“I am confident that complete justice will be done in my case”, this sentiment is echoed by every individual across our nation. Each and every person holds on to faith that complete justice will be delivered. Our constitution has incorporated an extremely powerful provision that vests upon the Apex Court of our country, a medium to ensure that complete justice is delivered. This provision is enacted under Article 118 of the draft Constitution of India which was later embodied as Article 142 of the Indian Constitution. It is a sword that hangs in the balance of judicial review and judicial overreach. The judiciary only under extreme cases entertains the application of Article 142. That is why invoking Article 142 which led to the release of the person incarcerated for the assassination of Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi left our country rattled. Prima facie it might seem like such an act would cause a hue and cry, however dwelling into the case one would find that the reality is filled with judicial underreach and bureaucratic overreach.
Evolution of the scope of Article 142
The Supreme Court is given the authority to issue orders under Article 142(1) of the Constitution “as is necessary for doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it.” On May 27, 1949, the Constituent Assembly enacted article 142, which was draft article 118, without discussion. Its legality and limitations are significant issues that need to be resolved. The purpose of Article 142(1) is to ensure that the Supreme Court is not required to rely on the government to carry out its decisions and decrees. Such reliance would go against the fundamental tenets of the Constitution, that is, the independence of the court and the separation of powers. The grant of these extraordinary powers is carried out by the Honorable Supreme Court passing an “enforceable decree or order.” The Constitution’s Article 142 was given its first substantial interpretation in a constrained, more impartial manner. In the case of Prem Chand Garg v. Excise Commissioner, U.P., a condition was added to the use of broad extraordinary powers by noting that, notwithstanding their extent, the powers are ancillary and may only be employed where they are not expressly at odds with the substantive legal provisions. In Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar v. State of Maharashtra, a nine-judge bench supported this position, and a seven-judge bench confirmed it in A.R. Antulaj v. R.S. Nayak.
K.M. Nanavati v. State of Bombay is one of the earliest examples of a broad interpretation. Even if the case did not analyse the problem at hand explicitly, some insights are enlightening. The Supreme Court has the discretionary jurisdiction under Article 136 to grant special permission to appeal from any judgment, and Sinha, C.J., speaking for the majority, decided that Article 142 has the ability to pass appropriate orders incidental or ancillary to the exercise of that power. The language of Article 161, which gives the Governors the authority to award pardons, reprieves, etc., is contrasted by the Court. The Supreme Court elevated the scope of its authority by designating Article 142 as a component of the Constitution’s fundamental structure in an illustrious decision of a three-judge Bench in Delhi Judicial Service Association v. State of Gujarat. The Constitution Bench that decided Union Carbide Corp. v. Union of India agreed with the observations in the Delhi Judicial Services case. The Supreme Court Bar Association v. U.O.I. ruling by a five-judge benchmarked a turning point in interpretation of Article 142. By ruling that the Bar Council of India alone has the authority to suspend an advocate under the Advocates Act and that the Supreme Court cannot usurp this authority by citing Article 142, the Court in this judgment corrected the error of In Re, Vinaj Chandra Mishra.
‘Complete Justice’ or ‘Complete Injustice’?
According to Article 142, “complete justice” is a relative term that depends on the particular facts and circumstances of each case. This type of arbitrary wording in the provision itself leaves room for discretion and lacks any sort of definite balance that might be readily abused if not well-defined, but on the other hand, defining total justice is quite subjective. Another crucial factor to consider is whether or not the article’s scope can be expanded using statutory interpretation in the given factual context. Similar to how the definition of justice might vary depending on the circumstances, how can “complete justice” be defined when there is no accepted definition of it anywhere. There are two aspects of “complete justice” that need to be taken into consideration. First, we need to know the scope of the court’s authority to carry out complete justice.” This was covered in the case of A. Jideranath v. Jubilee Hills Co-Op House Building Society, where the court held that when exercising its authority under Article 142 to carry out “complete justice,” the court must ensure that no injustice is meted out to anyone who is not a party to the lawsuit. In Secretary, State of Kerala v. Umadevi, the Supreme Court expressed a similar viewpoint, opining that the term “complete justice” should be defined as justice in line with the law and not as justice at the expense of disobeying a statutory provision. This indicates that the authority granted to the courts to “achieve complete justice” is not unconditional; rather, the courts must use great care in carrying out the authority granted to them by Article 142. The complete justice clause can only be used for procedural reasons, according to these views. To prevent injustice under the umbrella of complete justice, it is necessary to discuss the nature and scope of the powers that this article grants to the judiciary. The nature and scope of the Article remain everchanging as its applicability depends on the nature of the circumstances. The recent enactment of the Article provided yet another scope for the application of the Article that empowered the Apex Court to intervene and provide complete justice.
The Rajiv Gandhi Assassination Case: facts and beyond
A.G. Perarivalan, the man responsible for equipping the suicide bomber who was directly responsible for the death of the Former Prime Minister. He accepted and admitted to having been the person who provided two 9-Volt Golden powered batteries that were integral for the blast to occur. Following his admission, he was sentenced to death by the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities(TADA) Court in 1999. This decision of the TADA Court was upheld by the Supreme Court. However, in 2014 his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. In 2015, Perarivalan attempted to seek remission by having the Governor invoke their powers under Article 161. Article 161 confers upon the Governor of any State the power to release, remit, and commute any sentence of a convicted person. The Governor’s office provided no response to Perarivalan’s request due to which he moved to the Supreme Court seeking recourse. The Supreme Court made it clear that it was the Governor’s responsibility to decide upon the petition. The Cabinet of Tamil Nadu unanimously recommended the release of the man. Perarivalan had already served three decades in prison and with the exception of penalty under Section 302, IPC, had served and completed serving the penalty for all his other grievances. The Governor still did not address his petition which led to the Madras High Court issuing a statement that undue delay cannot be entertained and it is the responsibility of the Governor to address matters in a timely manner. This statement was propounded by the Apex Court. The Governor in a surprising turn of events forwarded the file of Perarivalan to the President’s office. This act of the Governor calls into question his ability to do so. it was ultimately decided that the Governor is not entitled to such recourse. The Supreme Court applied and made use of the powers vested upon them through Article 142 through which that taking into consideration the prolonged delay and unexplainable silence over the case the Supreme Court has decided to not remand the matter back to the Governor. Instead of taking a holistic view of Perarivalans situation into consideration, the Supreme Court finally granted him bail post which his request for remission was accepted.
Article 142 has always walked the tightrope having to balance judicial activism and judicial overreach. It is important to note that while there exists no predetermined time frame for the Governor to act and respond to their duties under Article 161, an undue delay is unacceptable. The People look to the constitutional post with faith and trust that their matters will be adjudicated in a fair and timely manner, Failure to do so by the office might call for the Court to interfere. The Governor of the State of Tamil Nadu sat on the petition for close to five years before making an unprecedented and now as it is held unconstitutional decision, The Case of Perarivalan was pending before the office of the Governor. Remission was sought under the powers provided through Article 161. The recommendation for the release was unanimously made by the State Cabinet. This provided the Governor with no opportunity to pass on the file to the President for review. Perarivalans conduct, conviction, educational qualification during his time in imprisonment and heal maladies would need to be taken into consideration and a decision would have to be made. The Supreme Court rightly invoked its power to do complete justice under Article 142. The matter was pending before it as Perarivalan sought the reprieve of the Supreme Court upon the failure of the Governor to address his petition. The Supreme Court adjudicated and released Perarivalan after taking holistically taking his situation into account.
Article 142 gives the Supreme Court an unprecedented amount of power to intervene in affairs in an attempt to ensure complete justice is achieved. However, it is vital to ensure that the Judicial system maintains its position and does not dismantle the stability and individuality of the three pillars of our democratic nation. As H.M. Seervai once said, “Paradoxically, the greatest danger to the administration of justice and constitutional interpretation arises from the genuine desire of Judges to do justice in each individual case.” Keeping that in mind the application of Article 142 must be highly selective and done only with the utmost consideration of the separation of powers while ensuring that complete justice is delivered.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Garvita is a third-year law student pursuing BBA.LLB at Gujarat National Law University. She has developed a keen interest in Corporate law and Dispute Resolution. Apart from this, she is enthusiastic about legal research and drafting. Alongside academics, she beholds a deep passion for music.
Janya is a third-year law student pursuing BA.LLB at Gujarat National Law University. She is highly interested in pursing Corporate law. She is also interested in Air and Space Law and developing foreign policy. Apart from academics, she likes to play the piano.