In the Supreme Court of India Equivalent Citation: 1953 AIR 215, 1953 SCR 1129 Petitioner: Ram Prasad Narayan Sahi & Ors. Respondent: The State of Bihar & Ors. Decided on 20 February, 1953 Bench Sastri, M. Patanjali(CJ), Mukherjea, B.K. Bose, Vivian Hasan, Ghulam Bhagwati, Natwarlal H.
Facts & Background
The appellants obtained a settlement of about 200 bikhas of land in a village known as Sathi Farm, then and ever since in the management of the Court of Wards on behalf of the disqualified proprietress.
On the 13th June, 1950, the Bihar Legislature passed an Act called the Sathi Lands (Restoration) Act, 1950. Report against the settlement of these lands with the petitioners was carried to the Working Committee of the Indian National Congress, which, after making such enquiry as it thought fit, came to the conclusion that the settlement of these lands with the petitioners was contrary to the provisions of law and public policy.
It which declared that, notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force the settlement granted to the appellants shall be null and void and that no party to the settlement or his successors in interest shall be deemed to have acquired any right or incurred any liability thereunder, and empowered the Collector to eject the appellants if they refuse to restore the lands.
The appellants, alleging that the Act was unconstitutional, applied under Article 226 of the Constitution for a writ of mandamus against the State of Bihar restraining it from taking any action under the Act.
The petition was previously heard by a Division Bench consisting of Ramaswami and Sarjoo Pershad JJ. Ramaswami J. which decided all the points raised by the petitioners against them and held that the Act was neither ultra vires the Bihar Legislature nor was void under article 13(1) of the Constitution.
The present Bench consisted of Sastri, M. Patanjali (CJ), Mukherjea, B.K. Bose, Vivian Hasan, Ghulam Bhagwati and Natwarlal H.
In passing the impugned legislation the Bihar Legislature actually usurped the power of the judiciary and the enactment was not a law at all in the proper sense of the expression.
The legislation was void as it conflicted with the fundamental rights of the petitioners guaranteed under articles 14, 19(1)(f) and 31 of the Constitution.
The legislature was sought to be justified on the grounds that is well settled that a Legislature with plenary powers so long as it enacts laws within the ambit of its powers, is competent to enact a law which may be applicable generally to society or to an individual or a class of individuals only.
The settlement of the lands in question with the appellants by the Court of Wards, was not for the benefit of the estate or advantage of the ward and that the transaction was entered into by the Wards Estate without properly applying their mind to it.
The court was of the view that the dispute that arose between the appellate and the state was actually of a private nature. It had to be determined by a judicial tribunal in accordance with the law which is applicable to the case.
The Legislature performed the gross injustice of singling out the appellants and depriving them of their rights by passing he impugned enactment. This was in direct contravention of Article 14 of the Constitution of India which reads as follows:
“14. Equality before law The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.”
It was a matter of highly discriminating order that the Legislature singled out a particular individual from his fellow subjects and imposed on him a disability which was imposed only on him and not on anyone else.
Though the legislative enactments always have the presumption of constitutionality and it is always assumed that the legislature understands and correctly appreciates the needs of its own people, yet, when on the face of the statute there does not appear any reasonable classification at all, and no attempt has been made to select any individual or group with reference to any differentiating attribute peculiar to that individual or group and not possessed by others, this presumption is of little or no assistance to the State.
Thus, the appeal was decided in the favour of the appellant by concurrence of all the judges in the bench.
I believe the case has been an important precedent with regards to keeping in check the exigencies of the state. In the wake of Independence and with a background of a nascent stage of an independent judiciary, it had not been very prevalent at those times to strike down the powers or acts of the legislature. It has taken the judiciary still a little time emerge and place itself forth as disconnected to the executive, in fact, to be quite above it. It was also remarkable in the way the powers of the legislature was kept in check in a democracy where legislature is unofficially considered the most powerful of all the three institutions.
Edited by Dhruval Singh
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje