SC tells Centre to suspend implementation of farm laws, but judicial precedents call for caution in ordering interim stay

The presumption of constitutionality implies that courts should not interfere with the will of the legislature unless there are compelling reasons to do so

FP Staff January 12, 2021 11:05:00 IST
SC tells Centre to suspend implementation of farm laws, but judicial precedents call for caution in ordering interim stay

Representational Image. News18

The Supreme Court, by saying on Monday that it may suspend the implementation of the Centre's new farm laws, has opened a debate on whether such an intervention by the judiciary is warranted.

The top court has not yet pronounced an order in the matter, and only made oral observations in the hearing on Monday. However, several past judgments by the higher judiciary have affirmed the precedent that courts should be very cautious while passing interim orders to stay laws passed by the Legislature.

This is because a key principle in Indian jurisprudence is the 'presumption of constitutionality.' In essence, it means that the Legislature, which represents the will of the people, is presumed to have passed any law in accordance with constitutional provisions unless there are compelling reasons to believe otherwise.

The Supreme Court, in the case of ML Kamra versus New India Assurance, had said on 17 January, 1992, "If the provisions of a law or the rule is construed in such a way as would make it consistent with the Constitution and another interpretation would render the provision or the rule unconstitutional, the Court would lean in favour of the former construction."

Last year, the top court had cited this principle while refusing to stay the Citizenship Amendment Act, the passage of which had also sparked widespread protests across the nation.

Thus, the presumption of constitutionality implies that courts should not interfere with the will of the legislature unless there are compelling reasons to do so.

This brings to a second issue at hand — whether such a judicial intervention can be made by means of an interim order. Passing an interim order would mean that the Supreme Court would stay the implementation of the new farm laws on the basis of the prima facie information in front of it. The top court has not yet considered all aspects related to the petitions filed before it, and therefore, it cannot pass a final judgment on the matter.

On this point too, there are several judicial precedents at hand. The Supreme Court had said in ruling on the validity of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Regulation Act, 2003, "In matters involving the constitutionality of any legislation enacted by the legislature and rules, courts should be extremely loath to pass an interim order...At the time of final adjudication, the court can strike down the statute if found ultra vires of the Constitution. However, operation of the statute cannot be stultified by granting an interim order except when the court is convinced that the law is ex-facie (on the face of it) unconstitutional."

The court also considered the issue of granting a stay in the case of State of Mizoram versus M/S Pooja Fortune Private Limited. As noted by LiveLaw, it noted that a court, while granting stay, must consider three aspects — (i) balance of convenience (ii) irreparable harm or injury or (iii) prima facie case.

There have, however, been cases in which the Supreme Court effectively stayed the implementation of a law. As noted by The Indian Express, in September last year, it had referred to a larger bench a batch of petitions challenging a Bombay High Court ruling that upheld the Maharashtra law granting reservation to Marathas in jobs and educational institutions.

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