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The case of Waman Rao v. Union of India in 1981 involved the Supreme Court’s examination of the validity of Article 31A and Article 31B of the Constitution of India in relation to the basic structure doctrine established in the Kesavananda Bharati case. The Court made a significant observation regarding the application of the doctrine, stating that it should not be applied retroactively. 

This means that all decisions made before the introduction of the doctrine would remain valid. The immediate consequence of this decision was that all acts and regulations included in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution before the Kesavananda decision would remain valid. At the same time, subsequent amendments to the schedule could be challenged based on violating the basic structure doctrine.

Facts of Waman Rao Case

The Bombay High Court faced a challenge regarding the Maharashtra Agricultural Lands (Ceiling on Holdings) Act, 27 of 1961, which aimed to reduce the limit on agricultural land holdings. The Court ruled that these provisions and certain amendments could not be challenged on the grounds of violating Part III of the Constitution because they were included in the Ninth Schedule. 

This decision was made during a state of emergency, and the enforcement of Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution was suspended. The constitutionality of Articles 31A and 31B themselves was also challenged, but the High Court upheld their validity. Appeals against this judgment were dismissed during the emergency period. However, after the emergency was lifted, a petition requesting a review of the judgment was considered in the Waman Rao vs Union of India case.

Issues Raised

1. Did the Parliament exceed its amending power by introducing Article 31A(1)(a) through the 1st constitutional Amendment?

2. Does Article 31A(1) provide immunity to laws from being challenged based on violations of Fundamental Rights, including Articles 14, 19, and 31?

3. Can Article 31B (which establishes the Ninth Schedule) be challenged for infringing upon the Fundamental Rights enshrined in Part III of the Constitution?

4. Can Article 31C (which aims to achieve the goals set out in Article 39) be challenged on the grounds of inconsistency with the Fundamental Rights of citizens?

5. Was the 40th Amendment, enacted during the state of emergency, valid in extending the Parliament’s time period?

6. Is the Doctrine of Stare Decisis applicable for upholding the constitutional validity of any Article of the Constitution, or is it limited to upholding laws protected under those Articles?

Supreme Court’s Judgement in Waman Rao Case

The Validity of Article 31A

In regards to the constitutional validity of Article 31A, the Court in Waman Rao v. Union of India addressed the issue and concluded that considering laws that restrict Fundamental Rights as violations of the basic structure of the Constitution is a misconception. The Court emphasized the purpose of introducing Article 31A through the 1st constitutional Amendment, which aimed to enhance the effectiveness of Zamindari Abolition Laws and address future challenges. 

The Court recognized the necessity of addressing social and economic disparities in the agricultural sector, acknowledging that while efforts to eliminate existing inequalities may give rise to new incidental inequalities, these do not infringe upon the basic structure of the Constitution. The Court also noted that overcoming inequalities without causing any hardship or injustice to any class of people entitled to equal treatment under the law is not feasible. Therefore, Article 31A was deemed not to violate the basic structure of the Constitution.

The validity of the 1st constitutional Amendment, which introduced Article 31A and Article 31B, had previously been questioned in other cases such as Kesavananda Bharati v. The State of Kerala, Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan, I.C. Golaknath v. State of Punjab, and Shankari Prasad v. Union of India. In all of these cases, the Court upheld the constitutionality of the Amendment, confirming the inclusion of Article 31A and Article 31B.

The Validity of Article 31B

Article 31B, in conjunction with the Ninth Schedule, provides immunity to Acts included in the schedule from being declared void for being inconsistent with or in violation of the Fundamental Rights enshrined in Part III of the Constitution. The petitioners argued that Article 31B itself is contradictory to the Fundamental Rights.

In determining the constitutional validity of Article 31B, the Court referred to the Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala judgment. It noted that prior to the Kesavananda case, many Acts were placed in the Ninth Schedule under the belief that Parliament had extensive powers to amend the Constitution. However, the Kesavananda case established that Parliament cannot amend the Constitution in a way that destroys its basic structure. The Court recognized that the changes made to titles and properties before the Kesavananda judgment were based on the assumption that laws in the Ninth Schedule would not be challengeable for violating Articles 14, 19, and 31. Disrupting settled claims and titles would be unjustified, leading to chaos in a well-ordered society.

Consequently, the Court in Waman Rao case held that the laws included in the Ninth Schedule before the Kesavananda judgment would be protected under Article 31B. However, Acts and Regulations added to the Ninth Schedule after the Kesavananda case would not enjoy the same protection and could be subject to scrutiny for violating the basic structure of the Constitution.

The Validity of Article 31C

Article 31C, introduced by the Constitution (Twenty-fifth Amendment) Act, 1971, offers protection to laws that implement the directive principles of State policy specified in Clause (b) and Clause (c) of Article 39. These laws cannot be invalidated for abridging the Fundamental Rights granted under Part III of the Constitution, including Articles 14, 19, and 31.

The petitioner’s argument challenging the constitutional validity of Article 31C in Waman Rao was dismissed, as the Court upheld the opening Clause of the Article based on the decision in the Keshavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala case. The Court held that the directive principles, which receive protection under Article 31C, are essential for the country’s and its citizens’ welfare. Furthermore, the Court in this case concluded that Article 31C does not violate the basic structure of the Constitution; instead, it strengthens the basic structure by giving effect to the directive principles outlined in Clause (b) and (c) of Article 39. Therefore, Article 31C was deemed to be constitutionally valid.

The validity of the 40th Amendment 

The constitutional validity of the emergency declared in 1971 and 1975 and the 40th constitutional Amendment of 1976, which placed certain Amending Acts under the Ninth Schedule, was challenged. The basis of the challenge was the extension of the normal term of the Lok Sabha, which was extended twice for two years beyond its original expiration date of March 18, 1976, through the House of People Amendment Act, 1976. The 40th Amendment was passed during this extended period on April 2, 1976.

The petitioners argued in Waman Rao v. Union of India that the Court had the authority to question whether the President’s power to declare an emergency under Article 352 was exercised properly and whether the circumstances justifying the continuation of the emergency existed. They further contended that the 1975 emergency was declared with malicious intent, as there was no justification for it.

The Court determined that the evidence presented was neither sufficient nor compelling. The emergency, declared under Article 352(3), was justified due to the threat posed to the national security and sovereignty of the country at that time. Therefore, the measures taken were necessary and, therefore, lawful.

Consequently, the 40th constitutional Amendment cannot be invalidated solely on the basis that it was passed during the emergency by extending the term of the Lok Sabha. The Amendment is deemed valid and lawful.

The Doctrine of Stare Decisis

In the case at hand, the Court addressed the question of whether the doctrine of stare decisis could be applied to the Articles of the Constitution or if it was applicable only to the laws protected by the Articles. The Court ruled in favour of the latter but did not provide any specific reasoning for this conclusion.

Regarding the invocation of the doctrine of stare decisis to uphold Article 31A, the Court in Waman Rao case set aside the question as Article 31A had already been upheld on its own merits in a previous case, Ambika Prasad Mishra v. State of U.P (1980). The Court noted that none of the previous cases, including Keshavananda Bharati, Sajjan Singh, Golaknath, and Shankari Prasad, had raised or decided the validity of Article 31A. 

The Shankari Prasad case specifically dealt with whether constitutional amendments fell within the scope of Article 13(2), and the Court ruled in the negative. The Sajjan Singh case called for a reconsideration of the Shankari Prasad judgment. The Golaknath case did not question any constitutional amendment and focused on determining the location of amending power. Similarly, the Kesavananda case did not explicitly raise the issue of the validity of Article 31A.

The Court concluded that since the issue of the validity of Article 31A was not raised in any of the previous cases, it could not be upheld by invoking the doctrine of stare decisis. The Court emphasized that rules like stare decisis can only be applied to uphold the constitutional validity of laws protected by the Articles, such as Articles 31A, 31B, and 31C, rather than the Articles themselves.

However, Justice Bhagwati dissented and believed that the majority had upheld Article 31A by invoking the doctrine of stare decisis rather than on its own merits. According to Justice Bhagwati, the Keshavananda Bharati case had already upheld Article 31A, and the present decision should have been bound by stare decisis based on that precedent.

Conclusion

The Waman Rao case addressed the constitutional validity of Article 31A, Article 31B, and Article 31C of the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court in the Waman Rao case held that laws falling within Article 31A, despite restricting Fundamental Rights, did not violate the basic structure of the Constitution. 

Laws included in the Ninth Schedule before the Kesavananda Bharati case were protected under Article 31B, but post-Kesavananda additions were subject to scrutiny. Article 31C, protecting laws implementing directive principles, was upheld. The Court clarified that the doctrine of stare decisis applies to laws protected by the Constitution, not the Articles themselves, shaping future constitutional interpretations.


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