Supreme Court of India

Kerala’s new prohibition policy may not survive Article 14 scrutiny

GautamBhatia_SupremeCourtofIndiajpgLast week, it was reported that Kerala’s government is planning to impose prohibition in the state. The relationship between alcohol, crime, and public disorder (and the government’s attempts to regulate it) has enjoyed a troubled history throughout the world. For example, the adverse impact of alcohol upon society so troubled American lawmakers at the turn of the twentieth century, that they actually entrenched prohibition into their constitution, via an amendment, in 1920. The amendment proved impossible to enforce, contributed to a thriving black market and to organised crime, and was repealed thirteen years later. In light of similar experiences in India, the Kerala government’s decision has been criticised as being short-sighted and counter-productive. Should the decision be ultimately enforced by legislation, it also raises constitutional issues under Part III of the Constitution of India.

The Article 19(1)(g) issue

Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution guarantees to all citizens the freedom to “practice and profession, or carry on any occupation, trade or business.” Article 19(6) permits the government to impose, by law, reasonable restrictions upon that freedom, in the interests of the general public. To these provisions, we must add a third: Article 47 of the Constitution, which is part of the Directive Principles of State Policy. Article 47 requires the State to endeavour to bring about prohibition of the use except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.

The question of what constitutes a “reasonable restriction” upon an Article 19(1) fundamental right, for the purposes of Articles 19(2) to 19(6), was answered by the Supreme Court as early as 1952, in State of Madras v. V.G. Row. The Court outlined a classic proportionality enquiry, holding that in adjudicating reasonableness, “the nature of the right alleged to have been infringed, the underlying purpose of the restriction imposed, the extent and urgency of the evil sought to be remedied thereby, the disproportion of the imposition, the prevailing conditions at the time, should all enter into the judicial verdict.” While V.G. Row emphasised that reasonableness must be judged on a case-to-case basis, keeping in mind the variable background context, Supreme Court cases have established one rule of thumb for judging reasonableness-as-proportionality: legislation that is aimed at advancing one of the Directive Principles of State Policy carries a strong presumption of reasonableness, as well clearly being in the public interest. For instance, in MRF Ltd. v. Inspector, Kerala Govt., the question was whether a Kerala legislation that increased the number compulsory paid holidays that industrial establishments had to allow their employees, violated Article 19(1)(g). The Court adverted to V.G. Row’s proportionality test, and then invoked Article 43, a Directive Principle, that mandated the State to ensure a decent standard of life for workers. On the basis of Article 43, it held the legislation to be a reasonable restriction upon Article 19(1)(g), and therefore saved by Article 19(6).

Under the new policy, the number of outlets of the highly successful Kerala State Beverages Corporation will be reduced by ten per cent every year.
Under the new policy, the number of outlets of the highly successful Kerala State Beverages Corporation will be reduced by ten per cent every year.

More directly on point is the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision, in State of Gujarat v. Mirzapur Moti Kursehi Kassab Jamat, where a statute that almost completely prohibited cow slaughter was held valid for the most part, notwithstanding Article 19(6). The Court held that “a restriction placed on any Fundamental Right, aimed at securing Directive Principles will be held as reasonable and hence intra vires [as long as] it does not run in clear conflict with the fundamental right.” In light of Article 48, which directed the State to take steps to prohibit the slaughter of cows in order to preserve and improve breeds, the Court upheld the law, despite its deleterious affect upon 19(1)(g) rights. The Court did not, in this case, explain what it meant by a “clear conflict with the fundamental right”, which would presumably render even the DPSP-enforcing law unreasonable. Nonetheless, it is safe to assume that if Article 48 – following from V.G. Row – can justify a near-total ban on cow slaughter, then by the same logic, Article 47 can justify a near-total ban on the sale of alcohol. Consequently, in light of the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence, and the state of the law, a 19(1)(g) challenge to prohibition is unlikely to succeed.

The Article 14 issue

While the proposed prohibition law will perhaps survive Article 19 scrutiny, there is also the equality clause – Article 14 – to consider. As is well-known, the Court has evolved two tests to determine when Article 14 is violated. The older test requires an impugned classification to be based on an intelligible differentia, and to bear a rational nexus with the State purpose. The newer test simply prohibits ‘arbitrariness’. While ‘arbitrariness’ has been the dominant test over the last two decades, in recent cases (such as Centre for Public Interest Litigation v. Union of India), the Court has explicitly adopted the classification test.

While some of the case discussed above have also held that a legislation designed to advance the Directive Principles cannot, by virtue of that very fact, be arbitrary, the position becomes considerably more difficult if we understand Article 14 as requiring reasonable classification. This is because the Kerala government plans to impose prohibition while at the same time allowing 5-Star Hotels to continue serving alcohol. Here, the (potential) legislation would create a classification between 5-Star Hotels and all other establishments that ordinarily serve alcohol, with no discernible nexus with the State purpose (presumably, to preserve public health and public order).

Furthermore, there is direct precedent on the point. In 2005, the government of Maharashtra amended the Bombay Police Act, 1951 and prohibited “a performance of dance, of any kind or type, in any eating house, permit room or beer bar.” In the very next section, however, it created a specific exemption, inter alia, for three-star hotels and above. The Court invoked the classification test, and struck down the InfrastructureLawamendments to the Act. The government tried to defend the classification on the basis of the “type of crowd” that visited the regulated establishments (presumably, being more susceptible to moral deprivation by watching dance), an argument to which the Court gave extremely short shrift, holding merely that: in our opinion, all the aforesaid reasons are neither supported by any empirical data nor common sense. In fact, they would be within the realm of “myth” based on stereotype images.” The Court went on to hold that “a distinction, the foundation of which is classes of the establishments and classes/kind of persons, who frequent the establishment and those who own the establishments can not be supported under the constitutional philosophy so clearly stated in the Preamble of the Constitution of India and the individual Articles prohibiting discrimination on the basis of caste, colour, creed, religion or gender.

It would therefore seem to be beyond cavil that the basis of exempting 5-Star hotels from prohibition cannot withstand Article 14 scrutiny. Ironically, of course, the Kerala government could get around the Article 14 problem simply by prohibiting the sale of alcohol entirely, 5-Star hotels included. Whether it will do that is something that remains to be seen.

(Gautam Bhatia blogs at Indian Constitutional Law and Philosophy.)



Supreme Court of India

Competence and legitimacy: The Supreme Court’s opinions on the distribution of natural resources

GautamBhatia_SupremeCourtofIndiajpgWhat obligations does the State have when it decides to outsource the exploitation of natural resources to private parties? To what extent – if at all – can courts enforce those obligations? These questions have come to the forefront over the last few years and are bound to dominate the political and legal landscape for some time to come. Two events, in particular, have contributed to this: the 2G Spectrum Scam, and the Coal block allocation scam, political controversies that rocked the previous government, and which were ultimately litigated before the Supreme Court. While the Court has reserved its judgment in the latter case, it issued between 2012 and 2014, an assortment of opinions in the former (“the Spectrum Cases”). These opinions go some way towards clarifying the present Court’s stance on these two questions and provide some guidance towards anticipating how future cases will be decided.

Simplifying greatly, the 2G Spectrum controversy arose out of the government’s decision to allocate spectrum to telecommunications companies on a first-come-first-serve basis. The entire process was rent with irregularities, such as an arbitrary advancement of the deadline for applications, and was duly challenged before the Court (the First Spectrum Case). The challenge itself, however, went far beyond simply impugning the specifics of the individual case: it invited the Court to rule on the standards generally applicable to government’s alienation, transference, or distribution of natural resources – a question of policy, if there ever was one. The Court accepted the invitation. It held that in distributing natural resources, “the State [is] bound to act in consonance with the principles of equality and public trust and ensure that no action is taken which may be detrimental to public interest.”

LawSchoolInductionIn the operative part of the Court’s opinion, these three principles – equality, public trust, and public interest (or common good) as obligations governing the State’s conduct – are repeatedly run together with little attention paid to the second important question: what is the Court’s institutional role in holding the State to these obligations? Equality, of course, is a constitutionally enforceable duty enforceable in the courts under Article 14. Additionally, the Court derived the doctrine of public trust (that is, in distributing natural resources, the State acts as a trustee for the people), and public interest or common good (whose difference from public trust is never satisfactorily explained) from Article 39(b), which is a non-enforceable Directive Principle of State Policy. Armed with this, the Court then held that “when it comes to alienation of scarce natural resources like spectrum etc., it is the burden of the State to ensure that a non-discriminatory method is adopted for distribution and alienation, which would necessarily result in protection of national/public interest… a duly publicized auction conducted fairly and impartially is perhaps the best method for discharging this burden and the methods like first-come-first-served when used for alienation of natural resources/public property are likely to be misused by unscrupulous people who are only interested in garnering maximum financial benefit and have no respect for the constitutional ethos and values. In other words, while transferring or alienating the natural resources, the State is duty bound to adopt the method of auction by giving wide publicity so that all eligible persons can participate in the process.”

Non-discrimination under Article 14 and the public interest

The bench in the First Spectrum Case - Justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly.
The bench in the First Spectrum Case – Justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly.

This paragraph is worthy of close scrutiny. Essentially, the Court transforms what is meant to be an Article 14 enquiry (requiring the State to adopt a non-discriminatory method) into a public interest enquiry, by holding that non-discriminatory methods of distribution necessarily protect the public interest. It then substitutes its own vision of the public interest for that of the State’s, and holds that the only method consonant with that public interest is an auction (indeed, the Court expressly overrode the Telecome Regulatory Authority’s (TRAI) opinion in favour of a first-come-first-serve allotment by holding that TRAI could not “make recommendations which would deny people from participating in the distribution of national wealth and benefit a handful of persons.”)

Courts lack the institutional legitimacy and the competence to hold the government to some standards

The Court’s opinion is unfortunate, because it conflates the two very distinct questions that were outlined at the beginning of the essay. In finding that the government is bound by standards of equality, public trust and the common good, it automatically takes upon itself the task of determining the content of those standards, as well as their enforcement. This, however, is anything but obvious: there are many things that the State ought to do, which must be enforced at the ballot box, via social movements or elsewhere – but not in the courts. This is because one of two reasons might exist to prevent courts from ruling on the matter: reasons of institutional competence, and reasons of institutional legitimacy. Structurally, courts are not equipped and do not have the resources – that is, they lack the competence – to decide certain issues (such as, for instance, the allocation of resources in the national budget). Separately, as unelected bodies, courts have limited authority to interpret laws and protect constitutionally guaranteed rights – they cannot, for instance, frame policy, because that is something that the peoples’ elected representatives are exclusively authorised to do. For all its Article 14 gloss, the Court’s opinion arguably transgresses both these principles, and its failure to engage with them is doubly troubling.

The bench in the Second Spectrum Case - Justices D.K. Jain, S.H. Kapadia, Ranjan Gogoi, Dipak Misra, and J.S. Khehar.
The bench in the Second Spectrum Case – Justices D.K. Jain, S.H. Kapadia, Ranjan Gogoi, Dipak Misra, and J.S. Khehar.

The Government’s reaction was a Presidential Reference attempting to re-litigate the issue under the guise of seeking a clarification on the scope of the judgment. A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court retreated from the expansive position taken in the first of the Spectrum Cases. In the Second Spectrum Case, it focused on the use of the word “perhaps” in the previous opinion (“an auction is… perhaps the best method…), to hold that the First Spectrum Case was limited to its facts, and did not lay down any general principles. Unfortunately, the Second Spectrum Case, like its predecessor, failed to engage with issues of institutional competence and legitimacy. Once again, it took refuge in the boundlessly manipulable category of Article 14 “arbitrariness” to hold that “when… a policy [of distribution of natural resources] is not backed by a social or welfare purpose, and precious and scarce natural resources are alienated to private entrepreneurs for commercial pursuits… adoption of means other than those that are competitive and maximise revenue may be arbitrary and face the wrath of Article 14.”

There are two ways of reading the above paragraph. One is that the Court, while narrowing the actual reach of the First Spectrum Case, has kept alive its overall import: public interest and the common good will determine what is or is not arbitrary under Article 14, and that determination ultimately vests with the Courts, to be exercised on a case to case basis. There is, however, another interpretation, which comes through in a subsequent paragraph: if the objective of a particular distribution is not directly social welfare or common good, but indirectly aims at that goal through maximising State revenue, then non-competitive methods will attract Article 14. For example, in the case of spectrum, if the government’s objective in allocating it to private parties is to maximise revenue (which it then – presumably – uses to further the common good), then a non-auction-based method violates Article 14. Notice that this is very close to the traditional Article 14 two-pronged test of intelligible differentia and rational nexus: clearly, differentiating spectrum applicants into those who applied before and after the cut-off date (first-come-first-served) bears no rational nexus with the purpose of revenue maximisation. Indeed, the Court seemed to be heading towards this conclusion (although it didn’t specifically make it), when it held in a subsequent paragraph: “Where revenue maximization is the object of a policy, being considered qua that resource at that point of time to be the best way to subserve the common good, auction would be one of the preferable methods, though not the only method. Where revenue maximization is not the object of a policy of distribution, the question of auction would not arise. Revenue considerations may assume secondary position to developmental considerations.”

The future development of the Court’s jurisprudence depends on which reading of the Second Spectrum Case – narrow or broad – is adopted by future Courts. In this essay, I’ve tried to suggest that it is the narrow reading – one that limits itself to a rigorous intelligible-differentia-rational-nexus Article 14 analysis – is truer to the institutional role of the Court.

Going beyond Article 14

The bench in the Third Spectrum Case - Justices Vikramjit Sen and K.S. Radhakrishnan.
The bench in the Third Spectrum Case – Justices Vikramjit Sen and K.S. Radhakrishnan.

In addition to the core arguments outlined above, the concepts of public trust and public good have played an additional role as background principle guiding the interpretation of legal provisions. In the Third Spectrum Case, a controversy arose over whether the Comptroller and Auditor General (“CAG”) was authorised to demand an audit of private telecom companies under its Article 149 powers. The key question was whether, in Article 149, the term “… any other authority or body”, that came after “Union” and “States” included purely private entities (which were therefore subject to a CAG audit). On a textual reading, it would seem that – on the principle of noscitur a sociis – the term was limited to bodies of a public or quasi-public character. The Court held, however, that when the executive deals with the natural resources, like spectrum, which belongs to the people of this country, Parliament should know how the nation’s wealth has been dealt with by the executive and even by the UAS Licence holders. When nation’s wealth, like spectrum, is being dealt with by even the private parties, like service providers, they are accountable to the people and to the Parliament.” On a similar note, in Reliance Natural Resources Ltd. v. Reliance Industries Ltd., which involved an extremely complex dispute over the fixing of gas prices, the Court invoked the international law principle that a nations’ people have ultimate sovereignty over natural resources and the public trust doctrine, along with Articles 39(b) and (c) of the Constitution, to interpret Article 297 of the Constitution as prohibiting the State from entering “into a contract that permits extraction of resources in a manner that would abrogate its permanent sovereignty over such resources”, and that the State could not, inter alia, “transfer title of those resources after their extraction unless the [State] receives just and proper compensation.” These two cases demonstrate that Article 14 is not the only recourse available to the Court: it can use the public trust doctrine, and other similar concepts, as background principles to interpret constitutional and other provisions to conform to their requirements. How far it will go down that path before interpretation becomes invention, again, remains to be seen.

(Gautam Bhatia blogs at Indian Constitutional Law and Philosophy.)

Supreme Court of India

Supreme Court invites public scrutiny of top bureaucracy in corruption cases

ShadanFarasat_SupremeCourtofIndiaFrom the 1950s to the 1970s, constitutional issues were regularly decided by Constitution benches of the Supreme Court comprising of at least five judges. Today, such decisions have become rare. It is not uncommon to see the correctness of a decision from a bench of two or three judges on a constitutional issue questioned within a year or two by another bench of two or three judges, which then refers the question to a larger bench. A decision of a Constitution bench on the other hand, has the advantage of expressing a position of law that will prevail for much longer than a similar decision from a bench of two or three judges.

It was therefore refreshing to see a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court give a unanimous decision on May 6, 2014 in Subramanian Swamy v. Director, CBI, W.P. (Civil) No. 38 of 1997 and W.P. (Civil) No. 21 of 2004. The Court found that Section 6-A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 (“DSPE Act, 1946”) was unconstitutional because it violated Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

Section 6-A was added to the DSPE Act, 1946 by Section 26 (c) of the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003 and provided that no investigation or enquiry could be conducted under the DSPE Act without the prior approval of the Central Government, in respect of allegations under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 against employees of the Central Government above the level of Joint Secretary and officers appointed by the Central Government in corporations owned by it. Section 6A was challenged on the ground that it created a separate class of offenders and sought to protect them from investigation for corruption offences. The position that such a classification was not permitted was articulated by the amicus curiae Senior Advocate Anil Divan,  Advocate Prashant Bhushan (an advocate in the 2004 petition), and Gopal Sankarnaraynan, an advocate for an intervenor. Interestingly, Subramanian Swamy, whose name the reported decision will bear, did not argue the matter in court, even through an advocate.

The response of the government, which was articulated by two of its law officers, was that higher bureaucrats in government and government owned corporations are responsible for important policy decisions and that such a protection was necessary to allow them to take decisions fearlessly without worrying about harassment through false criminal cases.

Speaking for the Court, Chief Justice of India R. M. Lodha held that the difference that was sought to be carved out between higher officials and lower officials in respect of prosecution for corruption cases was itself discriminatory and therefore, the classification envisaged in Section 6-A was devoid of intelligible differentia as the object of the intelligible differentia cannot be itself discriminatory. The Court found Section 6-A in violation of Article 14 on this ground alone and did not embark upon the second query of whether the intelligible differentia furthers the legislative objective of the enactment, because the legislative objective itself was discriminatory. The relevant finding of the Court (in paragraphs 67 and 69) is extracted below.


This finding can prove crucial for challenging the constitutionality of a range of provisions in legislations, where the political class has rather opportunistically protected itself from public scrutiny. Many of these provisions relate to election law, where through various amendments, a large number of exceptions have been provided to the political class from scrutiny, including scrutiny of funding and political expenses. The limit on expenses under Section 77 of the Representation of People Act, 1951 for example applies only to expenses made or authorised by candidates and not expenses made by the political party, leaving it open for political parties to flood elections with unaccounted money. Similarly, Section 13A read with Section 29C of the Income Tax Act, 1961 mandate disclosure of contributions made to political parties only when they are above Rs. 20,000. Political parties have misused this provision to hide their actual sources of income by showing most of their income as contributions below Rs. 20,000 from the sale of coupons to party workers.

Both these provisions are likely to fail the mandate that the object of the legislation or the amendment itself has to be non-discriminatory. This test, which has actually existed ever since the concept of “intelligible differentia” was envisaged, has been reinstated with this Constitution bench decision and now provides an important basis for challenging the constitutionality of those laws where the unconstitutional objectives of the provisions are writ large in the provision itself. All it will now take is for a willing court to describe the provisions of law for what they are – expressions of a discriminatory objective to give the powerful political class an advantage in the society.

(Shadan Farasat is an Advocate-on-Record at the Supreme Court of India)

Supreme Court of India

Previous sanction requirement for prosecuting senior bureaucrats for corruption offences struck down – the Article 14 thicket grows denser

GautamBhatia_SupremeCourtofIndiajpgThis week, in Centre for Public Interest Litigation v. Union of India, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court struck down Section 6A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 (“DSPE Act”). The Section, which had been inserted into the enactment through a 2003 amendment (with a tortuous history of its own), prohibited inquiries or investigations of offences alleged to have been committed under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 without the prior approval of the Central Government, if such allegations were made – inter alia – against certain senior government officials (Joint Secretary and above), and officials appointed in government corporations. Section 6A thus created two classes of officials, one of which could be investigated for corruption without prior sanction and the other, which could not. This classification was challenged under Article 14 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court upheld the challenge.

In order to survive an Article 14 challenge, the government must demonstrate three things. There must be an intelligible differentia between the two groups that have been treated differently. This differential treatment must bear a rational nexus with a governmental purpose. And the purpose itself must be legitimate. This is accepted doctrine, established in cases such as Budhan Choudhry v. State of Bihar, and Rama Krishna Dalmia v. Justice S.R. Tendolkar (both cases that the Court cites).

Unfortunately, the Court’s opinion omits these distinct enquiries. This renders the basis of its judgment uncertain, and leaves the law in a state of some confusion.

The government’s argument was straightforward. High-level government officials must repeatedly take important decisions. They must take them swiftly and without the benefit of hindsight. Repeated and frivolous allegations of corruption will invariably exercise a chilling effect upon their behaviour. Often, they will prefer inaction over taking a controversial decision that could subsequently land them in court, answering corruption charges. Section 6A is important just to avoid this policy paralysis. Thus, governmental efficiency is the legitimate purpose with which this classification bears a rational nexus.

A response to this could do one of four things: challenge the intelligibility of the classification, its nexus with the stated purpose, whether the stated purpose is the actual purpose, and if so, whether it is a legitimate purpose.

Surprisingly, however, the Court begins its analysis by ignoring the government’s stated purpose altogether. In Paragraph 58, it notes:

It seems to us that classification which is made in Section 6-A on the basis of status in the Government service is not permissible under Article 14 as it defeats the purpose of finding prima facie truth into the allegations of graft, which amount to an offence under the PC Act, 1988.”

LR-BlogAdAdmittedly, the purpose of the Prevention of Corruption Act is to expose corruption. Yet the stated purpose of S. 6A of the DSPE Act, which is under consideration, is different: to achieve efficiency by insulating “decision-making officials” from frivolous allegations. The Court spends a significant part of its opinion demolishing a straw-man. It argues – with perfect truth – that making a distinction between higher and lower officials bears no rational nexus with exposing corruption, because “irrespective of their status or position, corrupt public servants are corrupters of public power. The corrupt public servants, whether high or low, are birds of the same feather and must be confronted with the process of investigation and inquiry equally.” The Court makes a number of observations about the need for an unhampered, unbiased, free, and fearless enquiry into corruption, and the role and purpose of the CBI more generally. But in so doing, the Court substitutes the government’s stated purpose with a purpose it imports from a different statute, without providing reasons for the same. Having done so, it enters a finding of irrationality in the scheme of classification.

It is difficult not feel that its suspicion of a corrupt and self-serving political class has played a role in the Court’s thinking. Immediately after its most conclusive statement of no-rational-nexus, the Court observes:

“There will be no confidentiality and insulation of the investigating agency from political and bureaucratic control and influence because the approval is to be taken from the Central Government which would involve leaks and disclosures at every stage.”

That is no doubt an undesirable state of affairs, but one that, in a Constitutional democracy based on the separation of powers, is meant to be punished by the voters at the ballot box. A bad situation of governance is not an Article 14 violation.

The Court then shifts tack. In Paragraph 67, it holds:

“The object of Section 6-A, that senior public servants of the level of Joint Secretary and above who take policy decision must not be put to any harassment, side-tracks the fundamental objective of the PC Act, 1988 to deal with corruption and act against senior public servants. The CBI is not able to proceed even to collect the material to unearth prima facie substance into the merits of allegations. Thus, the object of Section 6-A itself is discriminatory.”

This is a very curious statement. The Court rules that because the objective of S. 6A (a legally enacted provision of a statute) is in conflict with the objective of another legally enacted statute (the Prevention of Corruption Act), it is an illegitimate objective. Both the DSPE and the PC Acts, however, enjoy the same legal status in our hierarchy of norms. A finding of illegitimate objective surely needs something more than an existing conflict with an equally authoritative norm.

The Court punctuates its legal findings with rhetorical flourishes about equality before law, noting that it is singing to the tune of the aphorism, “However high you may be, the law is above you.” Insofar as this applies to different procedural requirements for prosecuting the same offence, this is simply untrue. Sanction-for-prosecution requirements exist in a number of laws, most controversially, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958. The Court expressly holds that it is concerned with the validity of sanction-for-prosecution more generally, but is concerned only with this case. Yet the seeming basis for judgment – that you can’t have different legal regimes for different persons, based on their status – cuts much wider and deeper, and calls into question a number of legislations – which, evidently, the Court did not intend. Yet it is where it must explain why this statutory provision specifically violates Article 14 that the Court stumbles.

It is only towards the end of the judgment that the Court briefly engages with the government’s argument. Noting that there has been no recorded case of frivolous harassment of officials, and noting that the classification assumes that out of all investigative organisations, harassment is limited to the CBI, it dismisses the argument. This, of course, is the quintessential Article 14 enquiry into the relationship between the stated purpose and the classification. Unfortunately, it is limited to two paragraphs, and the Court does not explain what standard of scrutiny it is applying, what degree of deference is due to the government, and what evidence it considers relevant.

Ultimately, the Court’s decision is – arguably – correct. The reasoning however, only extends the ad hoc jurisprudence that has come to characterise one of the most important fundamental rights of our Constitution. That is a pity.

(Gautam Bhatia blogs at Indian Constitutional Law and Philosophy.)