State assembly resolutions against Constitutional (Amendment) Act 2019:  Debating legalities for or against?

Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019

The outbreak of dissent voices against the newly enacted Constitutional Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 which grants citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, appeared as several forms of condemnation for the last two months in India insisting for repeal of the act. For the first time, the post independent India happened to be an eyewitness for the religious based act passed in parliament sparking a huge controversy among individuals, academia, universities, intellectuals and lawmakers leading to demonstrate their resentments through protests, strike, rallies, march and  passing of anti CAA resolutions in non-BJP ruled states. With Kerala legislative assembly became first state followed by Rajasthan, Punjab and West Bengal to have passed a resolution terming the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 as “illegal and unconstitutional” and called upon the union government to repeal the law, there have been a long debate and dialogue on the validity, legality and outcome of the resolutions as citizenship finds its place in central jurisdiction. Following the same pathway, many more states stood to the forefront to pass the resolutions against CAA demonstrating their disapproval of the act on behalf of the citizens belonging to their states. The federal structure of the governance demarcates the legislative jurisdictions between the union and the states restricting themselves to their own businesses. Therefore, the occurrence of passages of resolutions against CAA in non-BJP ruled states fetched a new twist in federalism magnetizing the debates on resolutions and their repercussion. Prior to these anti CAA resolutions of the state legislative assemblies, the Kerala government already demonstrated its disapproval and resentment against the union law, namely Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) in 1971 and the Income Tax Act in 2006. Therefore, this piece of paper drew legal and constitutional character of the resolutions passed in the state assemblies against the newly enacted CAA and their legal repercussion.

History and legal status of resolution

The connotation ‘resolution’ finds a prominent place in parliamentary business illustrating three different meanings of a declaration passed in the state legislative assembly with the purpose of showing accord for procedural functioning or any other issues. Hence, three types of resolutions prevail in state legislative assemblies with their different consequences as follows;

Firstly, resolutions with legal effect; such a resolution gets legitimized and validated from constitution of India or statutes passed by parliament or state legislature. These resolutions are passed in the nature of a statute having binding force in accordance with the Indian constitution mentioned in Article 169 (i), Article 179 (c), Article 183 (c), Article 213, Article 312 (1), Article 315 (2) and Article (368). Therefore, resolutions of state legislative assembly deem to be legitimized constitutionally having binding force or effect to particular resolutions. Several legislative businesses such as abolition of the legislative council of a state, removal of chairman and deputy chairman of the legislative council etc may be initiated with the passing of resolutions by state assemblies.

Secondly, Resolutions with quasi legal effect regarding control over the proceeding of the house itself: the resolutions are passed by the state legislature in accordance with the provision of Article 208 and Article 209 of the Indian constitution in order to control over the proceeding of the assembly itself. Here, the nature of the resolutions is characterized as quasi legal effect and are passed in relation to financial business of the government and to establish communication between the two houses of the states if the second house exists.

Thirdly, resolutions are a mere expression of opinion, with no legal but sometimes political effect; an unwritten power and convention of passing of resolutions by state assemblies exist in our democratic framework with purposes of expressing citizen opinion on any issues such as thanksgiving, recognition of services, or any matter of public interest, national or international affairs or situations. This type of resolution act as a facilitator of government to express citizen views on any enacted policies responsible for affecting their stake. Though, such resolution has no legal effect of altering or adding or modifying to the acts; but a strong message to the government.

Resolutions against the CAA are legal and mere expression of opinion?

Although, the passing of the state assembly resolutions against the newly the enacted CAA acted as a flame to rage federal issues afresh and BJP termed them as illegal, invalid and nonsensical for the federal system. The frequent rising number of list of states passing resolutions against the CAA made the BJP government antagonist and rivalry to propose appropriate legal action against the state governments citing absolute breach of Article 257 of the constitution which puts an obligation on the state governments to ensure compliance with the acts made by Parliament and also authorizes the union government to issue directions to any state for this purpose.

The chief ministers of these four states have not broken any constitutional obligation by passing resolutions against CAA as they are only resolution and not legislation. In the light of the ongoing protests and resentments against the religious based CAA, a large number of question marks on secular fabrics and equalities becomes under threat to the society as the notion of federalism lies not only in the constitution but also in the society itself. The passing of a resolution by the state legislative assemblies may represent the will and wisdom of citizens.  Such elected Member of Legislative Assembly represents the voice of the citizens at large and the resolution deems to be treated as medium of expression against the newly enacted CAA. Though, the BJP government did not skip any opportunity in justifying the newly enacted CAA as constitutionally valid by interpreting ‘reasonable classification’ as mentioned in our constitution. Now, the truth and interpretation of the term ‘reasonable classification’ would be a decisive role in deciding the prospect of the newly enacted CAA for the Hon’ble Supreme Court as government remains to be adamant to its justification by interpretation ‘reasonable classification’ as the source of the constitution. Though, state assembly resolution against CAA and demanding for repeal of the act stands valid conventionally as constitution of India puts no hurdles before any assemblies from airing an opinion on an issue of public importance.

Though, the rationale of the Constitutional Amendment Act 2019 draws its source form Article 14 of constitution which allows a reasonable classification while enacting a law provided that the act must not be “arbitrary, artificial or evasive”. On the other hand, the resolutions against CAA do not breach the constitutional obligations as putting dissent voices against any union law always remains a right enshrined in the constitution as the resolution only points to the growing dissent in the state.  In federal system of governance, every issue needs to be addressed in accordance with the constitutional values and ethos. The CAA 2019 raged a huge controversy and resentments among the citizens caused by a sense of insecurity and discriminations responsible for creating a rift among the people.

Dr. Ahmed Raza, Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration, MANUU (a central university), Hyderabad, India



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