Knocking at the Door of the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of India has original, appellate and advisory jurisdiction. Its exclusive original jurisdiction extends to any dispute between the Government of India and one or more States or between the Government of India and any State or States on one side and one or more States on the other or between two or more States. Besides, Article 32 of the Constitution gives an extensive original jurisdiction to the Supreme Court regarding enforcement of Fundamental Rights. The appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Article 132(1), 133(1) or 134 of the Constitution can only be invoked on the basis of a certificate granted by the High Court concerned, on the other hand, the Supreme Court also has a vast appellate jurisdiction over all Courts and Tribunals in India in as much as it may, in its discretion, grant special leave to appeal under Article 136 of the Constitution from any judgment, decree, determination, sentence or order in any cause or matter passed or made by any Court or Tribunal. 

The Supreme Court also has a unique advisory jurisdiction in matters which may be referred to it by the President of India under Article 143 of the Constitution. Under Articles 129 and 142 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court has been vested with the power to punish for contempt of Court, including the power to punish for contempt of itself. There are provisions for an appeal to the Supreme Court, separately provided under different statutes, such as the Competition Act, 2002, the Companies Act, 2013, the Armed Forces Tribunal Act, 2007, etc. 

However, the fact remains that Articles 32 and 136 of the Constitution are mostly resorted to for approaching the Apex Court, more often than other provisions discussed above and not to mention, it is Article 32 of the Constitution, which is the genesis for the Public Interest Litigations in the Supreme Court of India. 

Article 136  of the Constitution of India is worded in the broadest terms possible. It vests in the Supreme Court a plenary jurisdiction in the matter of entertaining and hearing appeals by granting special leave against any judgment or order made by a Court or a Tribunal in any cause or matter, and the powers can be exercised in spite of the specific provisions for appeal contained in the Constitution or other laws. The powers given by the article are, however, in the nature of special or residuary powers, which are exercisable outside the purview of ordinary law, in cases where the needs of justice demand interference by the Supreme Court. Therefore, Article 136 does not confer a right of appeal upon any party but merely vests discretion in the Supreme Court to interfere in a particular case if there are reasons to do so. 

In the past, there have been efforts to consider restricting the scope of Article 136, possibly to see that if the Supreme Court restricts its powers under Article 136, arrears of cases may not increase further. [Refer: Mathai v. George(2010) 4 SCC 358].

However, upon perusal of the law laid down by the Supreme Court itself has held that no effort should be made to restrict the powers under Article 136 because while exercising its powers under Article 136 of the Constitution of India, the Supreme Court can, after considering facts of the case to be decided, very well use its discretion and in the interest of justice, it would be better to use the said power with circumspection, rather than to limit the power forever. [Refer: Mathai v. George, (2016) 7 SCC 700]

Usually, before filing a petition under Article 32 or, for that matter, under Article 136, there should be recourse to alternate efficacious remedies. Nevertheless, this is a rule of practice and not of jurisdiction. The Supreme Court is competent to entertain a petition even where the aggrieved party has not exhausted the remedies available under the statute or the Constitution.    

It is also true that the Supreme Court normally does not exercise its jurisdiction under Article 136 of the Constitution in respect of an interlocutory order except in particular circumstances to prevent manifest injustice or abuse of the process of the Court. However, if there are special circumstances warranting interference in any particular case, the Supreme Court can indeed be approached even against an interim order.

Considering the broad scope of the powers conferred on the Supreme Court under Article 32 and Article 136, it is not possible and, indeed, it would not be correct to specify any general rule that would govern all cases. It is true that despite the Supreme Court having the most comprehensive jurisdiction, a litigant cannot knock the doors of the Supreme Court for anything or everything. The question as to whether the jurisdiction under Articles 32 or 136 would be exercised or not by the Supreme Court depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. 


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