SC Judgment Review 2021: Legislative Competence

We discuss three judgments in which the Court defined the extent of the powers of Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies.

The Supreme Court extensively dealt with the scope of the powers of Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies in 2021, impacting the laws they can make. In this post, we discuss judgments in the Aadhaar review, challenges to the 97th Amendment, and the Delhi Legislative Assembly’s summons to the Facebook India Vice-President.

1. Beghar Foundation v Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Ret’d)

In January 2021, Justices Bhushan, Khanwilkar, Nazeer and Gavai dismissed a petition seeking a review of the Aadhaar judgment (2018). Justice Chandrachud dissented. 

The Aadhaar judgment upheld the validity of key provisions of the controversial Aadhaar Act. A review of this judgment was sought on the basis Rojer Mathews v Union of India (2019), where a five judge Bench referred the question of judicial review of Money Bills to a seven-judge Bench. CJI Gogoi noted that the scope of judicial review of a Money Bill was not ‘substantially discussed’ in the 2018 Aadhaar judgment, and that it interpreted the Aadhaar Act as a Money Bill without ‘convinced reasoning’. 

The majority in the Aadhaar Review held that the subsequent decision of a larger or coordinate Bench is not enough reason for a review. Effectively, they upheld Parliament’s categorization of the Aadhar Act as a Money Bill, and that the scope of judicial review of Money Bills is narrow.  Chandrachud J’s dissent stated that it would be a ‘constitutional error’ to dismiss the case if the outcome of a pending seven-judge Bench decision could impact it. 

2. Union of India v Rajendra Shah

A three-judge Bench struck down the Constitution (Ninety Seventh Amendment) Act, 2011, which restricted the power of State Assemblies to legislate on various issues concerning Co-operative Societies. Co-operative Societies are an item in the State List, and their actions heavily impact the economy. The 97th Amendment was passed without ratification from half of all State Assemblies.

The Court held that the Union government was not competent to legislate on State List items through constitutional amendments without following proper procedure , as per Article 368(2)

3. Ajit Mohan v Legislative Assembly of NCT Delhi

On July 8th, the Court held that the Delhi Legislative Assembly was competent to issue summons to persons other than sitting ministers. The Assembly’s Committee on Peace and Harmony had previously exercised legislative privilege to issue summons to the Facebook India Vice-President, Ajit Mohan, while investigating factors that may disrupt communal harmony after the 2020 Delhi riots. 

The Court noted that aside from law making, Legislative Committees also facilitate meaningful stakeholder discussions and provide recommendations that form the basis of legislative decisions. This is done through sub-committees like the Peace and Harmony Committee. The exercise of privilege to further this role is within the powers of the Legislative Assembly.