State of West Bengal & ors v. The Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights, West Bengal & ors. (2010)

The present post discusses the decision of the Apex Court in State of West Bengal & Ors. v. The Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights, West Bengal & ors. The case deals with the question of jurisdiction of the High Court to issue directions to CBI.

Bench

K.G. Balakrishnan, R.V. RaveendranD.K. Jain, P. Sathasivam, J.M. Panchal

Date of Decision

February 17,2010

Question of Laws involved

  • Whether the High Court, in exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, can direct the Central Bureau of Investigation (for short “the CBI”), established under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946  to investigate a cognizable offence, which is alleged to have taken place within the territorial jurisdiction of a State, without the consent of the State Government?
  • When the fundamental rights, as enshrined in Part III of the Constitution, as alleged in the instant case, are violated, can their violation be immunised from judicial scrutiny on the touchstone of doctrine of separation of powers between the Legislature, Executive and the Judiciary.

Contentions of the Parties

(a) Union of India

  • The entire approach of the State being based on an assumption that the alleged restriction on Parliament’s legislative power under Entry 80 of List I of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution and restriction on the power of the Central Government under Section 6 of the Special Police Act to issue a notification binds the constitutional courts i.e. the Supreme Court and the High Courts is fallacious, inasmuch as the restrictions on the Central Government and Parliament cannot be inferentially extended to be restrictions on the Constitutional Courts in exercise of their powers under Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution as it is the obligation of the Superior Courts to protect the citizens and enforce their fundamental rights.
  • The stand of the appellants that the exercise of power by the Supreme Court or the High Courts to refer investigation to CBI directly without prior approval of the concerned State Government would violate the federal structure of the Constitution is again misconceived as it overlooks the basic fact that in a federal structure it is the duty of the courts to uphold the Constitutional values and to enforce the Constitutional limitations as an ultimate interpreter of the Constitution.

(b) State of West Bengal

  • Both, the federal structure as well as the principles of separation of powers, being a part of the basic structure of the Constitution, it is neither permissible for the Central Government to encroach upon the legislative powers of a State in respect of the matters specified in List II of the Seventh Schedule nor can the superior courts of the land adjure such a jurisdiction which is otherwise prohibited under the Constitution.
  • Referring to Entry 80 of List I of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India; Entry 2 of List II of the said Schedule as also Sections 5 and 6 of the Special Police Act strenuously argued that from the said Constitutional and Statutory provisions it is evident that there is a complete restriction on Parliament’s legislative power in enacting any law permitting the police of one State to investigate an offence committed in another State, without the consent of that State.
  • The Special Police Act enacted in exercise of the powers conferred under the Government of India Act, 1935, Entry 39 of List I (Federal Legislative List) of the Seventh Schedule, the field now occupied by Entry 80 of List I of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, replicates the prohibition of police of one State investigating an offence in another State without the consent of that State.
  • Entry 2 of List II which confers exclusive jurisdiction on the State Legislature in regard to the police, the exclusive jurisdiction of a State Legislature cannot be encroached upon without the consent of the concerned State being obtained.
  • If the Parliament were to pass a law which authorises the police of one State to investigate in another State without the consent of that
    State, such a law would be pro tanto invalid and, therefore, the rule of law would require the courts, which are subservient to the Constitution, to ensure that the federal structure embodied in the Constitution as a
    basic principle, is not disturbed by permitting/directing the police force of a State to investigate an offence committed in another State without the consent of that State.
  • There is a significant difference between the power of this Court
    under Article 142 of the Constitution and the jurisdiction of the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution because of territorial limitations under Article 226 (1) of the Constitution, a High Court is
    disentitled from issuing any direction to the authorities situated outside the territories over which it has jurisdiction. Clause (2) of Article 226 would have no application in a case, such as the present one, since the cause of action was complete at the time of filing the writ petition and the power under Clause (2) can be exercised only where there
    is a nexus between the cause of action which arises wholly or partly within the State and the authority which is situated outside the State.

Decision of the Court

  • A direction by the High Court, in exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution, to the CBI to investigate a cognizable offence alleged to have been committed within the territory of a State without the consent of that State will neither impinge upon the federal structure of the Constitution nor violate the doctrine of separation of power and shall be valid in law. Being the protectors of civil liberties of the citizens, this Court and the High Courts have not only the power and jurisdiction but also an obligation to protect the fundamental rights, guaranteed by Part III in general and under Article 21 of the Constitution in particular, zealously and vigilantly. (Para 45)
  •  We conclude as follows (para 44) :

(i) The fundamental rights, enshrined in Part III of the Constitution, are inherent and cannot be extinguished by any Constitutional or Statutory provision. Any law that abrogates or abridges such rights would be violative of the basic structure doctrine. The actual effect and impact of the law on the rights guaranteed under Part III has to be taken into account in determining whether or not it destroys the basic structure.

(ii) Article 21 of the Constitution in its broad perspective seeks to protect the persons of their lives and personal liberties except according to the procedure established by law. The said Article in its broad application not only takes within its fold enforcement of the rights of an accused but also the rights of the victim. The State has a duty to enforce the human rights of a citizen providing for fair and impartial investigation against any person accused of commission of a cognizable offence, which may include its own officers. In certain situations even a witness to the crime may seek for and shall be granted protection by the State.

(iii) In view of the constitutional scheme and the jurisdiction conferred on this Court under Article 32and on the High Courts under Article 226 of the Constitution the power of judicial review being an integral part of the basic structure of the Constitution, no Act of Parliament can exclude or curtail the powers of the Constitutional Courts with regard to the enforcement of fundamental rights. As a matter of fact, such a power is essential to give practicable content to the objectives of the Constitution embodied in Part III and other parts of the Constitution. Moreover, in a federal constitution, the distribution of legislative powers between the Parliament and the State Legislature involves the limitation on legislative powers and, therefore, this requires an authority other than the Parliament to ascertain whether such limitations are transgressed. Judicial review acts as the final arbiter not only to give effect to the distribution of legislative powers between the Parliament and the State Legislatures, it is also necessary to show any transgression by each entity.

Therefore, to borrow the words of Lord Steyn, judicial review is justified by the combination of “the principles of separation of powers, rule of law, the principle of constitutionality and the reach of judicial review”.

(iv) If the federal structure is violated by any legislative action, the Constitution takes care to protect the federal structure by ensuring that Courts act as guardians and interpreters of the Constitution and provide a remedy under Articles 32 and 226, whenever there is an attempted violation. In the circumstances, any direction by the Supreme Court or the High Court in the
exercise of power under Article 32 or 226 to uphold the Constitution and maintain the rule of law cannot be termed as violating the federal structure.

(v)     Restriction on the Parliament by the Constitution and restriction            on     the Executive by the Parliament under an enactment, do not amount to the restriction on the power of the Judiciary under Article 32 and 226 of the Constitution.

(vi)    If in terms of Entry 2 of List II of The Seventh      Schedule          on     the     one      hand    and Entry 2A and Entry 80 of List I on the other,       an        investigation              by    another agency is permissible subject to grant of consent by the State concerned, there is no reason as to why, in an exceptional situation,the court would be precluded from exercising the same power which the Union could exercise in terms of the provisions of the Statute. In our opinion, exercise of such power by the constitutional courts would not violate the doctrine of separation of powers. In fact, if in such a situation the court fails to grant relief, it would be failing in its constitutional duty.

(vii) When the Special Police Act itself provides that subject to the consent by the State, the CBI can take up investigation in relation to the crime which was otherwise within the jurisdiction of the State Police, the court can also exercise its constitutional power of judicial review and direct the CBI to take up the investigation within the jurisdiction of the State. The power of the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution cannot be taken away, curtailed or diluted by Section 6 of the Special Police Act. Irrespective of there being any statutory provision acting as a restriction on the powers of the Courts, the restriction imposed by Section 6 of the Special Police Act on the powers of the Union, cannot be read asa restriction  on the powers of the Constitutional Courts. Therefore, the exercise of the power of judicial review by the High Court, in our opinion, would not amount to infringement of either the doctrine of separation of power or the federal structure.

  • Despite wide powers conferred by Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution, while passing any order, the Courts must bear in mind certain self-imposed limitations on the exercise of these Constitutional powers. The very plenitude of the power under the said Articles requires great caution in its exercise. In so far as the question of issuing a direction to the CBI to conduct the investigation in a case is concerned, although no inflexible guidelines can be laid down to decide whether or not such power should be exercised. This extra-ordinary power must be exercised sparingly, cautiously and in exceptional situations where it becomes necessary to provide credibility and instil confidence in investigations or where the incident may have national and international ramifications or where such an order may be necessary for doing complete justice and enforcing the fundamental rights. (Para 46)

Comments

The Apex Court elaborately determined when the scheme of Constitution prohibits encroachment by the Union upon a matter which exclusively falls within the domain of the State Legislature, like public order, police etc., can the third organ of the State – the Judiciary, direct the CBI, to do something in respect of a State subject, without the consent of the concerned State Government.

The doctrine of separation of powers cannot curtail the power of judicial review, conferred on the Constitutional Courts even in situations where the fundamental rights are sought to be abrogated or abridged on the ground that exercise of such power would impinge upon the said doctrine.

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Bhumika Sharma

She is currently a Research Scholar, (PhD) at Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla. She finds peace in research and writing on a variety of social issues. She believes in the power of education and awareness to deal with various problems.

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