Why in news?

The Supreme Court on 3rd April 2020, urged Karnataka and Kerala to amicably resolve their issues concerning a border blockade that has choked the free flow of vehicles carrying essential items and patients in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Background

  • Karnataka, which imposed the blockade, justified that its border was sealed to “combat the spread of the pandemic by preventing the movement of people from the bordering districts of Kerala to Karnataka”.
  • The State had moved the Supreme Court, challenging a Kerala High Court order on April 1 to open the border.
  • Kerala has countered that patients from the State cannot be denied access to health care.
  • Besides, the blockade has severely affected the supply of essential items, from medicines to food, to Kerala.

What Karnataka said?

  • Karnataka, in its appeal against the High Court order, said the blockade was put in place in the interest of public health. The situation regarding Coronavirus was “really dire”, it said.
  • It warned that opening the blockade would cause a law and order issue as its local population wanted the border to remain sealed.
  • Karnataka argued that Kerala was the “worst-affected” State in the country with nearly 194 coronavirus cases. In this, Kasaragod, adjoining Karnataka, was the “worst affected” district of Kerala with over a 100 positive cases.

What Kerala said?

  • Kerala MP urged the court to issue an ex-parte stay on the operation of the blockade imposed by Karnataka with its border States.
  • The Kasaragod MP also said that the blockade was “ill-planned and dangerous” and had led to loss of lives.
  • Two patients from Kerala, in need of urgent medical care, died after their ambulances were denied entry at the border by the Karnataka authorities.

What the Supreme Court said?

  • The Supreme Court urged the States to not confront each other in the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis.
  • Instead, it asked the Chief Secretaries of both States to sit with the Union Health Secretary and iron out a solution.
  • Meanwhile, the apex court urged Kerala not to take any precipitative action based on the High Court order.

Jurisdiction of Supreme Court in such matters

The Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India can broadly be categorised into original jurisdiction, appellate jurisdiction and advisory jurisdiction. Along with these there are other multiple powers of the Supreme Court.

What is Article 131?

Under its advisory jurisdiction, the President has the power to seek an opinion from the apex court under Article 143 of the Constitution.

Under its appellate jurisdiction, the Supreme Court hears appeals from lower courts.

In its extraordinary original jurisdiction, the Supreme Court has exclusive power to adjudicate upon disputes involving elections of the President and the Vice President, those that involve states and the Centre, and cases involving the violation of fundamental rights.

Under Original Jurisdiction:

The SC (as a federal court of India) possesses Original jurisdiction to decide the disputes arising between different units of the Indian Federation like:

  1. Centre and one or more states; or
  2. Centre & any state(s) on one side and one or more states on the other; or
  3. Two or more states.

Criteria for dispute to be considered under Original Jurisdiction

  • For a dispute to qualify as a dispute under Article 131, it has to necessarily be between states and the Centre, and must involve a question of law or fact on which the existence of a legal right of the state or the Centre depends.
  • In a 1978 judgment, State of Karnataka v Union of India, Justice P N Bhagwati had said that for the Supreme Court to accept a suit under Article 131, the state need not show that its legal right is violated, but only that the dispute involves a legal question.
  • Article 131 cannot be used to settle political differences between state and central governments headed by different parties.

Disputes that the Original Jurisdiction does NOT extend to:

  1. A dispute arising out of any pre-Constitution treaty, agreement, covenant,
  2. Engagement or other similar instrument.
  3. A dispute arising out of any treaty, agreement, etc., which specifically provides that the said jurisdiction does not extend to such a dispute.
  4. Inter-state water disputes.
  5. Matters referred to the Finance Commission.
  6. Adjustment of certain expenses and pensions between the Centre and the states.
  7. Ordinary dispute of Commercial nature between the Centre and the states.
  8. Recovery of damages by a state against the Centre.
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