Can a state challenge/reject central laws? On issue of farm bills and CAA

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Recently Punjab has denied implementing the Central Farm Laws in the state and has moved amendments to the legislations.

Previously, on the Issue of CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), several state governments like Kerala denied the implementation of the same in their states.

Thus, the question arises, are states empowered to reject the central laws in their states? if yes, then under what circumstances?

Powers of the central government

Article 256 of the constitution of India provides for the obligation of States and the Union.

  • The executive power of every State shall be so exercised as to ensure compliance with the laws made by Parliament and any existing laws which apply in that State, and the executive power of the Union shall extend to the giving of such directions to a State as may appear to the Government of India to be necessary for that purpose.
  • Thus, under article 256 of the constitution, states are in obligation to Implement the laws framed by the central government.
  • Article 257 (1) of the constitution of India provides that state governments shall not exercise their executive powers in a manner that will “impede or prejudice” the exercise of the executive powers of the Union.
  • If a state is not implementing the act, Article 355 of the Constitution can be invoked to issue warning to the concerned state which states that the government of every State is carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.”
  • If the state ignores the warning under Article 355 as well, the Centre can impose President’s rule under Article 356.

Rights available to the state government

  • If any central law is Infringing upon the rights or powers of a state, then a state can move to the Supreme Court.
  • Article 131 confers exclusive jurisdiction on the Supreme Court in disputes involving States, or the Centre on the one hand and one or more States on the other.
  • Unlike individuals, State governments cannot complain of fundamental rights being violated thus cannot move to SC or High Courts under Article 32 or Article 226 of the Constitution.

Previous cases

  • In 2011, in the State of Madhya Pradesh v. Union of India and Another, the court said that the Central laws can be challenged in the State High Courts and Supreme Court under Article 32 and held that the constitutional validity of a central law cannot be normally challenged under Article 131.
  • In the State of Jharkhand vs. State of Bihar and (2014), the Supreme Court upheld Article 131 as an appropriate tool to test the constitutionality of central law. The court ruled that the condition for invoking the court’s jurisdiction under Article 131 was that the dispute should involve a question on the existence or extent of a legal right and not a political one.

Thus, presently, the States can move the Supreme Court under Article 131 if any legal right derived from any statue or the Constitution of India is infringed. Further states cannot question the legality of central law on a political or ideological basis.

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