While the RSS and its affiliated bodies have urged the Modi government to bring a legislation to pave the way for a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, any such move could run foul of legal barriers enshrined in several judgments of the Supreme Court.
A legislation clearing the way for a temple would favour one party over another in the dispute, thus running ultra vires of legal principles enunciated by the court. While the legislature is well within its right to enact a law that can alter the foundation of any judgment, it is also now well-settled that this cannot be resorted to in a case between two parties.
One of the clearest such judicial assertions was pronounced by the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in a presidential reference made in 1991 by then President R Venkataraman, over a matter concerning the Cauvery Water Disuputes Tribunal. “The principle which emerges from these authorities is that the legislature can change the basis on which a decision is given by the Court and thus change the law in general which will affect a class of persons and events at large. It cannot, however, set aside an individual decision interparties and affect their rights and liabilities alone,” said a five-judge bench headed by then Chief Justice of India Ranganath Misra.
The five-judge bench had added that “Such an act on the part of the legislature amounts to exercising the judicial power of the State and to functioning as an appellate court or Tribunal” — which is not allowed under the constitutional division of powers.
Another judgment by the Supreme Court in 1995 had also underlined the same principle. “It is now well settled by a catena of decisions of this Court that a binding judicial pronouncement between parties cannot be made ineffective with the aid of any legislative power by enacting a provision which in substance over-rules such judgment and is not in the realm of a legislative enactment which displaces the basis of foundation of the judgment and uniformly applies to a class of persons concerned with the entire subject sought to be covered by such an enactment having retrospective effect,” a three-judge bench headed by Justice S B Majmudar had said.
The bench was adjudicating in the S R Bhagwat and others vs State of Mysore case related to the state legislature seeking to take away certain government financial benefits from the petitioners, pursuant to the orders of the High Court. “The impugned provision of the Act… is clearly ultra vires the powers of the State Legislature as it encroaches upon the judicial field and tries to over-rule the judicial decision binding between the parties,” said the judgment, clearly frowning upon the legislation nullifying a judicial pronouncement between two parties.