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State of West Bengal vs. Anwar Ali Sarkar (1952) 

This article is written by Avneet Kaur. This article deals with a case analysis of the landmark case of the State of West Bengal vs. Anwar Ali Sarkar. It aims to provide a wide exploration of several legal aspects involved in the case along with its detailed judgement. 

Introduction

Suppose ‘A’ commits an offence of robbery and murders certain foreigners and ‘B’ commits the same offence but ends up murdering Indian citizens. However, during trial, ‘A’ is subject to a different procedure than is generally applicable and to which ‘B’ is subject. The procedure under which ‘A’ is being tried takes away a lot of his rights and defences whereas ‘B’ has access to those rights and defences. In such a case, a question may arise whether prejudice against the rights of ‘A’ is justified, even though both ‘A’ and ‘B’ were placed under similar circumstances. 

Similar is the case of State of West Bengal vs. Anwar Ali Sarkar (1952), wherein an Act permitting such classification was enforced in the State of West Bengal. The judgement in this case paved the way for a new interpretation of legislative enactments in light of the right to equality under Article 14. 

Details of the case 

  • Name of the case: The State of West Bengal vs. Anwar Ali Sarkar
  • Date of judgement: 11.01.1952  
  • Bench: Justice M. Patanjali Sastri, Justice Saiyid Fazal Ali, Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan,  Justice B.K. Mukherjee, Justice  N. Chandrasekhara Aiyar, and Justice Vivian Bose  
  • Equivalent citations: AIR 1952 SC 75; [1952] 1 SCR 284
  • Parties to the case:
  • Petitioner– State of West Bengal 
  • Respondent– Anwar Ali Sarkar 

Statutes and provisions involved

  • Articles 14, 226, 13, and 21 of the Constitution of India, 1950:
  • Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
  • West Bengal Special Courts Act, 1950 

Facts of State of West Bengal vs. Anwar Ali Sarkar (1952)

The West Bengal Special Courts Act, 1950 was enacted for speedier trials of certain offences. By virtue of Section 3 of the Act, the State Government was empowered to constitute special Courts for the above-stated purpose. Section 5 of the Act laid down the jurisdiction of the Special Courts upon such offences or classes of offences as the State Government may, by order, specify. The procedure for trial of offences laid down in the Act was also different from the general procedure for trials laid down in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

The respondent, along with forty-nine others, was charged with the commission of several offences in the course of committing a raid as an armed gang in a Factory. These cases were tried before the Special Court under Section 5(1) of the Act upon notification from the State Governor regarding them. The Special Court convicted the respondents and subjected them to different terms of imprisonment. The respondents approached the High Court of Judicature at Calcutta and sought under Article 226 of the Constitution the issue of a writ of certiorari to nullify their conviction. The respondents contended that the Special Court had no jurisdiction to try their case and that Section 5 of the Act was also unconstitutional because it denied them their right to equality under Article 14. 

The High Court quashed the order of conviction of the respondents and ordered that the trial of the respondents should take place again according to the law. Aggrieved by this decision of the High Court of Calcutta, the State of West Bengal filed an appeal before the Supreme Court.  

Legal aspects involved in State of West Bengal vs. Anwar Ali Sarkar (1952)

The West Bengal Special Courts Act, 1950

The West Bengal Special Courts Ordinance was promulgated in 1949 and was later replaced by the West Bengal Special Courts Act, 1950. The Act is almost identical to the Ordinance with minimal changes. The Preamble to the Act states that its purpose is to provide a speedier trial for offences. Section 3 of the Act empowers the State Government to constitute Special Courts of criminal jurisdiction. Section 4 of the Act mentions the appointment procedure and qualifications of the Special Judge to preside over Special Courts. Section 5 lays down that the Special Courts should try such cases or offences or classes of cases or offences which the State Government shall specify by order. Sections 6 to 15 lay down the trial to be followed by the Special Courts. The trial procedure laid down in the Act is much different than that laid down in the CrPC. Some characteristics of the new trial procedure laid down under the Act, which were subject to criticism, are given below.

  • Trials are not to be conducted with the help of a jury and assessors
  • Restriction on the power of Special Courts to grant adjournments
  • The right to review by the High Court has been omitted

Constitution of India, 1950

Several provisions of the Constitution of India also hold significance in this case such as Articles 13, 14, 21, 132 and 226.

Article 14 

Article 14 guarantees every person equality before the law and equal protection of the law. It prohibits discrimination between two persons or classes of persons who are placed under similar circumstances. Yet, it allows for protective discrimination. For example, Article 15(4) is also one such provision that allows for the making of special provisions for the empowerment of any socially or educationally backward classes or the Scheduled castes or tribes, There might be situations where the same law cannot be applied to all persons. In such situations, classification can be made to achieve the desired purpose. Such classification should have a logical basis and should be formed on the basis of common characteristics between those who fall into a class and those who do not. Therefore, it forbids class legislation but not reasonable classification. 

Article 21

Article 21 encompasses the right to life and personal liberty. It provides that no law should take away the right mentioned under Article 21 except by procedure established by law. The term ‘law’ not only includes central or State legislation but also administrative decisions, executive orders, notifications, rules and regulations. Therefore, it helps in preventing arbitrariness in the administrative as well as legislative spheres. The phrase ”right to life and personal liberty” includes within its ambit a number of implied rights as well, such as the right to information and the right to live in a clean environment, the right to free and just trial, etc.

Article 13

Article 13 of the Constitution declares any law void if it contravenes any of the fundamental rights of a person given under Part III of the Constitution. The Section encompasses, within its scope, pre-constitutional as well as post-constitutional laws. It also poses a duty on the State to not make any law which is inconsistent with or derogatory to the fundamental rights of people. Like Article 21, the meaning of law under Article 13 also includes ordinance, order, bylaws, rules and regulations.

Article 226

This Article provides the right to a citizen to approach the High Court by way of filing a writ petition for the enforcement of his/her fundamental rights. It Acts as a safeguard against the violation of the rights of an individual. The High Court can grant reliefs in the nature of habeas corpus, quo warranto, certiorari, prohibition, and mandamus. This Article can be used to issue orders against any person or authority, including the Government. 

Issues raised in State of West Bengal vs. Anwar Ali Sarkar (1952)

  • Whether Section 5 of the West Bengal Special Courts Act, 1950 and the notification issued under it are violative of the right to equality under Article 14 of the Constitution of India?
  • Whether the special trial procedures under the Act are valid or not?
  • Whether the classification made under the Act is reasonable or not?

Arguments of the parties in State of West Bengal vs. Anwar Ali Sarkar (1952)

Appellant

  • The counsel on behalf of the appellant contended that the use of the word ‘cases’ in Section 5 of the Act implies those cases that require a speedier trial and, therefore, the classification of such cases by the State Government is for the expedition of justice and it is on this basis that the special procedure of trial under the Act is applicable. 
  • It was also argued that the State has a duty to ensure the efficient administration of justice. In order to fulfil its duty, the State has full control over the Court procedures in both civil and criminal matters.
  • The Act in question only regulates the procedure of trial in certain circumstances, and the changes in such procedure are only of a minor nature; therefore, the Act cannot be termed discriminatory, hostile or violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. 
  • The counsel put forward that the difference in the procedure of trial is made only on the basis of a justifiable classification. And, even if there is scope for the arbitrary exercise of the power conferred by the Act, the whole legislation cannot be deemed invalid in its entirety. 
  • Mere contention that the Act gives unregulated discretion to the State forms no valid ground for challenging it as violative of the rule of equality.
  • The counsel proposed an alternative test regarding the reasonableness of classification under the Act by stating that, if inequality is suffered by any person for the purpose of the general interest of administration and not of any special prejudice, then there is no violation of Article 14. Therefore, if the object of legislation is of general importance and discrimination is a by-product of the same, then it is not a violation of the equality rule.

Respondent

  • The respondent argued that the Act in question gives unfettered discretionary power to the State in the name of better administration of justice. There are no rules or procedures in existence to guide the use of such power. Hence, it is arbitrary to  Article 14 of the Constitution.
  • Another feature of the Act was that an application for bail cannot be made before the High Court if it has already been rejected by the Special Court. Such features imply that there has been substantial curtailment of the rights of the accused. The discrimination arises because rights are restricted only in certain situations, while there is no such restriction in other situations of similar nature. Therefore, it is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
  • The counsel put forward that there is no restriction on the classification power of the State Government. Therefore, the appellant cannot seek aid from the Preamble of the Act to justify otherwise, as the Preamble cannot change the meaning of the provisions of the Act.
  • The respondents put forward an example to justify that the classifications are discriminatory. It was put forward that under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, there are different chapters relating to offences of different natures. One such chapter relates to offences against property, which mentions offences such as theft, theft in a dwelling house, theft by a servant, etc., and, if we go by the language of the Section, the State may direct cases of theft in a dwelling house to the Special Courts, while cases of theft by servant may be left with ordinary Courts. The basis of the argument is that, although there is no valid reason that theft in a dwelling house should require a speedier trial than theft by a servant, there is a possibility that the State Government may do the same by directing such a case to the Special Court.

Judgement in the case

Scope of Section 5

During a careful perusal of the Act, the Supreme Court held that the purpose of Section 5(1) is to lay down the jurisdiction of the Special Courts and not the extent of the State Government’s power to refer cases. The preamble reflects that the objective of the Act is to create machinery for a speedier trial of certain offences. Therefore, the extent of power needed to set that machinery into motion should be restricted to its end and should not go beyond to confer arbitrary power on the State Government. The Supreme Court also relied on the principle of construction laid down in Carroll vs. Greenwich Insc. Co. (1905), an American case wherein it was held that the general language of any Act is to be construed and restricted by the provisions of the Act and to its specific end. In other words, the intent of the Act should be used to interpret the provisions of the Act. Therefore, the Supreme Court held that the power of the State Government to refer cases should be limited to the purpose of having a speedier trial of offences, rather than allowing for unfettered discretion. 

By application of the test of reasonable classification, the Supreme Court held that the need for a speedier trial in certain cases can form the basis of reasonable classification. Section 5 of the Act is not discriminatory in so far as it empowers the State to direct certain offences requiring a speedier trial to the Special Courts. But the provision becomes discriminatory and violates Article 14 so far that it vests unregulated arbitrary power upon the State to direct to the Special Courts “any cases”. The Supreme Court held that when an Act endows certain powers that can be used in a bona fide as well as mala fide manner, then the Act is ultra vires.

Validity of Section 5

The most important issue in this case was whether Section 5 of the West Bengal Special Courts Act is violative of the right to equality under Article 14 of the Constitution. In this regard, the Supreme Court held that, though it is established that Section 5 is well-intentioned, a part of the Section that is concerned with the power of the State Government to direct cases or classes of cases to the Special Courts established under the Act in this appeal is void. The Supreme Court held that the Act has been made on a pre-constitutional basis and needs to be reformed. The provisions of this Act have merely been copied from the West Bengal Special Courts Ordinance, 1949, which was made at a time when there was no provision similar to Article 14 in the Constitution of India. The Supreme Court, thus, held that Section 5 of the Act is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India, which can be seen through the following points-

  • A speedier trial of offences can be the motive of the legislation but there is no basis for classification as to what kind of cases or classes of cases should be subject to the Special Courts. The need for a speedy trial is too vague and the criteria for a reasonable classification on the basis of the need for speedy trial of certain cases under Section 5 is also uncertain because they rest at the discretion of the State Government to decide which cases or classes of cases need speedy trial.
  • The Supreme Court held that though a competent legislature has the power to alter procedures regarding criminal matters, it is a valid and binding law that does not infringe the fundamental rights of the citizens guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution. A procedural law is also within the purview of Article 14, like a substantive law. Therefore, all those who are similarly placed should have access to the equal protection and defence available under the law.
  • The Section is void insomuch as the procedure laid down to try cases under it is substantially different from that of the Code of Criminal Procedure without any logical classification or ground to ascertain which class of offences requires a speedier trial.
  • The Supreme Court explained the extent of arbitrariness that can result from the unregulated discretion conferred upon the State Government to direct cases to the Special Court. The Supreme Court stated an example that the State may direct a case involving the use of firearms and murder, where the persons killed are foreigners, to be tried by the Special Court, whereas an exactly similar case where the persons killed are Indians may be tried under the Code of Criminal Procedure.
  • The Supreme Court also held that Section 5 is void as far as it empowers the State Government to direct particular or individual cases to be tried by the Special Courts instead of ‘classes of cases.’ The Supreme Court further held that, if making an amendment to correct the situation was considered, then it would imply deletion of the word ‘cases’ from Section 5. However, the Court observed that the whole Act is violative of Article 14 and merely deleting a term from it would not save it. The Court also noted that Section 5 is the key operative of the entire legislation because the State Government draws its power from it and the jurisdiction of the Special Courts is also found from it. Therefore, as per the Supreme Court the invalidity of Section 5 will also make the entire Act invalid, as the doctrine of severability does not allow the saving of the rest of the Act in this situation. The doctrine states that, if any provision of a statute is against any constitutional limit, then only that part or provision should be rendered void. However, when such provision or part forms a significant part of the statute on which the rest of the Act depends, then the entire statute or Act should be considered void. 

Scope of Article 14

The Supreme Court held that Article 14 consists of two parts

  • The first part enshrines a declaration of equality of all persons within the territory of the country. This part is inspired by the Irish Constitution. And regarded as the basic principle of republicanism in American jurisprudence.
  • The second part enshrines equal protection to all persons in the enjoyment of their rights and without any discrimination. This part is inspired by the Fourteenth Amendment in the American Constitution and is regarded as a pledge of equal protection of laws.

Furthermore, the prohibitions under Article 14 are directed against the State as defined under Article 12 of the Constitution. The purpose is to save the people from being subjected to the arbitrary application of laws under similar circumstances. This also Acts as a corollary to Article 13, which renders void any law, order or notification if it violates any of the rights conferred by Part III of the Constitution. This trilogical relationship between Articles 12, 13 and 14 ensures that the administrative and legislative arenas remain free from discrimination and arbitrariness. The Supreme Court also relied on the judgement in the case of State of Bombay & Anr. vs. F.N. Balsara (1951), wherein while examining the constitutionality of certain provisions of the Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949 it was held that the essence of Article 14 is to prevent any person or class of persons from being singled out and subjected to discrimination for the reason of hostile legislation. But at the same time, it also does not insist on abstract symmetry. The Act imposed restrictions on the consumption and sale of liquor but allowed certain individuals like foreigners to obtain permits for consuming the liquor. This distinction was recognized as arbitrary and discriminator. Therefore, a reasonable standard should be set to deal with such situations.

Reasonable classification test 

The Supreme Court held that despite the principle of equal protection of laws under equal circumstances incorporated under Article 14, there cannot always be laws of general character and universal application. In order to achieve certain welfare ends or fulfil policies, the State is empowered in the exercise of its Governmental functions, to make different laws for different persons or classes of persons. Therefore, it should be possessed with such power so as to enable it to make a classification. The Supreme Court explained in the present case that classification implies the systematic arrangement of people or things into certain groups or classes in accordance with some definite scheme. 

In this regard, the Supreme Court held contrary to the view given in Topeka & Santa Fe R. Co. vs. Matthews (1899), wherein it was held that the concept of classification implies inequality and discrimination between those who are members of a class and those who are not. And referred to the decision in Connolly vs. Union Sewer Pipe Co. (1902), wherein it was held that the duties of a modern welfare Government are not limited. It has to deal with issues resulting from an infinite array of relations for which classification may be necessary. The Supreme Court, thus, held that classification need not be based on accurate scientific standards and, if the classification is not arbitrary on the face of the record, then it is justified. 

Though there is nothing sacred about the test of reasonable classification, it serves great purposes in meeting attacks on the law on grounds of discrimination. Therefore, one of the ways to save legislation permitting classification is to prove that it is a reasonable classification of persons or offences in respect of which the law laid down is to apply. 

Therefore, the Supreme Court recognised that neither Article 14 implies universal application nor does it take away the State Government’s power to make classifications for the purpose of legislation. However, it should be ensured that the classification is reasonable and fulfils the following two conditions-

  • The classification should be based on an intelligible differentia, which justifies the distinguishment of those persons or offences who are put in a class as compared to those who are not. The term “intelligible differentia” means the existence of a logical basis or common characteristic for classifying people or offences into different groups for the purpose of legislation. 
  • Secondly, the differentia must have a rational nexus with the object sought to be achieved by the legislation. 

The Supreme Court held that classifications of offences on the need for a speedier trial are too vague, inaccurate and thus unreasonable. The classification does not fulfil the criteria of intelligible differentia for the purpose of classification. The Act has laid down no yardstick to measure by which the classification of persons, offences or cases under the Act could be distinguished from those who are outside of its purview. The Act has left this part to the unregulated discretion of the State Government. Hence, the State Government may direct an offence or case or classes of cases to be tried by the Special Courts, while other offences or cases of similar character could be left to be dealt with under the Code of Criminal Procedure. 

Difference in trial procedure

The Supreme Court held that, under the Code of Criminal Procedure, the procedure for trial of offences was classified into four different sets. Those are-

  • Summary trials 
  • Trial of summons cases
  • Trial of warrant cases 
  • Trial of cases triable by Sessions Court.

This classification is made on the basis of the gravity of offences. The framers of the code were of the view that the more grave the offence, the more elaborate should be its trial procedure. However, the Supreme Court held that the Act in question has ignored the principle of classification of trial procedures behind the CrPC. The Act has laid down a new trial procedure without any logical classification of persons, cases or offences to which it should apply. The criteria for making classification under the Act is the offences which require a speedy trial. However, as held by the Supreme Court, this criteria is vague and creates uncertainty. The Court also observed that the Act imposes greater liability on the accused than that mentioned in the CrPC. The Act has deprived the accused of the safeguard of committal proceedings, trial with the help of the jury and assessors, and the right to a de novo trial in cases of transfer. Therefore, the Supreme Court held that the rights and liberties of the accused have been cut down. Some other provisions of the Act which discriminate against the accused in this regard are-

  • The Special Court is empowered to convict a person of an offence even though he/she has not been charged with it, if it is shown as evidence suggests otherwise. It is immaterial whether the offence is minor.
  • The right of revision to the High Court’s decision or order has been done away with.
  • The right to ask for re-examination of witnesses or the opportunity of getting re-hearing when the case shifts for disposal from one magistrate to another has also been taken away.

The Supreme Court held that these provisions are clear examples of the inequality brought about by the Act as it allows a substantial inequality of treatment against those persons whose cases are directed to be tried by the Special Courts. The Supreme Court also highlighted the possible consequences of such varied procedures-

  • There is a high possibility that an offence of a grave nature could be tried under the Act, whereas a less grave offence could be tried under the Code of Criminal Procedure.
  • A person charged with an offence may be directed to be tried under the Act, whereas another person charged with the same offence could be tried under the CrPC.
  • Some offences belonging to a particular category of offences could be tried under the Act, whereas other offences belonging to the same category could be tried under the CrPC. 

Rationale behind the decision in State of West Bengal vs. Anwar Ali Sarkar (1952)

The judgement in this case dealt with various aspects of constitutional provisions and the interpretation of statutes. One of the main considerations of the Supreme Court behind this decision was based on the judgement in Romesh Thapar vs. State of Madras (1950), wherein it was held that, when an Act can be used beyond constitutional limits, then it should be considered void, irrespective of the fact that it can be used without violating those limits as well. Apart from that, the Supreme Court delved into laying down the conditions of a reasonable classification under Article 14. The Supreme Court held that when an Act permits classification, it should be observed that the classification is made on a logical differentia and it has a nexus with the purpose of the Act. The Court emphasised that, though universal application of laws is not possible and there might arise situations where classification has to be made, yet it must be ensured that such classification does not result in any hostility or prejudice against a particular person or group of persons. While making a classification, it must be ensured that it is based on the characteristics of the person or classes of persons and should also have a nexus to the object for which it is made. 

The Supreme Court also highlighted the consequences of the difference in trial procedures under the Act. The difference or inequality in the availability of rights, defence or protection to accused placed under similar circumstances violates the principles of natural justice. Therefore, the decision emphasised the significance of upholding equality in the protection of laws towards all people and compliance with natural justice principles for ensuring fair and just trial proceedings. 

Precedents referred in the case

Chiranjit Lal Chaudhary vs. Union of India & Ors. (1950)

Facts 

Chiranjit Lal was a shareholder of a weaving company governed under the provisions of the Indian Companies Act, 1913. In 1949, the mill was shut down by an ordinance stating the reason as mismanagement. Later, the Sholapur Spinning and Weaving Company (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1950 was enacted to regulate the company’s affairs. This Act enabled the Government to regulate the company’s affairs, change voting rights, appoint new directors, etc. The Act bore a resemblance to the Ordinance. Both of these were challenged as violative of Articles 14, 19 and 31 of the Constitution. 

Judgement 

The Supreme Court, in Chiranjit Lal Chaudhary vs. Union of India & Ors. (1950), held that the rights of the petitioner under Articles 14, 19 and 31 had not been infringed. The Act in question merely curtails voting rights and provides for the appointment of directors. However, it does not prevent the petitioner from having the right to hold and earn income from his shares. Therefore, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal.

Reference in the case of State of West Bengal vs. Anwar Ali Sarkar (1952)

In the Chiranjit Lal Chaudhary case, the Supreme Court held that the State while carrying out its government duties, might need to create laws or provisions that treat different groups or classes of people differently to achieve specific objectives and implement its policies. This implies that the authority of the government extends to classifying those things or people who will be subjected to such laws or provisions. However, it should also be noted that no person suffers extensive prejudice because of the classification. This principle was established in the case of Chiranjit Lal Chowdhury vs. Union of India and was applied and referred to in the Anwar Ali Sarkar case. 

State of Bombay & Anr. vs. F.N Balsara (1951)

Facts

The petitioner filed a writ of mandamus before the Bombay High Court against the State of Bombay and the Prohibition Commissioner ordering them to prevent enforcement of the Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949 against him. The petitioner wanted to prevent enforcement of provisions regulating and restricting his right to use, import, export and purchase certain articles like whiskey, brandy, wine, beer, medicated wine, foreign liquor, etc. 

Judgement 

The Supreme Court held some provisions of the Act to be valid while others were invalid. Therefore, it was one of the significant cases in the application of the doctrine of severability. The provisions with regard to the consumption and sale of alcohol mixed medicines and toilet goods were regarded as invalid. Therefore, the appeal by the State of Bombay was allowed.

Reference in the case of State of West Bengal vs. Anwar Ali Sarkar (1952)

In this case, the Supreme Court recognised the nature of the right to equality under Article 14. It was held that all those who are similarly situated in a situation should be treated similarly also. Thus, if the circumstances are uniform, so should the application of laws and provisions. The Anwar Ali Sarkar case, subsequently, relied upon this principle established in the Balsara case.

Chintaman Rao vs. State of Madhya Pradesh (1950)

Facts 

An order was issued under the Central Provinces and Berar Regulation of Manufacture of Bidis (Agricultural Purposes) Act, 1948 prohibiting residents of several villages from manufacturing bidis. Subsequently, a petition was filed under Article 32 challenging the validity of the order as violative of the petitioner’s freedom of occupation and business. 

Judgement 

While evaluating restrictions on fundamental rights, the Supreme Court, in Chintaman Rao vs. State of Madhya Pradesh (1950), held that the limitations on personal enjoyment should be reasonable. It was held that the order resulted in the cessation of business during specific agricultural seasons. It was an extreme regulatory measure. Though the Act permits making such orders, a balance should be struck between the freedom mentioned under Article 19(1)(g) and the permissible restrictions under Article 19(6). 

Reference in the case of State of West Bengal vs. Anwar Ali Sarkar (1952)

In the Chintaman Rao vs. State of Madhya Pradesh case, the Supreme Court held that a law can be deemed unconstitutional if it has the potential to be applied in an unauthorised and arbitrary manner. In other words, if there is a risk that the law could be enforced in a manner that violates the principles of reasonableness and non-arbitrariness, it would be considered unconstitutional by courts. Thus, even if a law itself may be valid, its application must adhere to these constitutional principles. This principle was referred to in the Anwar Ali Sarkar case.

Romesh Thapar vs. State of Madras (1950)

Facts 

The petitioner was the author and editor of a journal called “CrossRoads”, published in Bombay. He wrote a few articles describing his scepticism about Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru’s ideologies. Subsequently, under Section 9(1- A) of the Madras Maintenance of Public Order Act, 1949, an order was issued that banned the circulation of the Journal in Madras. In response to the ban, the petitioner filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court challenging the validity of the Act on the ground that it places excessive and unreasonable restrictions on the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution. 

Judgement 

The Supreme Court held that the rights under Article 19 can be subject to reasonable restrictions, such as the security of the State. However, in the present case, the Act in question produced much wider restrictions on freedom of expression than are constitutionally permissible. Accordingly, Section 9(1-A) was held unconstitutional. It was also expounded that when the implementation of an Act poses the possibility of its use beyond constitutional limits as well as within those limits, then the Act should be deemed void.

Reference in the case of State of West Bengal vs. Anwar Ali Sarkar (1952)

In this case, the Supreme Court examined the validity of an order made by the State Government to regulate the circulation of news sheets to maintain public order and safety. The Supreme Court recognised that freedom of speech can be restricted on the ground of the security of the State and, since the impugned law went beyond that by allowing restrictions on grounds of public order and safety, it is deemed void. The Supreme Court in the Romesh Thapar case held that, when a law gives the Government the power to impose restrictions on the fundamental rights of citizens, it cannot be upheld irrespective of the fact that it may have some valid application. This principle was also reiterated in the Anwar Ali Sarkar case. 

Critical analysis of State of West Bengal vs. Anwar Ali Sarkar (1952)

The Supreme Court in this decision provides a remarkable analysis of the right to equality, yet there have been debates regarding its implications as well. Making a classification by the State Government may be necessary for the purpose of legislation and it should be recognised that some inequality resulting from that is its by-product. However, if in every instance such a consequence is termed arbitrary use of power, then it would not be possible to have the desired results of legislation. In this regard, the judgement has narrowed the scope of the legislature’s power to enact laws permitting classification as well as the extent of a Government’s power to ensure efficient administration. This approach may hamper reformist legislation. The State Government also needs to have some discretion in respect of its powers to fulfil its duties as a modern welfare state. The observation of the Supreme Court that, if an Act, though seems to be fair, has the potential of being misused, then it should be declared void. However, this approach may also hinder the Legislature’s ability to make certain laws. If the essence of the legislation is just and fair, then the entire Act should not be subject to invalidity on the ground that the implementation of the Act by public authorities might result in a violation of rights. Therefore, what is needed is a balance between the state’s duty to ensure effective administration and the upholding of individual rights. Furthermore, though the Supreme Court recognised the extent of the arbitrariness of the State Government while referring cases to the Special Court, it did not take any steps to consider the extent of the Special Court’s power to accept or reject such directions from the State Government.

Judgements for which this case was relied on

Kathi Raning Rawat vs. The State of Saurashtra (1952)

In the case of Kathi Raning Rawat vs. State of Saurashtra (1952), the question of the validity of special criminal courts for a specific community set up under the Saurashtra State Public Safety Measures (Third Amendment) Ordinance, 1949 was involved. The Supreme Court while deciding the case relied on the judgement in State of West Bengal vs. Anwar Ali Sarkar (1952) and held that the establishment of exclusive courts for only a specific community is unconstitutional as such practice violates the rule of equality before the law provided under Article 14 of the Constitution. Classification on the basis of community could lead to adverse social costs. Therefore, the Supreme Court reiterated the notion that any classification should have a rational basis and should not palpably discriminate against any particular community. 

Shri Ram Krishna Dalmia vs.  Shri Justice S.R. Tendolkar & Anr. (1958)

The case of Shri Ram Krishna Dalmia vs. Shri Justice S.R  Tendolkar & Anr. (1958) involved a legal dispute between Ram Krishna Dalmia, a prominent industrialist, and Justice Tendolkar, who was appointed to investigate certain financial irregularities. The matter revolved around the powers of the investigating authority and the scope of judicial review. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Ram Krishna Dalmia, stating that the investigating authority had exceeded its jurisdiction. In this case, the Supreme Court relied on the judgement in the State of West Bengal vs. Anwar Ali Sarkar (1952) and reiterated that, when a statute vests power in the Government to classify things or people for application of its provisions, then the Court will have to consider whether there is any principle to guide the Government’s discretion in the classification process. If there is no provision or principle to guide the State or maintain a check on its power, then the Court may strike it down as it might lead to arbitrariness and discrimination between similarly placed people or things. 

Ramesh Chandra Sharma vs. State of Uttar Pradesh (2023)

In the case of Ramesh Chandra Sharma vs. State of Uttar Pradesh (2023), the main issue involved was the difference in compensation rates for the “Pushtaini” landholders and the “Gair-Pushtaini” landholders. The appellants felt that they were being compensated at a lower rate compared to the other “Pushtaini” landholders. While delivering the judgement in this case, the Supreme Court recognised the twin test for reasonable classification laid down in the case of State of West Bengal vs. Anwar Ali Sarkar (1952). The Supreme Court held that the classification between “Pushtaini” and “Gair-Pushtaini” shareholders is unreasonable as there is no intelligible differentia existing. The Supreme Court held that the classification should not only be rational and have a nexus with the law but should also not result in prejudice against anyone. 

Conclusion

The case of State of West Bengal vs. Anwar Ali Sarkar (1952) is a landmark judgement as it directly affects the people because it gives a detailed analysis of the right to equality of all persons and the upholding of principles of natural justice. The Act was declared unconstitutional because when people accused of committing heinous offences are called upon to defend themselves, a few of them may be picked out and subject to the new procedures, which, though giving them few crumbs of benefits, leave them deprived of their substantial rights and liberties. Those subject to such disadvantages are concerned about whether it was done for the benefit of the State or the convenience of the Government. The Fact that matters is that those included in such a class suffer unreasonably, even when they are placed similarly to those who are not included in that class. Therefore, this decision has affirmed the role of the judiciary as a guardian of the fundamental rights of people. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a reasonable classification test?

The test specifies the conditions to determine the reasonableness of a classification made by the Legislature in a statute. The reasonable classification test states that, whenever legislation permits classification, it must be ensured that the classification has valid reasoning to differentiate between those who are put in a class as opposed to those who are not. The test lays down that a classification should have an intelligible differential or logical basis and this differential should have a link to the object of the law. Further, it must be ensured that the classification is made solely for the object of legislation and does not result in a particular prejudice against any person. 

What are the constituents of Article 14?

Article 14 deals with the right to equality and has two constituents. The first is the rule of equality before law and the second is the equal application of the law to all persons without any discrimination.

What are the types of trials under the CrPC, 1973?

The CrPC mentions four different kinds of trials. Section 225-237 deals with the trial of warrant cases by the Session Court. Section 238-250 relates to the trial of warrant cases by the Magistrate. Section 251-259 gives the procedure for the trial of summons cases by the Magistrate and Section 260-265 deals with summary trials. 

References

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