Explainer: Why Kerala invoked Article 131 in Supreme Court to challenge Centre's CAA

How different states have used Article 131 to challenge Centre legally

38-Pinarayi-Vijayan Pinarayi Vijayan | Manoj Chemancheri

The Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government in Kerala, on Tuesday, moved the Supreme Court against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a first by any state government. They sought that it be declared as violative of the basic structure—principle of equality, freedom and secularism. The Kerala Assembly was also the first in the country to pass a resolution against the Act.

The CAA, which was notified on January 10, grants Indian citizenship to non-Muslim minorities—Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian—who migrated to India from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh till December 31, 2014, following persecution over their faith.

The Kerala government has said in its suit that there is no rationale in grouping together the three countries—Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh—for the purpose of the CAA and rules and orders.

In its suit, the state referred to Article 131 of the Constitution. 

What is the Constitutional provision and how does it work?

What is Article 131?

Article 131 in the Constitution reads: 

Original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the Supreme Court shall, to the exclusion of any other court, have original jurisdiction in any dispute

a. between the Government of India and one or more States; or

b. between the Government of India and any State or States on one side and one or more other States on the other; or

c. between two or more States, if and in so far as the dispute involves any question (whether of law or fact) on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends: Provided that the said jurisdiction shall not extend to a dispute arising out of any treaty, agreement, covenant, engagements, and or other similar instrument which, having been entered into or executed before the commencement of this Constitution, continues in operation after such commencement, or which provides that the said jurisdiction shall not extend to such a dispute

In simplest terms, this gives Supreme Court original jurisdiction—meaning the Supreme Court can hear the case firsthand rather than reviewing a lower court's judgment—to mediate disputes between states or between the Centre and states.


In the 1977 State of Karnataka vs Union India, the state had moved against a Central government move to probe alleged corruption by then chief minister Devraj Urs. The judgment, while upholding ability of states to challenge Centre under Article 131, had then said:

Article 131 can be invoked whenever a State and other States or the Union differ on a question of interpretation of the Constitution so that a decision of it will affect the scope or exercise of governmental powers which are attributes of a State. 

When differences arise between the representatives of the State and those of the whole people of India, on questions of interpretation of the Constitution, which must affect the welfare of the whole people, and, particularly that of the people of the State concerned, it is too technical an argument to be accepted that a suit does not lie under Article 131 of the Constitution.

In 2011, in State of MP vs Union of India, where Madhya Pradesh sought to challenge certain aspects of its reorganisation after bifurcation into Chhattisgarh, the Supreme Court did not accept the plea under Article 131 and rather held that the challenge be under Article 32 (infringement of fundamental rights).

This was, however, challenged in 2014. In State of Jharkhand vs State of Bihar, where, in a dispute after the bifurcation, the latter chose to challenge the maintainability of the former's plaint under Article 131—citing 2011 Madhya Pradesh judgment—Justices Chelameswar and S.A. Bobde chose to disagree with the earlier (2011 Madhya Pradesh) verdict and deferred the case to a larger bench. 

Kerala's arguments

The Kerala government has sought from the apex court that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 be declared as violative of Articles 14 (Equality before law), 21 (Right to life and personal liberty) and 25 (Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice, and propagation of religion).

It also said that CAA is violative of the basic principle of secularism enshrined in the Constitution. Besides, the plea has stated that the Passport (Entry to India) Amendment Rules, 2015 and Foreigners (Amendment) Order are ultra vires (beyond Centre's authority) the Constitution and be declared void.

It said the CAA, the amended Passport Rules and Foreign Order are class legislations harping on the religious identity of an individual, thereby contravening the principles of secularism, which has been recognised by the court as a basic structure of the Constitution.

The suit claimed that these amendments make religion and a person's country of origin a criteria for grant of citizenship and result in classifications based on religion and country, which are discriminatory, arbitrary, unreasonable and have no rational nexus with the object sought to be achieved. "The religious classification brought forth violates the twin test of classification under Article 14, the protection of which is not limited or restricted to citizens alone and extends to all persons," it said.

The plea added that the CAA and rules and orders are bereft of any standard principle or norm in discriminating migrants from other countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bhutan, which are sharing international borders with India and to which and from which there has been trans-border migration. It said if the object of the CAA is to protect the minorities who faced religious persecution in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, then the Ahmaddiyas and Shias from these countries are also entitled to treatment equal to that being now extended to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities.

"In accordance with the mandate of Article 256 of the Constitution, the plaintiff state (Kerala) will be compelled to ensure compliance of Impugned Amendment Act (CAA) and the Rules and Orders, which are manifestly arbitrary, unreasonable, irrational and violative of fundamental rights.

"Thus, there exists a dispute, involving questions of law and fact, between the plaintiff state of Kerala and the defendant Union of India, regarding the enforcement of legal rights as a State and as well for the enforcement of the fundamental, statutory constitutional and other legal rights of the inhabitants of the State of Kerala. Hence, this Original Suit under Article 131 of the Constitution is being preferred," the plea said.

On December 18, 2019, the top court had issued a notice to the Centre and sought its response by the second week of January on a batch of pleas challenging the CAA's legality.

The apex court fixed January 22 for hearing 59 anti-CAA petitions, including those filed by the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and Congress leader Jairam Ramesh. RJD leader Manoj Jha, Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra and AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi have also filed pleas against the act.

Other anti-CAA petitioners include the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, All Assam Students Union (AASU), Peace Party, CPI, NGOs 'Rihai Manch' and Citizens Against Hate. Several law students have also approached the apex court challenging the Act.

-Inputs from PTI