THE CONTEXT: Many state legislatures have passed resolutions requesting the Central Government to withdraw various laws enacted by it including the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 and the Farm laws 2020. As the subject “citizenship” falls under the Union List, there is a view that the states cannot pass resolutions against a law enacted on this subject. This article examines this contention.
WHAT ARE LEGISLATIVE RESOLUTIONS?
A resolution is the decision of the legislature. It reflects the opinion of the assembly about an issue. The legislative businesses are taken up in the form of motions which when voted upon becomes resolutions. In other words, a voted motion is a resolution. The legislature is the highest and the most inclusive representative institution of the country. Thus, it deals with various issues of public interest and hence is called upon to decide and act on them. The resolution in this context reveals the intention and objective of the assembly and its members. The resolution thereby is a device of legislative business to carry out the duties and responsibilities of the assembly. There are various kinds of resolutions that may be legally binding or non-binding or in between.
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF LEGISLATIVE RESOLUTIONS?
- Resolution with a legal effect: The resolutions passed by the legislature and the Parliament carry legal consequences. For instance, the resolutions dealing with removal of Vice President, impeachment of President, removal Speaker, alteration of boundaries of the state, etc. It means the resolutions are binding in nature.
- Resolution with quasi-legal effect: These are resolutions regarding the control over the proceedings of the House itself. Although resolutions on procedure and conduct of the business of the House are not acts, they nevertheless have a binding effect only on the House, and the courts cannot enforce them.
- Resolutions having no legal effect: These are resolutions that do not have any legal effect but are sometimes capable of having a political effect.
THE CAA 2019 AND THE LEGISLATIVE RESOLUTIONS
When the CAA was passed, the country witnessed massive protests and also many petitions were filed in the High Courts and the Supreme Court. In addition, many states passed legislative resolutions, a few supporting the CAA and others against it. For instance, Gujrat and Goa passed resolutions congratulating the Centre while the latter included Kerala, West Bengal, Punjab, Rajasthan etc. The resolutions passed against the law was challenged in the Supreme Court in Samta Andolan Samiti Vs Union of India, 2020. The petitioner, an NGO claimed that the state legislatures do not have the authority to pass resolutions against a law passed by the Parliament. It contended that states lack legislative competence to pass resolutions on subjects in the Union List. In the instant case, the “citizenship” is covered under Entry 17 of List I and thus the NGO asked the SC to quash the resolutions and declare them null and void.
WHETHER THE STATE LEGISLATURES HAVE THE POWER TO PASS SUCH RESOLUTIONS?
- No legal effect: The resolutions passed by the states fall under the third category as mentioned above. Thus, the resolutions do not have any legal consequences and hence states can pass such resolutions.
- States’ Sovereignty: In Indian federal polity, the states are sovereign in their own defined spheres under normal circumstances. It means any unwarranted restrictions on the state’s power is against the constitutional scheme.
- Union laws impact the states: In general, the states have a responsibility to enforce the Union laws. Thus, the states should also have the right to express the challenges through resolutions they might face while enforcing them.
- The SC observation: The SC while hearing the said petition prima facie commented that although the “Kerala Assembly has no jurisdiction to disobey the law by the Parliament, “they are only expressing an opinion here.” Moreover, the court observed that through these resolutions, the state legislatures “have not asked the people to disobey. They have only called upon the Parliament to abrogate the law.”
- Public Opinion: There has been growing public opinion against these laws across the country and especially in the above-mentioned states. As the legislature is the microcosm of the people, a responsible government in a modern democracy must reflect public opinion. Thus a resolution is a way of expressing the general public mood on the floor of the House. WAY FORWARD
- Even though the Indian polity is described as quasi-federal due to the presence of a strong centre, states are not mere appendages of the Union. Thus, the states should have wide latitude in dealing with matters of general public interest.
- The Constitution itself provides for the power to the states to make laws contravening the provisions of Union laws under Art 254. Thus, to bar states from passing non-legal resolutions would be a retrograde step.
- The preliminary observations of the SC in the above-mentioned case indicate that the Court does not see any illegality in states passing such resolutions. So the matter is likely to be decided in the states’ favour. (as the case is still pending)
CONCLUSION: Resolutions are as much a device of parliamentary business as they are expressions of the general public interest. The legislature being the most important deliberative and representative institution under the Constitution should have the freedom to decide its own procedure subject to explicit constitutional boundations.
- The legislative distribution of power between the Union and the states under the Schedule VII of the Constitution extends also to the legislative resolutions passed by the states. Critically Examine.
- Defining the concept of legislative resolutions, build a case for the power of states to pass them in subjects mentioned under the Union List.