The author of this blog is Mr.  Himanshu Raj, 2nd Year BA LLB (HONS.) student at Chanakya National Law University (CNLU).

The literal meaning of the original jurisdiction of a court is the power to hear a case for the first time, as contrary to appellate jurisdiction when a higher authority has the power to review a lower court's decision. Original jurisdiction refers to the right of a supreme court to hear a case for the first time. It has the exclusive right to hear all cases that deal with disputes between states, or between states and the union government. It also has original jurisdiction over cases brought to the court by ordinary people regarding issues to the importance of society at large. In India, the Supreme Court has original, appellate and advisory jurisdiction.[1] Its exclusive original jurisdiction extends to all cases between the Government of India and the States of India or between Government of India and states on one side and one or more states on the other side or cases between different states.

Here in this blog, we will discuss the approach of the judiciary towards solving centre- state dispute over various issues. For instance, we will get to know about the Supreme Court's view over the conflict between international laws or treaties and municipal laws. When we talk about centre -state dispute then first thing comes in our mind is SR BOMMAI case. In this very case, It was held by the Supreme Court that “India, as the Preamble proclaims, is a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic and Republic. It promises liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship, besides equality of status and opportunity. In the context of the Indian Constitution, federalism is not based on any agreement between federating units but one of integrated whole as pleaded with vision by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar on the floor of the Constituent Assembly at the very inception of the deliberations, and the Constituent Assembly unanimously approved the resolution of the federal structure. The essence of federalism, therefore, is the distribution of the power of the State among its coordinate bodies.

Thus, the Supreme Court while elaborating the federal nature of the Indian constitution has held through a different expression that “Federalism is the basic feature of the Constitution”[2]. Justice K. Ramaswami stated that Federalism enshrined in the Constitution of India is a basic feature in which the Union of India is permanent within the territorial limits set in Article 1 of the Constitution and is indestructible. The State quo of the constitution is federal in structure and independent in its exercise of legislative and executive power.

The Constitution of India is not truly Federal in character. The basis of the distribution of powers between the Union and States is that only those powers which are concerned with the regulation of local problems are vested in the States and the residue especially those which tend to maintain the economic industrial and commercial unity of the country are left to the Union. It is not correct to say that full sovereignty is vested in the States. Parliament which is competent to destroy a State cannot be held, on the theory of absolute sovereignty of the States, to be incompetent to acquire by legislation, the property owned by the States.[3]

No doubt, there is a great effect of International law on the domestic law of a country. Article 51(c) of the Indian Constitution imposes a duty on the State to maintain relations with foreign countries. The judiciary while discussing a matter cannot ignore the provisions of treaties, specifically, in those cases where the country is itself a member of those treaties, but even though it does not mean that those treaties can override municipal law of the country.Court held in this matter that “International law cannot override municipal law and in applying the treaty we have to be guided by the provisions of the Indian Extradition Act or any concerned law of India (if any). According to the monistic doctrine, International law and municipal law are to be regarded as manifestations of a single conception of „law‟. But even, according to that view, it is admitted that municipal Courts may be bound by the law of their states to enforce statutes which are contrary to international law.[4]

In a case the question arose as to whether Article 11 of the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on the 16th December 1965, to wit, that no one shall be imprisoned merely on the ground of inability to complete a contractual obligation became part of the Municipal law of this country as would give right to a remedial action at the instance of an aggrieved individual of this country. In dealing with that question, that court observed thus: The remedy for breaches of International law, in general, is not to be found in the law courts of the State because International Law per se or Proprio vigore has not the force or authority of civil law, till under its inspirational impact actual the legislation is undertaken.[5] An overview of these cases show that in the initial stages the judiciary has been oscillating and may be due to the influences of federalist jargons assigned to “ Indian Constitutional federalism such as “compromise federalism”, “effective federalism”, “federalism as fiction”, “federalism by aggregation”, “federalism by devolution”.

The Court has developed a view that states are subordinate to the federal government in foreign affairs not just because of a constitutional basis. If the States are allowed to have independent relations with foreign nations it would prove dangerous to national unity. Taney implied that “the states‟ tendency to compete with one another would overrule their “good feeling” towards one another and towards other nations and lead them towards actions that would jeopardize the nation as a whole”. This is not an exhaustive list of Supreme Court decisions. But it is enough to show the legal basis upon which the concept that states should be restricted from foreign affairs rests. But as Tribe suggests, “all these cases were decided during a time when state action abroad could be conceived of as separate from state action at home, and therefore that sub-national governments could be limited to one sphere, that of domestic policy”.[6]

[1] "Jurisdiction of The Supreme Court". Supreme Court of India

[2] Keshvanand Bharti vs Union of India 1973 4 SCC 225

[3] West Bengal v Union of India AIR 1963 SCR (1) 371

[4] Dr. Ram Babu Saksena v. Rex AIR 1951 Raj. 127

[5] Xavier v. Canara Bank Ltd 1969 Ker LT 927

[6] Julie Melissa Blase, “Has Globalization changed U.S. Federalism? The Increasing Role of U.S. States in Foreign Affairs: Texas-Mexico Relations”, retrieved from http://www. lib. utexas. edu/ etd/ d/ 2003 / blasejm039/blasejm039.pdf, last visited on 3 December 2014 at 11:29 a.m. (Also cited in