Legal Correspondent

‘High Court must not overstep the bounds of its own jurisdiction’

Court cannot assume to itself supervisory role for law-making power of legislature

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has cautioned the High Courts against giving directions to the legislature to amend a legislation under challenge in a particular manner.

“The court cannot usurp the functions assigned to the legislative bodies under the Constitution and even indirectly require the legislature to exercise its power of law-making in a particular manner. The court cannot assume to itself a supervisory role for the law-making power of the legislature under the provisions of the Constitution,” said a Bench of Justices S.H. Kapadia and B. Sudershan Reddy in separate but concurring judgments.

The Bench held: “It is not open to the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution, particularly in the matter of taxation directing it not to amend the law retrospectively. Such a direction is unsustainable, particularly in a taxing statute. It is always open to the State legislature, particularly in tax matters, to enact validation laws which apply retrospectively.

The High Court cannot take away the power of the State legislature to amend the law retrospectively. The basis of the law can always be altered retrospectively.”

It said that “in order to sustain the presumption of constitutionality, the court can take into consideration matters of common knowledge and, at the same time, the court [can] presume that the legislature understands and correctly appreciates the need of its own people. The High Court should not overstep the well-recognised bounds of its own jurisdiction.”

The Bench further said: “The Constitution is filled with provisions that grant Parliament or to State legislatures specific power to legislate in certain areas. These granted powers are of course subject to constitutional limitations that they may not be exercised in a way that violates other specific provisions of the Constitution.” “Nothing in the text, history or structure of the Constitution remotely suggest the High Courts’ jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution should differ in this respect — that invocation of such power should magically give High Court a free ride through the rest of the constitutional document. If such magic were available the High Court could structure, restructure legislative enactments. The possibilities are endless. The Constitution makers cannot be charged with having left open a path to such total obliteration of constitutional enterprise.”

The Punjab and Haryana High Court had held as unconstitutional a Punjab State legislation on levy of property tax for self-occupied residential houses and self-occupied commercial houses on the ground that it gave wide powers to the officers in the matter of fixing annual value.

Amend law

The High Court directed the State legislature to amend the law relating to determination of annual value by classifying that any such amendment should not be retrospective. The present appeals are directed against this judgment.

The Supreme Court set aside the judgment holding that the High Court had no jurisdiction to give any such direction to the legislature.