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Waman Rao Vs Union of India-Certaining the Uncertainty - An Analysis

Written by: Abhirup Ghosh - III Year student, Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat
Army Law
Legal Service
  • Here the case under deliberation is Waman Rao Vs Union of India (AIR 1981, Supreme Court, 271). While dealing with this very case it has been chosen the following steps to give a final touch of the article namely

    1. Introduction of facts.
    2. Arguments raised by the parties.
    3. Ratio of the Judgment.
    4. Issues framed by the Court.
    4. How the majority of judges has addressed the issues and reasons given thereon.
    5. Views given by the minority and
    6. Critical analysis of the judgment. At the end we will also try to see if it is at all possible to suggest some recommendations to correct the flaws that the judgment might have incurred.

    Introduction of Facts
    There was an Act called Maharashtra Agricultural Lands (Ceiling on Holdings) Act 1962, hereinafter referred as the Act, imposed a ceiling on agricultural lands. Thereafter the ceiling was revised from time to time and certain other amendments were brought into operation. The validity of these Acts were challenged before the Bombay High Court on the ground that they take away the fundamental rights. Articles 31A and 31B were also brought under the purview of challenge on the ground that they infringe the basic structure of the constitution. But in the High Court level all challenges were rejected. Against the decision appeal was filed in the Supreme Court in the case of Dattatraya Govind Vs State of Maharashtra (1977 2 SCR 790). But those appeals were also dismissed on reasons stated by the Court. This judgment of Duttatraya case was delivered during emergency. As the emergency had been revoked the petitions were filed in the Court seeking review of the Duttatraya case. Therefore the present case has basically emerged as a review of the Dattatraya case.

    Argument Advanced
    In this case the main challenge was the constitutional validity of Articles 31A, 31B and un-amended article 31C. It was strongly argued against the protective nature of these articles which exclude all possibilities of challenge to the laws included under the shield. They argued that such shield will violate certain fundamental rights enshrined under part III of the constitution. The appellants replied that the very provisions of the constitution which the respondents rely to save impugned laws are invalid as the later amendments infringe the basic essential structure of the constitution as propounded in Keshavananda Bharati Case. The Petitioners also challenged the validity of constitutional fortieth amendment on the ground that it was passed in such a duration when the Parliament was not in lawful existence as it was on an extended tenure.

    Ratio of Judgment
    The bench which gave this judgment was consisting of Chandrachud C.J, V.R Krishna Iyer, V.D. Tulzapurkar, A.P. Sen and Bhagwati. The majority judgment was delivered by Chandrachud C.J on behalf of V.R Krishna Iyer, V.D. Tulzapurkar; A.P. Sen. Justice Bhagwati gave his dissenting opinion. The judgment is split in a ratio of 4:1.

    Issues to be Addressed
    In this instant case the Court has framed the following issues to be addressed:
    1) Whether in enacting article 31A (1) by the way of constitution amendment, the parliament transgressed its power of constitutional amendment.
    2) Whether article 31A (1) gives sufficient protection to the laws included under it from being challenged on the alleged ground of fundamental rights namely articles 14, 19 and 31.
    3) Whether article 31B which provides for Ninth Schedule can be challenged on the ground of being inconsistent with the fundamental rights of the citizens.
    4) Whether article 31C which aims to achieve the goals laid down under article 39 can be opened to challenge on the alleged ground of violation of fundamental rights.
    5) Whether the proclamation of emergency was mala-fide and the 40th amendment which was enacted by extending the life of the parliament were valid or not.
    6) Whether the doctrine of stare decisis can be applied in upholding the constitutional validity of any Article of the constitution or this principle can apply on to laws sought to be protected by those Articles.

    Now let us come to the issues one by one.

    1st and 2nd Issues
    The validity of the article 31A was challenged on the ground that it takes away the fundamental rights and thus contrary to the basic structure of the constitution. But the Court negated this contention by saying that it would be a misconception that every case where the protection of the fundamental right is withdrawn can’t be said to be damaging the basic structure of the constitution. While dealing with this very issue the Court has gone to the historical perspective of the Constitution First Amendment Act. From the statement of reasons given thereon the Court has inferred that the main reason behind the inclusion of article 31A was to make the zamindari abolition laws effective and to remove other difficulties that may arise. The Court has also referred to the speech given by J.L. Nehru which gives a clear picture that there indeed was a necessity to remove the glaring disparities and thereby to strengthen the structure of the constitution.

    The Court said that the 1st amendment was aimed in removing the glaring social and economic disparities in the agricultural sector. But while removing wide disparities, the Court said, it may possible that certain marginal and incidental inequalities may arise and it is impossible for any government to remove all the disparities without causing certain hardship to a class of people who are also entitled to equal treatment under the law. Thus the Court opined that the 1st amendment of the constitution does not jeopardize any basic structure of the constitution.

    The Court also referred four other landmark cases where also the validity of article 31A was challenged. These cases are Shankariprasad Vs Union of India AIR 1951 SC 458, Sajjansingh Vs State of Rajasthan 1965 1 SCR 933, Golaknath AIR 1967 SC 1643 and most importantly Keshavananda Bharati AIR 1973 SC 1461. In all the cases the constitutional validity of Article 31 has been recognized, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly.
    Therefore it can be concluded that Article 31A breathes its own validity from the basic tenets of the constitution and it has satisfactorily survived all the challenges.

    3rd Issue
    This is pertaining to the validity of Article 21B. This Article creates most Disputed Ninth Schedule and proclaims that once the respective Acts are included in this schedule then they can not deemed to be void on the ground of violation of fundamental rights. The contents of this Article are expressed without prejudice to the generality of the provisions contained under Article 31A. The ninth Schedule was added to the constitution after the first amendment to the constitution. Here the Court proposed to treat decision of Keshavananda Bharati as the benchmark. Several Acts were put in the Ninth Schedule prior to that decision on the supposition that the power of the parliament to amend the constitution was wide and untrammeled. Therefore the Court will not be justified in upsetting the settled claims by leaving those Acts open to challenge. This will avoid creating confusion in a lawful and orderly society.

    The Court said that as far as the validity of the Ninth Schedule is concerned, the Acts and regulations included in the Ninth Schedule prior to the date of Keshavananda Bharati, will receive the full protection of this Article. Those laws and regulations will not be open to challenge on the ground that they are inconsistent with any of the provisions of part III of the constitution. But the Acts and regulations which have been included after the date of Keshavananda Bharati judgment shall be open to scrutiny on the ground and will not automatically receive the blanket protection of the Ninth Schedule. Therefore the Acts and regulations added after the said date can only find themselves placed in the Ninth Schedule if they can satisfy that they do not harm the basic structure of the constitution.

    4th Issue
    The petitioners brought formidable attack against the vires of Article 31C. But the attack did not succeed because opening clause of the said Article was upheld by the majority in Keshavananda Bharati case and in this very case the Court did not permit the petitioners to go behind that decision.

    This Article has a strong link with Article 39 which contains directive principles vital to the well being of the country and its people. Therefore it may be impossible to conceive that such a law at all can violate Articles 14 and 19. Thus the challenge to this Article fails.

    5th Issue
    The normal tenure of the Lok Sabha was supposed to end on March 18, 1976 but its life was extended for one year by applying House of People (Extension of Duration) Act. Yet another Act called House of People (Extension of Duration) Amendment Act was passed by which the tenure was further extended for one year. The 40th amendment to the constitution was made during the extended tenure.

    It was submitted before the Court that the proclamation of emergency was made with mala-fide intention and there seems to be no justification. But the Court found that evidence adduced was insufficient and adequate safeguard has been provided in the form of Article 352 clause (3). Now it is no longer possible for the president to declare emergency unless the decision of Union Cabinet has been communicated to him in a written form. Apart from that during that time the threat on security and sovereignty of the country was prominent. Thus there seems to be no mala-fide behind the proclamation of emergency.

    Therefore on this ground the Court held that the extension of the Lok Sabha was valid and Lawful. As a result the 40th and 42nd constitutional amendments can not be struck down on the ground that they were passed by the Lok Sabha which did not legally exist.

    6th Issue
    The Court has said that the doctrine of stare decisis can only be applied to the laws protected by the Article and not to the Article itself. However the Court has given specific reasons for saying so. The Court added that is has disinclined to invoke the doctrine of stare decisis as Article 31A stands constitutionally valid on its own merits independently. The Court has given four reasons for doing so. Firstly it is said that Article 31A breathes its own validity by drawing sustenance from the basic tenets of the constitution itself. Secondly the Court has referred a number of cases where the validity of Article 31A was upheld. Thirdly the Court has reasoned that this principle of stare decisis has limited application only. It is wise policy to restrict this principle to only those areas of law where correction can be done by legislation. Otherwise the constitution will loose its flexibility which is necessary to serve the needs of successive generations. The fourth reason is that this doctrine can not be invoked to protect the Article but the laws only.


    While delivering this judgment, the Court has referred a number of judgments. But one may find it relevant to name few of them namely
    (1). Shankariprasad Vs Union of India AIR 1951 SC 458,
    (2). Sajjansingh Vs State of Rajasthan 1965 1 SCR 933,
    (3). Golaknath AIR 1967 SC 1643 and
    (4). most importantly Keshavananda Bharati AIR 1973 SC 1461.

    The Court has also referred to another important case namely Ambika Prasad Vs State of UP 1980 3 SCC 719. This last case is very significant because the judgment of this case was delivered by this very bench. The Court has also referred the speech delivered by Pundit Nehru’s in the context of amendment to the constitution and reports of various committees pertaining to the necessity of land reform. All these things have suggested that it laws of land reform are challenged on the ground of violation of fundamental rights in every now and then and on that basis these laws are struck down then instead of strengthening the basic structure it will rather weaken it and that will lead to benefit of few and deprivation of lot. Therefore some rights can be sacrificed to achieve common benefit.

    Minority View
    In this very case Justice Bhagwati gave his dissenting opinion. He found himself unable to agree with the majority view that doctrine of stare decisis can not be applied to uphold the validity of the Articles but to the laws only which are protected by that Article. He found that this very bench has upheld the constitutional validity of Article 31A by simple application of this doctrine. In Keshavananda Bharati case the validity of Article 31A was upheld. This decision binds the present one on the simple ground of stare decisis. Therefore he is not able to agree with the majority view as that would be in conflict with what this very bench has said in Ambika Prasad case.

    Critical Analysis and Recommendations
    The decision of Waman Rao Vs Union of India is regarded as one of the benchmarks in the constitutional jurisprudence of India. This case in a way a unique one as it re-clarifies various doubts arose out of Keshavananda Bharati case. It has set up a clear line of demarcation to avoid all kind of future doubts also.

    This judgment is a sound one in the sense that before coming to decide the issues directly the Court has taken a very wide consideration of various other things. We will discuss all of them one by one.

    Let us first come to the point of land reform and laws pertaining to it. Land reform is a scheme which was introduced by the government immediately after attaining freedom. The framers of the constitution has given adequate space in the constitution itself for land reform and therefore one can easily infer that this a very important aspect. India since its freedom wanted to achieve an egalitarian pattern of society. India is a large country having ample quantity of land and countless poor people. Majority of the people meet their livelihood by agricultural activities. During the British period, there were few farmers who used to hold land of their personal capacity. Acres of land were owned by Zamindars and all. They use to employ laborers for agriculture and pay very less amount. It was difficult for those people to earn their livelihood in a decent way. All these had resulted in huge economic and social disparities in the agricultural sector which is the primary source of livelihood in our country. The constitution framers had sufficiently noticed it and created mechanism in the constitution itself to address these disparities.

    The constitution was amended in the year 1951 for the first time. This amendment led several modifications in the fundamental rights and started the era of land reform through constitutional mechanism. It has introduced two new articles namely 31A and 31B and the infamous ninth schedule so as to make the laws acquiring zamindaris unchallengeable in the Court of law. This has because of the land reform legislations were being challenged before various high courts like Patna, Nagpur, Allahabad etc on the ground of inconsistency with the fundamental rights specially Article 14. But the high Court varied in their opinions. These kinds of litigations were causing delay in the process of agrarian reforms which was supposed to be speedy. Therefore it was thought to bypass these wasteful litigations in order to give true effect to the land reform process.

    Nehru was an ardent supporter of the scheme of agrarian reforms which was regarded as process of social reform and social engineering. The centre wanted to remove any impediment to such land reform laws being declared invalid by the courts and hence the amendment was made. In this regard the ninth schedule was an important innovation in the area of constitutional amendment. A new technique of bypassing judicial review was initiated. Any Act which is incorporated in this schedule became fully protected against any kind of in a Court of law under any fundamental right. Even an Act declared invalid by Court becomes valid retrospectively after being put into this schedule. Initially 13 Acts pertaining zamindari abolition was put.

    Now in the present case the Court has rightly recognized the need of furthering this process of land reform in order to further the need of achieving an egalitarian pattern of society. Indian agrarian sector is full of economic and social disparities and to remove the same stress on agrarian reforms can not be ignored at any cost. But this also true that in doing so the privileges of some people will be infringed upon. But still to achieve larger interest, small personal interests can be sacrificed and this is no wrong. The Court has remarked that it is entirely for the legislature to decide what policy to be adopted for the purpose of restructuring the agrarian system and the Court should not assume the role of an economic adviser for pronouncing upon the wisdom of such policy. One may totally agree with this remark to be very practical and sound.

    Article 31C was introduced by the Twenty Fifth Amendment Act to the constitution. This clause declares that a law giving effect to the state policy towards securing the directive principles contained under articles 39b or c would not be held void because of its inconsistency with articles 14, 19 and 31. There was a further declaration that if a law was so enacted to give effect to such policy would be immune from being challenged in any Court of law on the ground that that it did not give effect to such policy. Now in the present case the Court has referred to the case of Keshavanada Bharati case in which majority of the judges held this Article constitutionally valid. Therefore the Court has not gone in much detail. The precedent value of the Keshavananda Bharati Case was enough for the Court to decide on the validity of this article. I totally agree with the observation of the Court as far as the validity of this Article is concerned. This Article is meant for the protection of those laws which are to give effect to the directive principles of state policy under Article 39(b) and (c). And laws made for this purpose must be held good and valid as they aim to achieve certain greater benefit for the society. Thus apparently it is not possible to call those laws invalid merely because they are sometimes inconsistent with the fundamental rights. They aim to reduce various social and economic disparities existing within the society. It is therefore expected that parliament while making laws to give effect to achieve goals must exercise the power with due care and consideration to make sure that the purpose is not diluted. If so done then it will definitely fortify the basic structure by giving maximum potential to those laws. However this judgment is not free from lacunae. The lacunae can be seen in two facets—one is pertaining to the interpretation of Article 31C and another is regarding understanding of the doctrine of stare decisis.

    These two are discussed herein after and recommendations made.
    While introducing Article there was an additional declaration that the laws which are meant for the achievement of goals laid down under Article 39(b) and (c) can not be rendered void on the ground that it has not been able to achieve the purpose for what it is meant for. This provision does not appear to be fair and reasonable. When a law pertaining to socio-economic reforms has been enacted then people do gradually have certain expectations out of it. Therefore it the law fails to meet the expectations of the people then it should be struck down. But in this case the Court has failed to see this side and merely said that if a law is based on Article 39(a) and (c) and it is taken for granted that such law will bring some welfare. The Court has failed to observe that such a law shall thoroughly be scrutinized and it shall only stand in the face of judicial review only when it is satisfied that it can achieve the purpose successfully. This can be one of the lacunae and we can strongly recommend that it such a law fails achieve the purpose then it shall be struck down.
    In the second criticism one may fully agree with Justice Bhagwati who said that it is unknown in this very judgment as to why doctrine of stare decisis can not be applied to uphold the constitutional validity of an Article. The Court has said that the doctrine of stare decisis can not be applied to uphold the constitutional validity of an Article itself but only to those laws sought to be protected by the Article. This is one of the reasons in issue no. 6 but the Court has forgotten to give any specific reason for saying so. This is one of the biggest lacunae in this very judgment and one may strongly recommend that this very observation is very inconsistent with the observation of this very bench in the case of Ambika Prasad Misra Vs State of UP. Thus this observation is seemed to be overruling the earlier decision of this very bench and therefore gross violation of the doctrine of stare decisis.

    The decision of this case a land mark one in the constitutional jurisprudence of India. This case has helped in determining a satisfactory method of preserving the settled position and to address grievances pertaining to the violation of fundamental rights. The judgment appears to be a sound one as it has created a line of determination between the Acts previous to and after the Keshavananda Bharati case. Now it is easier to decide as to which laws can be challenged and which are not. But the judgment left certain areas while dealing with Article 31C and the doctrine of stare decisis. However if these two aspects are rectified then this judgment is very sound and effective.

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