Under Article 131, the Supreme Court may, at first instance, hear legal disputes between States as well as State(s) and the Union.
In December 2019, the Parliament enacted the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 ('Amendment Act') which amended the Citizenship Act, 1955 ('Act'). Primarily, it carved out an exception to the definition of “illegal migrant” provided under Section 2 of the Act. Typically, illegal migrants are unable to obtain Indian citizenship.
As per this exception, an illegal migrant will be exempted from the definition if:
Thus, unlike other illegal migrants, this exception provides a pathway to Indian citizenship for those who fulfil the conditions listed above.
On 31 December 2019, the Kerala Legislative Assembly passed a resolution against the amendments. Through the resolution, the Assembly requested the Union Government to abrogate the amendments to the Act. Nevertheless, the Union did not go back on it.
Following this, in January 2020, Kerala filed a suit under Article 131 of the Constitution challenging the Amendment Act. Further, it challenged various other connected amendments: The Passport (Entry to India) Amendment Rules, 2015, The Passport (Entry to India) Amendment Rules, 2016, The Foreigners (Amendment) Order, 2015 and The Foreigners (Amendment) Order, 2016 (collectively, these laws are referred to as ‘impugned laws’).
In its suit, Kerala asserts that the impugned laws are discriminatory as they are “class legislations harping on the religious identity of an individual”. Therefore, it makes claims on two fronts. First, they need to be struck down on account of violating fundamental rights of its inhabitants: Articles 14 (right to equality), 21 (right to life) and 25 (right to religious freedom) of the Constitution. Second, the amendments are incompatible with secularism, one of the basic features of the Constitution.
The filing of the suit has raised certain issues regarding the scope of Article 131. Specifically, it raises the question of whether a federal unit, i.e. a state, in this case, may invoke Article 131 to challenge a central law.
Citing Article 256, Kerala justified its invocation of the Article 131 jurisdiction by stating that it will be compelled to implement these impugned laws. That being the case, it claims that there exists a legal dispute between the State and the Union regarding the enforcement of legal as well as fundamental rights of the inhabitants of the State of Kerala.
1. Whether the Passport (Entry to India) Amendment Rules, 2015, Passport (Entry to India) Amendment Rules, 2016, Foreigners (Amendment) Order, 2015 and Foreigners (Amendment) Order, 2016 violate Articles 14, 21 and 25 of the Constitution of India?
2. Whether the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 goes against the secular values of the Constitution of India and is thus unconstitutional?
3. Whether the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 create an unreasonable classification between migrants and violate Articles 14, 21 and 25 of the Constitution of India?
4. Whether a State may file a suit under Article 131 against the Union challenging a central law?