Once Central Law is held unconstitutional by a High Court, it becomes invalid across the country: Madras High Court

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The Madras High Court recently quashed two notifications issued by the Tamil Nadu government after noting that the Central Rules on which they were based, were earlier deemed unconstitutional by the Bombay High Court [V Sundararaj v. Registrar General, High Court of Judicature at Madras & Ors].

Justices R Subramanian and L Victoria Gowri of the Madurai Bench held,

“The law is settled to the effect that once a provision of the Central Law or a Rule is held to be unconstitutional by a High Court, the same would stand effaced from the statute book in respect of the entire Nation and it cannot be said that it would not be valid within the jurisdiction of the particular High Court and it would be valid in other areas,” the Court said while quashing the notifications.

The Court thus reiterated the law laid down by the Supreme Court in Kusum Ingots & Alloys Ltd v. Union of India and another.

Issued in July 2022, the notifications in question invited applications from eligible candidates for appointment to the District and the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions. They were based on the Consumer Protection (Qualification for Appointment, Method of recruitment, Procedure of Appointment, Term of Office, Resignation and Removal of President and Member of the State Commission and District Commission) Rules, 2020 notified by the Central government.

These Rules had been held unconstitutional by the Bombay High Court through a judgment pronounced in September 2021.

The Court further noted that the Bombay High Court judgment had also been confirmed by the Supreme Court in March this year.

The Bench was hearing a petition filed by one V Sundararaj, who argued that the Rules – particularly Rule 3(2)(b), 4(2)(c) and Rule 6(9) of the 2020 Rules – which related to requirement of experience and gave sweeping powers to the Selection Committee, had been held as unconstitutional by the Bombay High Court.

The Tamil Nadu government, however, argued that its notifications had been issued in accordance with the law. It further said that it had issued the notifications in compliance with a previous judgment of the Supreme Court, which had called for all vacancies in consumer fora across states to be filled up.

The Supreme Court had directed that the process of filing up of vacancies which have already been initiated should not be impeded by the judgment of the Bombay High Court, considering the importance of filling up of vacancies and considering that in some cases, appointments had already been made or the process was in an advanced stage, the State government argued.

The High Court, however, noted that while the Supreme Court’s suo motu judgment was delivered in 2021, the State government had issued its notifications much later in July 2022, almost 10 months after the Bombay High court judgment.

The Court agreed with the petitioner’s submission that once any Rules framed by the Central government were held as unconstitutional by a High Court, they became invalid across the country and not just within the territorial jurisdiction of such High Court.

“If the said position is accepted, we have to necessarily conclude that the impugned notifications are bad and they have to be accordingly quashed. If the notifications are bad and they are liable to be quashed, the subsequent selection procedure that has been undertaken would also suffer from the same vice,” the judgment said.

Advocates G Prabhu Rajadurai and CM Arumugam appeared for the petitioner.

Advocate N Mohideen Basha, Additional Advocate General Veera Kathiravan and Additional Government Pleader M Sarangan appeared for the State government authorities.

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