Critical Analysis of State of West Bengal V. Anwar Ali

INTRODUCTION The case being dealt with in this paper is State of West Bengal v.

Anwar Ali Sarkar. This case deals mainly with the applicability of Article 14 of the Constitution of India on the West Bengal Special Courts Act, 1950 and the Court was to decide on whether the Act was unconstitutional or valid. I am going to analyze the judgment given by the Supreme Court in this regard. STATEMENT OF FACTS

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The respondent and 49 other persons were charged with various offences alleged to have been committed by them in the course of their raid as an armed gang on a certain factory known as the Jessop Factory at Dum Dum, Calcutta and they were convicted and sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment by the Special Court to which the case was sent for trial by the Governor of West Bengal by a notification dated 26th January, 1950, in exercise of the powers conferred by section 5 (1) of the Act.

Thereupon the respondent applied to the High Court under article 226 of the Constitution for the issue of a writ of certiorari quashing the conviction and sentence on the ground that the Special Court had no jurisdiction to try the case inasmuch as section 5 (1), under which it was sent to that Court for trial, was unconstitutional and void under article 13(2) as it denied to the respondent the equal protection of the laws enjoined by article 14.

Under the West Bengal Special Courts Act, 1950:

Section 3 of the Act empowers the State Government, by a Notification in the official gazette to constitute special courts of criminal jurisdiction for such areas and to sit at such places as may be specified in the notification and more than one Special Court may be constituted for the same area or to sit at the same place. Section 4 empowers the State Government to appoint special judges to preside over such Special Courts and the classifications for such appointments are set out in the section.

Following this appears Section 5 which is the section which has been mainly the subject-matter of attack in this case. Clause 1 of the Section says A Special Court shall try such offences or classes of offences or cases or classes of cases, as the State Government may, by general or special order in writing, direct. Sections 6 to 15 prescribe the special procedure which the court has to follow in the trial of cases referred to it.


The main issue in this case was whether the West Bengal Special courts Act, 1950 constituting special courts and empowering State Government to refer to such courts “cases” or “offences” or “classes of cases” or “classes of offences is constitutional or not. And whether the object and effect of the law go hand in hand or not as per the intensions of the legislature. Judgment The judgment in this case, was given by a seven judge bench constituting of, Chief Justice Patanjali Shastri, Justice Fazl Ali, Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan, Justice Mukherjee, Justice C. R.

Das, Justice Chandrashekhara Ayyar, Justice Vivian Bose. There were three opnion in this case with the Chief Justice, Patanjali Shastri gaving his Minority opinion in this case, and Justice Das came up with a balancing opnion. The rest of the judges, forming the majority, held the West Bengal Act unconstitutional and dismissed the appeal. According to the minority opinion of Chief Justice Patanjali Shastri, it is a guiding principle of administrative law and mere conferment of discretion on the executive ipso facto does not amount of presumption that the law would be misused or abused.

Mere arbitrariness should not be presumed as there should be definite proof of such arbitrariness of executive which is run by rational humans thus their judgment should not be considered worthless. Where there may be a clear violation of right to equality, and its ipso facto not proved, such an assumption that power has been misused is wrong. The object test and the effect test have to be followed. That is when misuse is being proved first the object and then the effect of it needs to be proved.

According to him, a situation has to come when one can judge according to that situation whether there has been a misuse or not and if there instance an instance of misuse proved the law should be struck down. This judgment seemed to be according to the British Common law model where they believed that the Legislature was the best judge of people’s interests.

Justice C. R. Das gave the balancing opinion in this case. According to him, when one puts together the categories of (1) cases and such classes of cases, and (2) offences and such classes of offences the nus is given to the executive to decide which kind of case should be assigned to which court or whether a certain case should be sent to Special Court or not. Merely the practice of exercising this decision is not important the context in which discretion was exercised is also important. In normal circumstances the matter is tried by an ordinary court under ordinary law but in special cases, accompanied by such classes of offences that are grave in nature beyond the normal parlance of occurrence, merely ordinary law cannot be involved in guiding the case.

Number of people affected, circumstances of the event, magnitude of crime and nature of offences must be taken into account. In these conditions, special laws and special courts are appointed. Although prima facie the West Bengal law may seem discriminatory the context as to whether the law was used correctly has to be examined and also whether there was room for further use or misuse or abuse of this power Justice C. R. Das concurred with the majority opinion and laid down that a law’s validity can be traced back to circumstances under which it was formed.

He clearly said that the object of the Act cannot be basis of classification and that cases need to be classified according to the object of the Act. Thus the history of that time and the crime that the law sought to prevent has to be studied. This was the prevailing ration till the R. C. Cooper, Bennett Coleman cases came where along with intelligible differentia and the nexus of differentia with the object of the law, the Supreme Court also began looking at the effect that these laws had on people’s Fundamental Rights.

The majority ruled the case against State of West Bengal and held the West Bengal Law void as it gave arbitrary power to the executive and the legislature to decide which cases are to go a special Court and which ones are to be decided by a normal Court without making any classification in the law itself. Analysis In this case, we see that the language in Section 5 (1) says that the Special Court shall try cases and classes of cases, but it does not define that class.

Then Sections 6 to 15 lay down the procedure the Court should follow but does not mention when that procedure is necessary as in when should a case go to the Special Court, to make that procedure necessary. Thus in this case I will analyse as to the reason the judgment of a Supreme Court went in favour of a gangster namely Anwar Ali Sarkar. According to Justice Mukherjee, if the legislature takes care to reasonably classify persons for legislative purposes and if it deals equally with all persons within a well-defined class, it is not open to the charge of denial of equal protection on the ground that the law does not apply to other persons.

It is also said and observed that there should be a nexus between the basis of classification and the object of the legislation.

From the case Chiranjit Lal Chowdhuri v. Union of India we know that it is not that Right to Equality under Article 14 of the Constitution, means that the same rule of law would be applicable to all and same punishment will be given to all irrespective of the differences in circumstances amongst different classes of individuals in the country.

Similarly circumstanced individuals have to be treated equally in terms of privileges and liabilities that is people who are similarly circumstanced should be a part of a well-defined class and all the people within that well defined class, needs to be treated equally. Thus if a group of people have to be treated differently, then that group has to be well defined. If that group is well defined then the members of that group should be treated equally.

That creation of different groups will not be enough as those people classified as belonging to that group should be legally classified.

The legislature cannot create a group of people who will have to remain slaves. Every, legislation has an object it wants to achieve. That object has to be legal. Then the group has to be classified in accordance with that legal object. Thus, when a law is challenged before a Court as violating the equal protection clause mention under article 14 of the Constitution, the Court before deciding whether there has been any inequality has to decide whether the classification made in the legislation is in tandems with the object of the legislation.

In the present case, we find that the object of the law was to provide for speedier trials, which itself is too vague, uncertain and elusive as the legislature does not define which are the offences which in its view should be dealt with quickly and require speedier trial as there were no class of people or a class of offences that was defines in the Act. So leave alone that the classification was made according to the object, as there was no classification made in the first place. The objective of having a speedy trial is that it should not take much time.

The concept owes its origin to the popular adage, “Delay Defeats Justice”. If a case has to be put under the Jurisdiction of a special Court, equal protection of the law and the equal basis on the procedure that law should be applied in, is important so that a different procedure is not followed for people accused of the same crime, and even when the purpose of a trial by a special court passes the test of article 14, the provision of a more onerous procedure than the ordinary, may offend the requirement of “fairness” under Article 21 and invalidate the law as the procedure established must be just and fair.

But in the present case, the West Bengal Act left an open room for the Government to give special treatment to people accused of the same crime. It simply meant that if there are two accused gangsters, one may be tried by the normal procedure while other might have to face the consequences of a special procedure.

It is there is a law that a yardstick needs to be provided for cases and offences so as to separate those certain cases and offenses from the others which will not fall under the purview of the Act. So, in a later case, since it was specified in the preamble of the Act that the Government was to select classes cases or offences for trial in a Special Court, which would affect public safety and maintenance of public order.

Anwar Ali’s case and the Saurashtra case were decided at almost the same time but in the latter the law made by the legislature was valid while in the former it was invalid simply because the latter laid down some valid ground of classification which was of public importance while the former laid down no classification to direct the Government, which could in that case use arbitrary power to select as the selection would be left to the free and absolute discretion of the Government, with absolutely nothing to guide or control its action.

Thus, when the standard or guide furnished by a statute is vague or uncertain or there is no standard left at all as in this case, it results to absence if any guide and thus such a statute got struck down in the majority opinion. The administrative authority’s intention is that which is becomes material in case of such a law which does not lay down any guide but give the administrative authority the freedom to decide. Law is non-discriminatory but its administration is challenged as discriminatory, the question of intention of the administrative authority becomes material.

That intention might be good or bad. According to the minority opinion of the Chief Justice sitting in this case that the Administrative body is filled with rational individuals. But if there is absolutely nothing to direct their action it will be difficult to judge which action of theirs is rational and which is irrational.

Justice Chandrashekhara Aiyar, in his judgment listed the seven principles formulated by Justice Fazl Ali, which he distilled out in Chiranjit Lal Chowdhri’s case. The presumption is always in favour of the constitutionality of an enactment, since it must be understood that the legislature understands and correctly appreciates the needs of its own people. That its laws are directed to problems made manifest by experience and its discrimination is based on adequate grounds. * The presumption may be rebutted in certain cases by showing that on the face of the statute, there is to classification at all and no difference peculiar to any individual or class and not applicable to any other individual or class, and yet the law hits only a particular individual or class. The principle of equality does not mean that every law must have universal application for all persons who are not be nature, attainment or circumstances in the same position, and the varying needs of different classes of persons often require separate treatment.

* The principle does not take away from the State the power of classifying persons for legitimate purposes. * Every classification is in some degree likely to produce some inequality, and mere production of inequality is not enough. If a law deals equally with members of a well-defined class, it is not obnoxious and it is not open to the charge of denial of equal protection on the ground that it has no application to other persons. * While reasonable classification is permissible, such classification must be based upon some real and substantial distinction bearing a reasonable and just relation to the object sought to be attained, and the classification cannot be made arbitrarily and without any substantial basis. So we see from the first principle, that it is supportive of the minority opinion in this case.

But soon after the second principle favours the majority decision that if there is no classification at all, and yet the law hits a particular case then that presumption of a rational executive and a legislature can be rebutted. Again the sixth and seventh principles are also favourable of the majority opinion that there needs to be a nexus between the object of the law and the classification made. In this case however there was no classification made yet an individual case of Anwar Ali was be directed to be tried in a Special Court. This gave arbitrary powers to the State to discriminate in an unjustified manner.

These seven principles are very important to understand the Right to Equality under Article 14 of the Constitution. If we observe the argument of the minority opinion, given by the Chief Justice, saying that a law cannot be assumed to be discriminator until and unless a case of discrimination has occurred, according to me he is contradicting himself as he is assuming the executive to be filled with rational human beings who will not misuse their power and take rational decisions.

So, by telling us that assumptions should not be made, he himself is making a very controversial assumption.

On the other hand Justice Mukherjee clearly acknowledged the fact by citing the case of Skinner v. Oklahoma, that the authorities may discriminate between individuals and send them for trial in a Special Court when such discrimination is not justified. Thus I will conclude by saying that the majority opinion was correct in this case as the West Bengal Act was unconstitutional as its object of speedier trials should be the implied object of any Act and moreover it gave arbitrary powers to the executive and such laws should be nipped in the bud instead of allowing such arbitrariness to first occur and then make a decision.