top of page


The Constitution has conferred a very vast jurisdiction and immense powers on the Supreme Court. It is not a Federal Court like the American Supreme Court but also a final court of appeal like the British House of Lords (the upper house of the British Parliament. It is also the final explicator and custodian of the Constitution and guarantor of the Fundamental Rights of the citizens.

Jurisdiction means the general authority of a court to adjudicate a legal matter. It is important because if a court lacks jurisdiction, then any judgement passed by the court regarding that matter would be invalid/void. In order to make a binding decision, the court must be well aware of its Jurisdiction and act within its Jurisdiction as mentioned in the Constitution.

In order to compensate for a wide range of responsibilities, the Supreme Court is provided with multiple jurisdictions. Thus, it is a multi-jurisdictional court and may be regarded as the most powerful Apex Court in the world.

The Jurisdictions and powers of the Supreme Court can be classified into the following:

  1. Power to Contempt [Article 129]

  2. Original Jurisdiction [Article 131]

  3. Appellate Jurisdiction [Article 132 to 134]

  4. Appellate Jurisdiction under [Article 136] from any court or tribunal in the country in matters not falling under the heading.

  5. Power to enforce Fundamental Rights. [Article 32]

  6. Advisory Jurisdiction [Article 143]

  7. Power to review its own decisions. [Article 137]

  8. Power to make any order necessary for doing complete justice in any case [Article 142]

However, The Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court can broadly be categorised into three heads as follows,

  1. Original Jurisdiction

  2. Appellate Jurisdiction

  3. Advisory Jurisdiction

Original Jurisdiction:

As a federal court, the Supreme Court decides the conflicts between different units of the Indian Federation. The Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court gives it the power to entertain certain cases originating in the Supreme Court for the first instance.

  1. Adjudication of inter-governmental disputes

  2. Adjudication of disputes in the election of the President and Vice-President.

  3. Writ Jurisdiction [Article 32]

Adjudication of Inter-governmental Disputes

It has been discussed in Article 131 of the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court has original and exclusive jurisdiction in cases: -

- between the centre and one or more states; or

we can say that "the centre" is on the one and one or more states on the other

- between the Centre and any State or states on one side and one or more other states on the other side; or

E.g., the centre and the state (Rajasthan is on the one side and Haryana on the other side)

- Between two or more states.

E.g., Gujarat - Rajasthan Dispute

The divergence between the State of Gujarat and Rajasthan is located on the border of the two states, associated with Mangarh Hill. Gujarat claims half of the hill, while Rajasthan proclaims ownership of the entire hill.

The 40 years old dispute, though the Rajasthan Government presently has control over the hill.

Many landowners have filed complaints about illegal encroachment on their land, alleging that Rajasthani people owning the adjacent pieces of land indulge in illicit activities on their lands.

In the above federal matters, the Supreme Court has Exclusive Original Jurisdiction. Exclusive and Original means no other court can decide such dispute and the power to hear such disputes in the first instance, not by appeal.

Mullaperiyar Dam Dispute:

The Mullaperiyar is a 123-year-old dam. The Dam is located between India's two southern states, i.e., Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The Dam is situated in the upper reaches of the river Periyar, which flows into Kerala after originating in Tamil Nadu.

The reservoir is primarily used for power generation in lower Periyar (by Tamil Nadu) before flowing into the Suruliyar, a tributary of the Vaigai River.

The Dam portrays a threat to lakhs of people living downstream in Kerala. Moreover, for the state of Tamil Nadu, which operates and controls the Dam, the water provides the lifeline to people in five districts. The water has been maintained to meet the drinking and irrigation requirements of the five southern districts.

Dispute: Kerala said the water level should not go above 139 feet, the same as the court had ordered on August 24, 2018.

In 2018, the state was hit by floods, and the lives of 50 lakh people came into danger when the water from the Dam was released.

The excess water from Mullaperiyar flowed downstream Idukki reservoir, which was also at the maximum storage level. The unpredicted flow compelled the state of Kerala to increase the discharge, flooding several parts of central Kerala.

On the other hand, Tamil Nadu opposed this decision citing the Supreme Court judgments of 2006 and 2014, which fixed the maximum water level at 142 ft.

On October 28th, 2021, the Supreme Court directed that the maximum water level in the Mullaperiyar dam should be 139.50ft until November 10. With the threat of overflows looming large and the reservoirs filling up, the court asked both states to abide by the "rule curve" for the period set by the Supervisory Committee constituted at its instance.

Kerala has been claiming a new dam substituting the existing one, located 366ft downstream. Whereas the Governor of Kerala Arif Mohammad needs validation from the state of Tamil Nadu. Building a new dam would also increase demand for a new water-sharing treaty; at present, only Tamil Nadu has rights over the dam water.

However, concerning the exclusive original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, this Jurisdiction does not extend in the following situations:

The dispute must involve a question (whether of law or fact) on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends. Therefore, the question of political nature is excluded from it.

The vital expression in Article 131 is "legal right." This expression excludes all controversies involving only non-legal issues from the Jurisdiction of the Court.

Any dispute brought before the Supreme Court by a private citizen against the center, or a state cannot be entertained under this.

Article 131 of the Constitution does not apply,

if the other party is a public sector corporation and claimed by a private individual,

Article 131 does not apply to disputes involving ordinary business or commercial transactions.

After careful consideration of the entire situation in light of the Court's decisions, it appears that Article 131 of the Constitution is only involved when a dispute arises between or among the States and the Union, considering their constitutional relationship and the powers, rights, duties, immunities, liabilities, disabilities, and so on. Any dispute that may arise between a State in the capacity of an employer in a factory, a manufacturer of goods subject to excise duty, a holder of a permit to operate a stage carriage, or a trader or businessman carrying on business not incidental to the ordinary functions of government, a consumer of railway services or any other private party on the one hand, and the Union of India on the other cannot be interpreted as a dispute arising between the State and the Union in the expulsion of their executive powers inviting Article 131 of the Constitution. The Constitution framers could never have intended that any prevailing dispute of this nature would have to be decided exclusively by the Supreme Court.

- disputes arising out of any pre-constitutional treaty, agreement, covenant, or engagement do not fall under the scope of the Original Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court or

- If any treaty or agreement mentioned that the Supreme Court could not interfere in that case of a dispute, this does not come under the scope of original Jurisdiction.

- If center states or two states create a clause and mention in their agreement that the Jurisdiction Supreme Court is not acceptable in any dispute, in that case, the Supreme Court cannot Interfere,

- Inter-State water dispute, In the Act of Interstate Water Dispute, 1956, it is mentioned in the act that any dispute between the states on the matter of distribution of water, in that case, the Original Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is not applicable, i.e., to resolve such dispute the power of adjudication for such matter lies in the hand of the central government rather than the Supreme Court.

- Matters which are referred to the Finance Commission for Enquiry.

- When the dispute arises on the matter of distribution of funds among the States by the Centre does not fall under the scope of Original Jurisdiction.

- Dispute between the Centre and the State of any Commercial Nature of Trade Treaty.

- Recovery of Damages by the State against the Central Government, No Jurisdiction of Supreme Court.

West Bengal filed the first suit within the Original Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court against the Centre in 1961. The State Government argued that the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act, 1957, approved by Parliament, was unconstitutional. On the other hand, the SC rejected the lawsuit, affirming the Act's legality.


In the election of the president and vice-president, adjudication of disputes is decided exclusively by the Supreme Court and no other court.

Writ Jurisdiction

The Supreme Court of India has extensive original Jurisdiction over enforcing Fundamental Rights under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution.

A person can file a writ under Article 32 of the Constitution when his rights are abridged or adversely affected. It is empowered to issue directions, writes, or orders, including habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto, and certiorari, to enforce the rights. The High Courts are also authorised to issue writs for executing the Fundamental Rights. It means that when the Fundamental Rights of a citizen are violated, the aggrieved party has the option of moving either the High Court or the Supreme Court directly.

Therefore, the original Jurisdiction concerning disputes relating to fundamental rights is different from the Original Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court concerning federal disputes. In the first case, it is exclusive; in the second case, it is concurrent with the high court's Jurisdiction. Moreover, the parties involved in the first case are units of the federation (centre and states), while the dispute in the second case is between a citizen and the government (central or state).

ADM, Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla

The case is also known as habeas corpus case. Does it explain what a writ of habeas corpus means?

Justice Khanna wrote: "Writ of habeas corpus is a process to secure the liberty of an aggrieved individual by providing an adequate way for prompt relief from unlawful or illegal detention," according to the legal definition. When a person is being held in illegal custody in prison or private custody, the judges of the High Court inquire into the causes of his imprisonment. If there is no legal authority for such incarceration, the aggrieved person is ordered released from custody.

Any person who has been unlawfully imprisoned or arrested may be released from such illegal internment through the Writ of Habeas Corpus procedure.

It takes the form of an order issued by the High Court or Supreme Court to call upon the person who arrested the aggrieved person. An order for such a person to appear before the court to explain the grounds for his arrest, and if the court finds no legal grounds for the arrest, the person making the arrest must release the aggrieved immediately.

Appellate Jurisdiction

The word 'Appellate' comes from the word "Appeal."

As discussed earlier in this article, the SC has not only flourished the Federal Court of India but also restored the British Privy Council as the highest court of appeal.

The SC is primarily a court of appeal and hears against the judgments of lower courts. It adores a broad appellate jurisdiction which can be divided into four categories:

  1. Appeals in constitutional matters.

  2. Appeals in civil matters.

  3. Appeals in criminal matters.

  4. Appeals by special leave.

State Bank of India v. Sundara Money (from now on referred to as Sundara Money), in which the Court stated,

In order to qualify for a hearing by the Supreme Court, there must be a substantial question of law of general significance. More importantly, the question needs to be of such pervasive import and profound significance that it will have to be decided at the national level by the most senior bench.

The Delhi High Court's ruling in Union of India v. Hafiz Mohd was then cited favorably by the Court in Sundara Money while demonstrating the meaning of the phrase "needs to be decided by the Supreme Court." the relevant portion of which reads as under,

The word 'needs' implies that there must be a necessity for a Supreme Court decision on the question, and such a necessity can be said to exist, for example, if there are two views concerning the question and the High Court takes one of the views. A similar necessity can also be said to exist when another High Court holds a different opinion."

Sir Chunilal v. Mehta and sons Ltd. v. Century Spinning and Manufacturing Co.

In determining whether a question of law raised in the case is substantial, we believe that the proper test should be whether it is of general interest to the public or whether it directly and substantially affects the rights of the parties, and if so, whether it is an open question in the sense that it is not final, settled by this Court, the Privy Council or the Federal Court, or whether it is not free from difficulty or calls for discussion of alternative views. The question would not be a substantial question of law if the highest court settles it or the general principles that should be applied are well settled. There is a mere question of applying those principles or that the argument is palpably absurd.".

Advisory Jurisdiction

The Constitution (Article 143) authorises the president to strive for the opinion of the SC in two categories of matters:

On any issue of law or fact of public importance that has arisen or is likely to arise.

Any controversy resulting from a pre-constitutional treaty, agreement, covenant, engagement, sanad, or similar document.

In the first case, the SC may accept or refuse its president's opinion.

In the second case, however, the Supreme Court 'must' provide an opinion to the president. In both instances. The Supreme Court's opinion is solely advisory and does not constitute a judicial declaration. Hence, it is nugatory on the president; he may follow or not bind on the president or implement. It does, however, expedite for the government to obtain an authorised legal opinion on a topic before it.

So far (2013), the President has referred to the Supreme Court under its advisory Jurisdiction (also known as constructive Jurisdiction). Some of them are mentioned below:

  1. Delhi Laws Act in 1951

  2. Berubari Union in 1960

  3. Presidential Elections in 1974

  4. Rama Janma Bhumi Case in 1993

  5. The Election Commission's decision on deferring the Gujarat Assembly Elections in 2002 on the constitutional validity

  6. 2G spectrum case verdict and the mandatory auctioning of natural resources across all the sectors in 2002.

Ismail Faruqui v Union of India

In the case of Ismail Faruqui vs. UOI, there is no need to address the question of whether there was originally a temple where the Babri Masjid later stood, as the five-judge bench of the SC maintained that such a question is superfluous, unnecessary, and also against the idea of secularism that favors one religion over others and does not require an answer.

  • As per Apex Court's decision in Special Reference No. of 2002, the Court is well within its powers to answer and advise the President in a request made under Article 143(1) if the question is likely to arise again in the future, is of public importance, or there is the decision of Supreme Court decision on the question.

Other significant cases referred to the Supreme Court for its advisory opinion include Re Kerala Education Bill, Re BeruBari, Re Sea Customs Act, Special court Reference case, Re Presidential Bill, and Re Special Courts Bill.

Cauvery Dispute Tribunal Case, 2007

The Central Government established the Cauvery Dispute Tribunal to investigate the dispute between the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over the Cauvery River.

  • In one of its orders, the Tribunal directed the State of Karnataka to release water to Tamil Nadu.

  • As a result, the Karnataka government promulgated an ordinance disobeying the Tribunal's order.

  • As part of the dispute resolution process, the President sent a request to the Supreme Court for an opinion on the issue.

  • The Supreme Court ruled the impugned ordinance unconstitutional because it was in violation not only of the Inter-State Water Dispute Act, 1956 but also of the principles of natural justice since Karnataka became a judge in its case.


The Supreme Court of India has the most potent courts in the world. However, it functions within the limitations imposed in the Constitution. The Supreme Court has specific jurisdiction or scope of powers.

Jurisdiction of Supreme Court:

  1. Original Jurisdiction: settles disputes between Union and Stated and amongst States.

  2. Appellate Jurisdiction tries to undertake appeals from lower courts in civil, criminal, and constitutional cases.

  3. Advisory Jurisdiction: Advises the president on the public importance of law.

  4. Writs: To protect the Fundamental Rights of an individual, the writs of Habeas Corpus, Mandamus, Prohibition, Certiorari, and Quo warranto can be issued.

  5. Special Powers: can grant special leave to an appeal from any judgement or matter passed by any court in the territory of India.

Original Jurisdiction:

Federal Country- Legal disputes are bound to arise between the union, the states, and the state.

Original Jurisdiction has the power to resolve such cases and is entrusted to the Supreme Court of India. It is called Original Jurisdiction because the Supreme Court alone has the power to deal with such cases. In this capacity, the Supreme Court not just settles disputes but also interprets the power of the Union and State government as laid down in the Constitution.

-- [1] Indian Polity - For Civil Services and Other State Examinations 6th Edition by M Laxmikanth [2] [3] [4] [5] Article 131(c) The Constitution of India [6] [State of Bihar Vs. Union of India, AIR 1970 SC 1446: (1970) 1 SCC 67, 69, 70]. [7] [Union of India Vs. State of Rajasthan, AIR 1984 SC 1675: (1984) 4 SCC 238]. [8] Indian Polity - For Civil Services and Other State Examinations 6th Edition by M Laxmikanth. [9] Indian Polity - For Civil Services and Other State Examinations 6th Edition by M Laxmikanth. [10] Ibid, p. 824 para 2 [11] 1962 Supp (3) SCR 549 para 6 [12] Indian Polity - For Civil Services and Other State Examinations 6th Edition by M Laxmikanth. [13] AIR 1995 SC 605 A

This article is written by Ayush Sharma of Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies.

Recent Posts

See All


Introduction The Constitution of India is a legal document that establishes a federal system of government for the nation as well as lays out specific duties for the federal and state governments. The


Introduction A person is liable for his own wrongful acts and does not incur any liability for the wrongful acts done by others . But, sometimes liability arises vicariously for the torts committed by


Post: Blog2 Post
Anchor 1
bottom of page