The article is authored by Stuti Mehrotra. This article discusses the Doctrine of Occupied Field and Doctrine of Repugnancy in detail. In this article, I will be giving an overview of both doctrines, along with their essentials and importance, as well as the differences between them.

The term occupied field refers to a field that is already occupied.  In the legal world, we can say that when any subject matter has already been covered by some legislation or provision of any statute, and some other statute also tries to cover that subject matter from a different aspect, then the doctrine of occupied field comes into play. 

The doctrine of occupied field provides that if an Act of the Parliament occupies a subject over which the State Legislature is also empowered to legislate and has also legislated and the State’s Legislation obstructs the operation of the Parliament’s Act, then the State’s Legislation is inconsistent with the Parliament’s Act to the extent of the provision/s that obstruct the latter’s operation. 

The Doctrine of Repugnancy is a simple doctrine used to check the validity of state laws with obligation to the central laws. The doctrine of repugnancy ensures uniformity and consistency in laws across the nation. It provides a clear mechanism to solve the conflict between the state laws and the central laws. 

The Doctrine of Occupied Field is a legal principle in Constitutional Law that deals with the distribution of powers to the government at different levels within a federal system. It essentially means that if a particular subject matter or field is exclusively occupied by legislation at one level of government, i.e., either central or state, then the other level of government cannot legislate on the same subject matter. This doctrine helps avoid conflicts and overlaps in legislative authority.

Article 254 of the Constitution of India states the provisions and measures regarding inconsistency between laws made by Parliament and laws made by the State Legislatures. Article 254 addresses the relationship between Union and state laws on concurrent list subjects by providing a framework for resolving conflicts by giving precedence to Union laws if they have received the President’s approval. This aligns with the concept of Indian federalism in the doctrine. 

Article 254 of the Constitution of India deals with the concept of inconsistency between laws made by the central government and the laws made by the state governments on matters that are in the Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. Article 254 of the Indian Constitution addresses what happens when there is a conflict between laws created by the national government and those made by the state governments on certain topics that both levels of government have the authority to legislate on.

In simple terms, when there is a disagreement between a law passed by the national or central government and a law passed by a state government, and both laws are related to subjects listed in the Concurrent List of the Constitution, the national law usually prevails.

The doctrine of occupied field provides that if an Act of the Parliament occupies a subject over which the State Legislature is also empowered to legislate and has also legislated and the State’s Legislation obstructs the operation of the Parliament’s Act, then the State’s Legislation is inconsistent with the Parliament’s Act to the extent of the provision/s which obstruct the latter’s operation.

Under this topic, it is essential to briefly understand the concept of federalism in India and the legislative relations of the centre and state.

Concept of Federalism in India 

Federalism is a system of government in which the powers are divided between a central government and smaller political units, typically states. The concept of federalism is often used to strike a balance between strong centralized authority and regional autonomy, or self-governance. This concept has been adopted by many countries around the world, and one of them is India.

Legislative relations of the Centre and State

In India, the legislative relations between the Centre (the national or federal government) and the States (the regional or provincial governments) are governed by the principles of federalism as enshrined in the Constitution of India. There are legislative relations between the state and the central government, and the doctrine of occupied field helps in maintaining a division between the law-making powers of the state and the centre.

The legislative framework in India is established in Part XI (Articles 245–255) of the Indian Constitution, which deals with the distribution of legislative powers between the Union (Centre) and the States as well as the framework related to resolving disputes related to these powers.

Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution

The 7th Schedule of the Indian Constitution enumerates the division of powers and responsibilities between the Union (centre) and the state. The 7th schedule has three lists, namely, the Union list, State list, and Concurrent list, that show the division of power between the Union and States concerning certain subjects. The Union List has a total of 97 subjects, the State List has 66 subjects, and the Concurrent List has 47 Subjects.

Union List

The Union List is a list of 97 subject-numbered items as provided in the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India. The Union Government, or Parliament of India, has exclusive power to legislate on matters relating to these items. The doctrine of occupied field is found in Entry 52, List I

State List 

The State List is a list of 66 subjects in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India. The respective state governments have exclusive power to legislate on matters relating to these items. 

Concurrent List 

There are 47 items currently on the list, including items that are under the joint domain of the Union as well as the respective States. However, once the Parliament makes any law on the subject of concurrent list, then the state legislative assemblies can’t make any law on that particular subject. It basically excludes the legislative jurisdiction of the state assemblies. 

Power of Parliament to legislate state subjects

In India, Parliament has the power to legislate on subjects that fall within the State List (List II) under specific circumstances as provided for in the Indian Constitution. This is known as the power of Parliament to legislate on State subjects, and it is outlined in Article 249 and Article 250 of the Constitution.

Article 249 of the Constitution of India provides a mechanism for the Parliament of India to legislate on subjects that are typically under the jurisdiction of individual states. In simpler terms, it allows the central government to make laws on certain matters that would usually fall within the authority of state governments.

Article 249 enables the Indian Parliament to create laws on specific topics, even if those topics are usually handled by state governments. This happens when the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of Parliament, passes a resolution by a two-thirds majority, stating that it’s necessary for the national interest to have a uniform law on a particular subject. Once such a resolution is approved, Parliament can make laws on that subject, and these laws will be binding on all states, overriding any conflicting state laws. This provision helps maintain consistency and address issues that require a nationwide approach.

Article 250 of the Constitution of India empowers the Parliament to make laws on matters listed in the State List if the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament, passes a resolution by a two-thirds majority that it is necessary to do so in the national interest. In simpler terms, it allows the central government to legislate on subjects that are typically under the authority of state governments when certain conditions are met.

Article 250 of the Indian Constitution grants the Parliament special authority. It allows the central government to create laws related to topics that are usually the responsibility of the state governments. However, there’s a condition, this can only happen if the Rajya Sabha agrees with a two-thirds majority vote, and they believe it’s necessary for the greater good of the nation.

National interest in general means the interest of the nation or country as a whole, not individually or as an individual group. Governments make decisions and make policies, all for the national interest. In a democratic country like India, it becomes a little difficult to explain what can be done in the national interest because if there is an excessive infringement of rights by the government to protect the national interest of the country, the government will be considered an authoritative government.

Any offence committed against an individual, society, or the Government does ultimately harm the nation, but we have separate provisions of criminal laws for every crime under which they must be registered. 

Under criminal law, one such example of a law passed in the national interest is a law against sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”). The Section states that any person, whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by any sign or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India, will be charged under Sedition and shall be punished with imprisonment for life and a fine, or with imprisonment that may be extended up to 3 years and a fine, or only with a fine. 

Criminal litigation

The doctrine of occupied field is found in Entry 52, List I, and Entry 24, List II, which, when read together, state that the Parliament can make laws to exercise control of certain industries in the public interest, which would render those industries out of the legislative power of the State Legislatures. Further, Entry 7, List I, provides that the Parliament has the competence to legislate over industries necessary in relation to the defense or prosecution of war. The doctrine provides a basis for the Parliament to legislate on matters related to mines and minerals, higher education, regulation of ports, etc.

Certainly, there are examples where this principle has been applied. Some such examples are mentioned below-

Education

It is primarily a subject within the domain of the State Government, but the Central Government can also legislate on certain aspects of education, but it cannot encroach on the fields occupied by the state. This can be seen in the case of T.M.A. Pai Foundation v. State of Karnataka (2000) which has been discussed later in the article.

Healthcare

It’s primarily a state subject, and it is the duty of the state to take responsibility of the different aspects related to healthcare. However, the Central Government can make laws relating to healthcare.

Public order

Maintenance of public order has been listed in the state list of the Constitution of India, while the Central Government can provide assistance to the state in matters relating to state government.

Agriculture

Agriculture is mainly a state subject and the State government has the authority to make and amend laws on matters relating to agriculture, land, and irrigation. However, the Central government also made laws on the same matter, but it should make sure to not encroach on the fields occupied by the state.

While reading about the Doctrine of Occupied Fields, we came to know how important this doctrine is to avoid the conflict between the state and central laws. This doctrine also has some essentials that will help us understand it better. Let’s delve into the essentials of the Doctrine of Occupied Fields.

Enumerated powers

The Constitution must specify and distinguish the powers and responsibilities of each level of both the state and the central government. In the absence of a specific distribution of powers, the doctrine may not apply.

Exclusive legislation

The doctrine comes into play when a particular field or subject matter falls within the exclusive legislative competence of one level of government, which means that the other level of government cannot legislate on that subject matter.

Intent of the Constitution

The doctrine is often based on the intent of the Constitution. If it is clear that the constitution intended for one level of government to have exclusive authority over a particular field, the doctrine applies. It means that if the Constitution empowers either the central or state government to make laws in a particular field and the other government tries to interfere in making laws in that particular field, the doctrine of occupied field applies.

A doctrine that prevents the conflict of powers between the state and central government is surely of importance in the legal world. So, let’s study its importance with a few pointers.

Protecting the legislative intent 

The doctrine helps in protecting the intent of the legislature by clearly establishing separate powers for the union and the state government so that they don’t overlap each other’s powers and also do not interfere with each other’s subject matters.

Balancing the interest between Parliament and State Assemblies

It helps balance the interests of Parliament and State Assemblies by striking a balance between the powers of the government at both levels. By clearly establishing separate powers for the union and the state government so that they don’t interfere with each other’s interests and powers, the doctrine helps balance the interests between the parliament and the state assemblies.

Avoiding conflict

It helps prevent conflicts and legal disputes between different levels of government by clearly stating their areas of legislative authority.

Efficiency

By assigning exclusive authority over certain subject matters, it ensures that one level of government can efficiently legislate and regulate in those areas without interference from the government at another level.

Clarity

It provides basic clarity and predictability in the legal framework for the government, making it easier for citizens and businesses to understand and comply with laws at both levels.

The doctrine of repugnancy is a simple doctrine used to check the validity of state laws with obligation to federal laws. The doctrine of repugnancy ensures uniformity and consistency in laws across the nation. It provides a clear mechanism to solve the conflict between the state laws and the central laws. 

Test of repugnancy 

This doctrine is primarily used to check the validity of laws and powers authorized by the government at different levels. The test for repugnancy can be classified as follows –

The doctrine applies when there is a direct conflict between a central law and a state law. This conflict can be in terms of substance, objectives, or the ability to comply with both laws simultaneously and the concerned subject matter.

If a particular field or subject matter is exclusively occupied by central legislation, any state law on that subject matter will be considered repugnant.

The state law must be inconsistent with the central law for the doctrine to apply. Inconsistency can arise from a contradiction between the provisions or objectives of the laws.

Just like the Doctrine of Occupied Fields has some importance, this doctrine also has its own importance since it provides a mechanism for the Doctrine of Occupied Fields to work.

Maintaining uniformity

In a federal system like India, where both the central and state governments have legislative authority, the doctrine of repugnancy ensures uniformity and consistency in laws across the nation. It prevents situations where different states may have conflicting regulations on the same subject, making it easier for businesses and individuals to operate seamlessly across state boundaries.

Resolution of conflict

It provides a clear mechanism for resolving conflicts between central and state laws. When there is an inconsistency, the central law prevails, eliminating ambiguity and legal uncertainty.

Preservation of federal supremacy

The doctrine upholds the principle of federal supremacy, ensuring that federal laws take precedence in areas where both the central and state governments have legislative authority. This is essential for maintaining the integrity of the federal structure.

Protection of Fundamental Rights

The doctrine of repugnancy can also be invoked when state laws infringe upon fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. This ensures that individual rights are protected uniformly across the country.

Serial no. Basis Doctrine of occupied field Doctrine of repugnancy
Nature It deals with the exclusive legislative competence of one level of government on a specific subject matter. It addresses conflicts between federal and state laws on the same subject matter.
Scope  It operates within the framework of enumerated powers and the exclusive authority of one level of government. It focuses on the inconsistency or conflict between specific federal and state laws.
Application It prevents the other level of government from legislating in the field already occupied. It resolves conflicts when both levels of government have legislated on the same subject.
Constitutional Basis It is based on the division of powers specified in the Constitution. It is based on the principle of federal supremacy.
Purpose It aims to avoid legislative duplication and conflicts by specifying exclusive legislative competence. It aims to resolve conflicts that arise due to inconsistent or contradictory laws enacted by different levels of government.
Example Matters related to foreign affairs, national defense, and currency are typically occupied by the central government in India. If a state law seeks to regulate a subject that is already governed by a federal law and there is an inconsistency between the two, the doctrine of repugnancy comes into play.

In summary, the Doctrine of Occupied Field deals with exclusive legislative competence, while the doctrine of repugnancy addresses conflicts between federal and state laws. Both doctrines are crucial to maintaining the integrity and harmony of a federal system by providing a framework to resolve conflicts and allocate legislative powers.

The State of Bombay v. the United Motors (India) Ltd. (1953)

Facts

In this case, the respondent was involved in selling motor vehicles in the state of Bombay (now Maharashtra). The state government imposed a tax on the sale of motor vehicles, arguing it was distinct from the central government’s taxation on the sale of goods. The central issue was whether the state’s tax conflicted with the central government’s power to tax the sale of goods under the Central Sales Tax Act, 1956, leading to a dispute over the occupied field doctrine. 

Issues raised 

The central issue before the court was whether the state government had the power to levy a tax on the sale of motor vehicles and, if so, whether it conflicted with the central government’s power to tax the sale of goods under the Central Sales Tax Act, 1956.

Judgment

It was held by the Supreme Court that the field of taxation on the sale of goods was occupied by the central government, and thus, imposing tax on the sale of goods by the state government was declared unconstitutional. 

S.R. Bommai v. Union Of India (1994) 

Facts 

In this case, the central government dissolved the state government in Karnataka, alleging a constitutional breakdown. The dismissal was done under Article 356 of the Constitution of India. According to Article 356 of the Constitution of India, the President, on the basis of a report from the Governor of a State, can promulgate a constitutional emergency if he is satisfied that the administration of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with constitutional provisions. After that, the President may assume all or any of the functions of the State Government, which can be termed a constitutional breakdown.

Issues raised

  • Whether the imposition of the President’s rule on the basis of alleged constitutional breakdown is justified? 
  • Whether the court could review the President’s rule?

Judgment

It was held by the Supreme Court that the President’s rule could be judicially reviewed and should not be imposed in cases of constitutional breakdown. The court affirmed that the imposition of the President’s Rule is subject to judicial review because it involves a potential violation of the basic structure and principles of the Indian Constitution. The court recognized that the power to impose the President’s Rule was not absolute and unbridled. It could not be exercised arbitrarily or for political reasons. Instead, it could only be invoked in situations where the constitutional machinery in a state had broken down.

T.M.A. Pai Foundation v. State of Karnataka (2002)

Facts 

In this case, the regulation of admissions and fees at private, unaided universities was questioned. T.M.A. Pai Foundation was an organization that ran several educational institutions, like engineering colleges and medical colleges, in the State of Karnataka. The State of Karnataka had enacted the Karnataka Professional Colleges Regulation of Admission and Determination of Fee Act, 2000, which sought to regulate the admission process and fee structure in private professional colleges, including those run by trusts like the T.M.A. Pai Foundation. 

The Act established a regulatory authority that had the power to oversee admissions, fee fixation, and other aspects of private professional colleges, which was challenged by the plaintiffs on the ground that it violates the autonomy of the college and violates the fundamental right under Article 19(1)(g) and Article 26.

Issues raised

Whether the state government has the authority to regulate admission in private, unaided colleges? If so, does it violate the autonomy of the college?

Judgment

It was held by the Supreme Court that education is primarily a state subject and the state government can regulate admission in unaided colleges, but while doing so, it should keep in mind that it should not affect the autonomy of any such institution. 

In conclusion, we can say that both the doctrine of occupied fields and the doctrine of repugnancy play crucial roles in federal systems. Both doctrines operate in different contexts. The Doctrine of Occupied Field focuses on delineating exclusive legislative competence, while the doctrine of repugnancy addresses conflicts between laws enacted by different levels of government, upholding the principle of federal supremacy and ensuring uniformity and consistency in laws across the nation.

The Doctrine of Occupied Field is a legal principle in constitutional law that deals with the distribution of powers to the government at different levels within a federal system. The doctrine of repugnancy is a simple doctrine used to check the validity of state laws with obligations to federal laws. 

These doctrines are important to maintain the flow of power between the government’s different levels and to avoid conflict at any level.

  1. What role does the Doctrine of occupied fields play?

Doctrine of occupied fields separates the legal powers of the government at the central and state levels.

  1. What role does the Doctrine of repugnancy play?

The doctrine of repugnancy is used to check the validity of laws and powers authorized to the government at different levels.

  1. How are both doctrines different?

The Doctrine of Occupied Field deals with matters related to foreign affairs, national defense, and currency that are typically occupied by the central government in India, while the doctrine of repugnancy comes into play if a state law seeks to regulate a subject that is already governed by federal law, and there is an inconsistency between the two.

  1. Which one of the two doctrines is more important?

Both doctrines are equally important in a federal country like India, as the doctrine of occupied fields separates the legal powers of the government at the central and state levels, while the doctrine of repugnancy is used to check the validity of laws and powers authorized to the government at different levels.


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