The Supreme Court’s recent observations on Parliament’s authority to create Union Territories (UTs) from existing States, as presented in the judgment regarding the repeal of Article 370 and the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act 2019, reflect a nuanced interpretation of constitutional provisions and their implications.
Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, leading the Constitution Bench, highlighted the affirmation of Parliament’s power to create the Union Territory of Ladakh from the former State of Jammu and Kashmir. This validation was grounded in the interpretation of Article 3(a) of the Indian Constitution, which empowers Parliament to form new States by various means, including the separation of territory from an existing State. The Court underlined that Explanation 1 to Article 3 extends the definition of “State” to include Union territories, thereby legitimizing the creation of UTs from existing States.
However, a pivotal aspect left open for future interpretation was whether Parliament could diminish statehood by converting a State into one or more Union Territories. The Court emphasized the need for a comprehensive evaluation of the implications, including the impact on autonomy, historical context, federalism, and representative democracy in such state-to-UT conversions. This observation stressed the importance of considering the broader constitutional principles while interpreting the extent of powers under Article 3.
Regarding the role of the concerned State’s views in reorganisation matters, the Court clarified that although Article 3’s proviso allows for the State legislature’s opinion, it remains recommendatory and not binding on Parliament. Relying on prior legal precedent, the Court established that Parliament’s actions during the dissolution of the State Assembly and imposition of Presidential rule were valid, as the State legislature’s views do not mandate Parliamentary decisions.
Justice Sanjiv Khanna, concurring with the judgment, offered a cautionary note about the conversion of a State into a Union Territory. He highlighted the serious implications of such conversions, including depriving citizens of an elected state government and infringing upon federalism. Justice Khanna emphasized that converting or creating a UT from a State requires compelling justifications and strict compliance with the constitutional provisions outlined in Article 3.
The Court’s observations, elucidating the delicate balance between parliamentary powers, federal structure, and the rights of States, underscore the complexity of constitutional matters involving reorganisation. The ruling reaffirms Parliament’s discretion in carving out Union Territories from existing States while signaling the need for a more profound deliberation on the constitutional dimensions and consequences of such conversions.