Conflict of Interest and Parliament: Critical Analysis of Article 254

Article 246 states that Parliament has exclusive power to make laws with respect to any of the matter enumerated in List 1 and List III.  The legislature of any state has exclusive power to make laws with respect to any of the matter enumerated in the list II and List III. Article 248(1) says that Parliament also has exclusive power to make any law with respect to any matter not enumerated in the Concurrent list or state list.  Entry 97 of List 1 also states the same thing. The constitution envisages into so much detail but still there might be a situation where there is inconsistency between two provisions or legislations made by State and parliament. The important point to be noted here is that both the State and Parliament are competent to make the respective laws on the matter enumerated in the List III. So the struggle is can both these legislations exist together? If they can’t then solution is the doctrine of repugnancy. This doctrine is biased in the favour of the centre.

Article 254(1) states that if there seems like inconsistency/conflict the law made by parliament shall prevail and the legislature of a state to the extent of repugnancy shall be void. However, there is an exception Article 254(2) states that the law of any state shall prevail in the state if it has been reserved for the consideration of the President and has received his assent and it won’t be void. In other words, if the state has made any law on the matter of list III and that law is inconsistent with parliamentary law then the only way to save state law is to get the assent of the President.

Theoretically, Article 254 seems to suggest doctrine of repugnancy is deemed to apply in any case of repugnancy where both state and parliament are competent to make laws. Parliament is competent under List I and III and State is competent under II and III so those inconsistencies should also be looked into under this doctrine. Pith and substance of two legislations can be different but a conflict in any provision may still exist. According to Article 254, it seems that this conflict is valid and needs to be addressed by doctrine of repugnancy. 

However, Supreme Court tends to disagree.  According the Supreme Court, pith and substance of the legislation is important while dealing with conflicts among legislations. Doctrine of pith and substance comprises of the subject matter or the legislation’s true purpose. In practical essence, doctrine of repugnancy covers those inconsistencies arising between legislations on the matters enumerated in List III only.[1] 

The reason behind this limitation of Supreme Court is that in clause 2 of Article 254 we have one exception for only one such conflict. So we should read clause 1 in the light of that exception. According to the court the exception in clause 2 will govern the interpretation of clause 1 of Article 254.

Conflicts between matters enumerated in List I and List II are not meant to be resolved by doctrine of repugnancy under Article 254. Such inconsistencies will be dealt with under Article 246, on the basis of doctrine of harmonious construction and doctrine of pith and substance. So we will have to check the pith ad substance of the legislation first. If it is under List II then State has ‘exclusive power’ so there is no question about repugnancy. If a State law is overlapping with an entry in list 1, the law made by the state will be unconstitutional under Article 246.[2]

Gujarat University v. Krishna Ranganath Mudholkar:  

Whether repugnancy only applies in the case of List III- List III conflicts, or whether it can apply even in cases of List I-List II conflicts.

The question over here dealt with a conflict between Entry 66, List I and Entry 11, List II (which dealt with education). The petitioner was a student in the first year in the B.A. degree who sought admission into the Arts department in the English Medium. According to a statute of the University, the sole media of instruction that could have been prescribed by the Government were either English or India, and as a result of a directive issued by the Central Government, it had been decided to change over to English.

Entry 11, List II (As it then was): “Education, including Universities, subject to the provisions of Entries 63, 64, 65 and 66 of List I, and Entry 25 of List II”

Entry 66, List I: “Co-ordination and determination of standards of higher education”.

Issue: Whether the doctrine of repugnancy would apply in this situation.

Shah, J: 

  1. The ‘subject to’ clause places the Parliament at a position superior to that of the state. This allows parliament to make laws on a wide variety of matters in respect of the state legislature.
  2. The Union Government, by virtue of the ‘subject to’ clause, has an overriding power to ensure that the syllabi, courses of study, and mediums of instruction of both languages do not impair standards.
  3. Even though exclusive lists have been affected by the Constitution, it is still within the power of the Union to legislate on matters pertaining to education.
  4. Therefore, it is important to examine the ‘pith and substance’ of the law.
  5. If there would have been any Union legislation in respect of co-ordination and determination of standards, then such law would have paramount over the state law by virtue, not of the provisions of Article 246, but Article 254.

[1] Deep Chand vs The State Of Uttar Pradesh and … on 15 January, 1959 1959 AIR 648, 1959 SCR Supl. (2) 8

[2] Hoechst Pharmaceuticals Ltd. and Ors. vs. State of Bihar and Ors. (06.05.1983 – SC) : MANU/SC/0392/1983

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