In its judgment declaring West Bengal Housing Industry Regulation Act, 2017( WBHIRA) unconstitutional, the Supreme Court explained the concept of repugnancy between a law enacted by the State legislature and Parliament.
The bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah held that WBHIRA is repugnant to the RERA, and hence unconstitutional.
At the outset, the Court noted some of the salient features of Article 254 as follows:
(i) Firstly, Article 254(1) embodies the concept of repugnancy on subjects within the Concurrent List on which both the State legislatures and Parliament are entrusted with the power to enact laws; (ii) Secondly, a law made by the legislature of a State which is repugnant to Parliamentary legislation on a matter enumerated in the Concurrent List has to yield to a Parliamentary law whether enacted before or after the law made by the State legislature; (iii) Thirdly, in the event of a repugnancy, the Parliamentary legislation shall prevail and the State law shall "to the extent of the repugnancy" be void; (iv) Fourthly, the consequence of a repugnancy between the State legislation with a law enacted by Parliament within the ambit of List III can be cured if the State legislation receives the assent of the President; and (v) Fifthly, the grant of Presidential assent under clause (2) of Article 254 will not preclude Parliament from enacting a law on the subject matter, as stipulated in the proviso to clause (2)
Referring to precedents in this regard, the Part H of the judgment discusses three types of repugnancy.
The first, the Court said, envisages a situation of an absolute or irreconcilable conflict or inconsistency between a provision contained in a State legislative enactment with a Parliamentary law with reference to a matter in the Concurrent List.
"Such a conflict brings both the statutes into a state of direct collision. This may arise, for instance, where the two statutes adopt norms or standards of behavior or provide consequences for breach which stand opposed in direct and immediate terms. The conflict arises because it is impossible to comply with one of the two statutes without disobeying the other", the Court said.
The Court said that this type of repugnancy is grounded in an irreconcilable conflict between the provisions of the two statutes each of which operates in the Concurrent List. "The conflict between the two statutes gives rise to a repugnancy, the consequence of which is that the State legislation will be void to the extent of the repugnancy. The expression 'to the extent of the repugnancy' postulates that those elements or portions of the state law which run into conflict with the central legislation shall be excised on the ground that they are void.", the bench observed.
The Court further explained the second type as that involving a conflict between State and Central legislations may arise in a situation where Parliament has evinced an intent to occupy the whole field. "The notion of occupying a field emerges when a Parliamentary legislation is so complete and exhaustive as a Code as to preclude the existence of any other legislation by the State. The State law in this context has to give way to a Parliamentary enactment not because of an actual conflict with the absolute terms of a Parliamentary law but because the nature of the legislation enacted by Parliament is such as to constitute a complete and exhaustive Code on the subject.", it said.
"The third test of repugnancy is where the law enacted by Parliament and by the State legislature regulate the same subject. In such a case the repugnancy does not arise because of a conflict between the fields covered by the two enactments but because the subject which is sought to be covered by the State legislation is identical to and overlaps with the Central legislation on the subject.", the bench added.
The second and third tests, the Court noted, are not grounded in a conflict borne out of a comparative evaluation of the text of the two provisions.
"Where a law enacted by Parliament is an exhaustive Code, the second test may come into being. The intent of Parliament in enacting an exhaustive Code on a subject in the Concurrent List may well be to promote uniformity and standardization of its legislative scheme as a matter of public interest. Parliament in a given case may intend to secure the protection of vital interests which require a uniformity of law and a consistency of its application all over the country. A uniform national legislation is considered necessary by Parliament in many cases to prevent vulnerabilities of a segment of society being exploited by an asymmetry of information and unequal power in a societal context. The exhaustive nature of the Parliamentary code is then an indicator of the exercise of the State's power to legislate being repugnant on the same subject. The third test of repugnancy may arise where both the Parliament and the State legislation cover the same subject matter. Allowing the exercise of power over the same subject matter would trigger the application of the concept of repugnancy. This may implicate the doctrine of implied repeal in that the State legislation cannot co-exist with a legislation enacted by Parliament. But even here if the legislation by the State covers distinct subject matters, no repugnancy would exist. In deciding whether a case of repugnancy arises on the application of the second and third tests, both the text and the context of the Parliamentary legislation have to be borne in mind. The nature of the subject matter which is legislated upon, the purpose of the legislation, the rights which are sought to be protected, the legislative history and the nature and ambit of the statutory provisions are among the factors that provide guidance in the exercise of judicial review. The text of the statute would indicate whether Parliament contemplated the existence of State legislation on the subject within the ambit of the Concurrent List. Often times, a legislative draftsperson may utilize either of both of two legislative techniques. The draftsperson may provide that the Parliamentary law shall have overriding force and effect notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in any other law for the time being in force. Such a provision is indicative of a Parliamentary intent to override anything inconsistent or in conflict with its provisions. The Parliamentary legislation may also stipulate that its provisions are in addition to and not in derogation of other laws. Those other laws may be specifically referred to by name, in which event this is an indication that the operation of those specifically named laws is not to be affected. Such a legislative device is often adopted by Parliament by saving the operation of other Parliamentary legislation which is specifically named. When such a provision is utilized, it is an indicator of Parliament intending to allow the specific legislation which is enlisted or enumerated to exist unaffected by a subsequent law. Alternatively, Parliament may provide that its legislation shall be in addition to and not in derogation of other laws or of remedies, without specifically elucidating specifically any other legislation. In such cases where the competent legislation has been enacted by the same legislature, techniques such as a harmonious construction can be resorted to in order to ensure that the operation of both the statutes can co-exist. Where, however, the competing statutes are not of the same legislature, it then becomes necessary to apply the concept of repugnancy, bearing in mind the intent of Parliament. The primary effort in the exercise of judicial review must be an endeavour to harmonise. Repugnancy in other words is not an option of first choice but something which can be drawn where a clear case based on the application of one of the three tests arises for determination..", the judgment reads.
Case: Forum for People's Collective Efforts (FPCE) vs. State of West Bengal [WPC 116 of 2019]
Coram: Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah
Citation: LL 2021 SC 241