The judgment of the Supreme Court in Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala[8] provoked in its wake a multi-storied controversy. The judgment of the majority, to which seven out of the thirteen judges were party, struck a bridle path by holding that in the exercise of the power conferred by Article 368, Parliament cannot amend the Constitution so as to damage or destroy the basic structure of the Constitution. The seven learned judges chose their words and phrases to express their conclusion as effectively and eloquently as language can do. But, at this distance of time, any controversy over what was meant by what they said is plainly sterile. At ‘this distance of time’, because though not more than a little less than eight years have gone by since the decision in Kesavananda Bharati was rendered, those few years are packed with constitutional events of great magnitude.

Applying the ratio of the majority judgments in that epoch-making decision, this Court has since struck down constitutional amendments which would otherwise have passed muster. For example, in Smt. Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain.[9] Article 329A(4) was held by the Court to be beyond the amending competence of the Parliament since, by making separate and special provisions as to elections to Parliament of the Prime Minister and the Speaker, it destroyed the basic structure of the Constitution. Ray C.J. based his decision on the ground that the 39th Amendment by which Article 329A was introduced violated the Rule of Law. Khanna J. based his decision on the ground that democracy was a basic feature of the Constitution, that democracy contemplates that elections should be free and fair and that the clause in question struck at the basis of free and fair elections.

Mathew J. struck down the clause on the ground that it was in the nature of legislation ad hominem and that it damaged the democratic structure of the Constitution, while, Chandrachud J., held that the clause was bad because it violated the Rule of Law and was an outright negation of the principle of equality which is a basic feature of the Constitution. More recently, in Minerva Mills[10], Clauses (4) and (5) of Article 368 itself were held unconstitutional by a unanimous Court, on the ground that they destroyed certain basic features of the Constitution like judicial review and a limited amending power, and thereby damaged its basic structure. The majority also struck down the amendment introduced to Article 31C by Section 4 of, the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976.

This makes it unnecessary to consider whether Article 31A can be upheld by applying the rule of stare decisis. We have, however, heard long and studied arguments on that question also, in deference to which we must consider the alternate submission as to whether the doctrine of stare decisis can save Article 31A, if it is otherwise violative of the basic structure of the Constitution. In Shankari Prasad v. Union of India[11] the validity of the 1st Amendment, which introduced Articles 31A & 31B, was assailed on six grounds, the fifth being that Article 13(2) takes in not only ordinary laws but constitutional amendments also. This argument was rejected and the 1st Amendment was upheld. In Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan[12] the Court refused to reconsider the decision in Shankari Prasad, with the result that the validity of the 1st Amendment remained unshaken.

The Supreme Court, after much consideration, ordered that all the Writ Petitions and Review Petitions relating to the validity of the Maharashtra Agricultural Lands Ceiling Acts are dismissed with costs. The stay orders granted in these matters will stand vacated. The costs at Rs. Five thousand which will be borne equally by the petitioners in Writ Petitions Nos. 656-660 of 1977; 512-533 of 1977; and 505 to 511 of 1977. The costs will be payable to the Union of India and the State of Maharashtra in equal measure. The Court also proved that the Articles of the Constitution in question are completely constitutional and are essential.

CONCLUSION

Justice Holmes has said : “Don’t be consistent, but be simply true”. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today-“Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.” Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood. These lines perfectly sum up this landmark judgement of Waman Rao v. Union of India. The Constitution of India since it’s emergence, has been amended many times because it is a “living document”. It is ever evolving and changes to it’s form are natural. Even after so many amendments, the Constitution is not perfect and it is valid to subject it to scrutiny because in the words of René Descartes, “Dubito ergo cogito, Cogito ergo sum”, which translates to “I doubt therefore I think, I think therefore I am.”


[1] Author is a 3rd semester student from Amity Law School, Lucknow.

[2] Vithalrao Udhaorao Uttarwar v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1977 Bom 99.

[3] Dattatraya Govind Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra, 1977 AIR 915, 1977 SCR (2) 790.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, (1973) 4 SCC 225; AIR 1973 SC 1461.

[7] INDIAN CONST. art. 14, 19, 31A, 31B, 31C & 368.

[8] Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, (1973) 4 SCC 225; AIR 1973 SC 1461.

[9] Indira Nehru Gandhi vs Shri Raj Narain, Civil Appeal  887 of 1975.

[10] Minerva Mills v. Union of India, AIR 1980 SC 1789.

[11] Shankari Prasad v. Union of India, 1951 AIR 458, 1952 SCR 89.

[12] Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan, 1965 AIR 845, 1965 SCR (1) 933.

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