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Case Number

Special Reference No. 1 of 1964

Case Citation

AIR 1965 All 349, 1965 CriLJ 170


J Takru, G Mathur

Decided on

10 March 1965

Relevant Act/Section/Article

Art. 211, Art. 22, Art. 194, Art. 21, Art. 143


The Kesavananda Bharti case is well-known and frequently discussed, yet few people are aware that the Kesavananda Bharti case was assigned to a bench with less than half the judges who decided the Keshav Singh case. It required the combined efforts of numerous justices of the Supreme Court, High Court judges, MPs and MLAs, and ultimately the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India to take on this case. One of the most remarkable examples from Nehru’s presidency is this one. This case is of utmost significance to the Indian judicial system, but it has never been talked about.1

Facts: Who was Keshav Singh?

In the Uttar Pradesh city of Gorakhpur, Keshav Singh was born. He belonged to the socialist party or served in municipal politics. The Congress Party was in power during the time. When a leaflet titled “exposing the shortcomings of Narsingh Narain Pandey” was published, it implied that Pandey, a legislator for the Congress Party, was dishonest. Narsingh Pandey started working on a case against Keshav Singh as soon as he learned about the booklet or leaflet. Pandey and other MLAs from the Congress party disagreed with the leaflet. They claimed that the leaflet violated their right to privacy. When Singh was asked to confirm his name on this issue by the district of the legislative assembly in Lucknow, he remained silent regarding the accusations made against him. When queries were directed at him, he stood with his back to the speaker and stayed silent. On February 19, 1964, Keshav Singh was supposed to go before the assembly and accept a reprimand, but he didn’t because he didn’t have the money to go (according to his excuse). The assembly decided that whatever that couldn’t be achieved amicably would have to be taken by force after Keshav Singh’s defense. On March 14, Singh was apprehended and brought before the assembly. If it weren’t for the decision dismissing Keshav Singh and his attorney’s appeal, the litigation and the issue might have been over at that point.

When the speaker of the legislature keeps asking questions, Singh chooses the challenging course. After then, things started to get worse, and the speaker called Congress MLAs to the assembly. Singh had written to the speaker to protest his conviction, attest to the veracity of the charges made in the leaflet, and denounce the authoritarian nature of the arrest warrant. By entering the home, Chief Minister Sucheta Kripalani imposed seven-day house detention on Singh after the MLAs had enough consensus on the same. The legislature approved a resolution in the format suggested by the chief minister, and Singh was then taken to prison for his one-week sentence. One day before Singh was scheduled to be released after serving his sentence, a lawyer on his behalf submitted a petition to the Allahabad High Court asking for his immediate release. The petition claimed that Singh’s imprisonment was unlawful because the assembly lacked the right to imprison him and because he was not allowed to defend himself after being brought before the court.


  1. Whether or not the Legislative Assembly has no criminal jurisdiction and no authority to punish anyone for its contempt;
  2. Whether or not the Legislative Assembly has such authority, the petitioner’s detention is illegal and violates Article 22(2) of the Constitution.
  3. Whether or not the Legislative Assembly’s action in punishing the petitioner was malicious.

Observations and Decisions of the Court

The Supreme Court concurred, pointing out that the resolution of the assembly violated the independence of the judiciary. Article 211 was an essential component of the system that allowed courts to make difficult decisions, even if they were wrong, without worrying about political retaliation, therefore it could not be reduced to a meaningless assertion. The Supreme Court ruled that Keshav Singh can be granted bail while awaiting a decision and that the high court has the authority to consider his appeal. The parliament lacked the legal right to order Solomon’s arrest or to ask Justices Beg and Sehgal for an explanation. If the consent of the justice addresses the audience, the drama may compromise the independence of the judiciary. On the other hand, if they show up and make a strong defense, the assembly might be forced to stop acting to avoid being accused of harassing well-meaning judges. The judges have the option of filing a petition with the supreme court, but there was no guarantee that the judges would share the same outcome as the justices who heard the plea. They petitioned the Allahabad High Court, arguing that the assembly’s actions were against Article 211 of the Constitution, which forbids state legislatures from discussing the conduct of any high court or Supreme Court judge. While the case was still pending in court, Justices Beg and Sehgal requested a hold on the resolution against them.2

The court referred to English law, which states that any detention is prima facie unlawful, and the act is justified by the person who ordered the detention. Further, the court held that the appeal was flawed and could only succeed if the petitioner established his or her claims. Prima facie, the detention cannot be considered illegal, and the petitioner must prove that the duty was illegal, the court must decide whether the obligation is lawful. The court does not understand why the defendant should not be allowed to argue that the bond, warrant, and commitments used to detain the petitioner were valid. In any event, the court is entitled to the assistance of the defendant’s attorneys in resolving the issues raised in the case.

Legislature has not yet passed legislation regulating the powers, privileges, and immunities of the House, but the power to do so is granted by Entry 39 of List II of Schedule VII of the Constitution. The powers and privileges of the Legislative Assembly must therefore be determined according to Article 194(3). There is no express or implied prohibition in the Constitution against the Legislative Assembly exercising the privilege enjoyed by the House of Commons to commit for its contempt. The possession of power or privilege The argument is that the House of Commons had a similar penal power and that the inclusion of a separate provision in Article 193 regarding the penal power indicates that the Constitution’s authors did not intend to include any penal power under Article 194 (3). In other words, the argument is that Article 193 encompasses all penal powers conferred on the Legislative Assembly and that no penal power can be assumed as a result of the provisions of Article 194(3). The court didn’t agree with this assertion. Article 193 merely limits the power and privilege of state legislatures to punish people who sit or vote in the legislature without authority, in our opinion. This Article cannot be read as exhaustive of all the penal powers of the State Legislatures to commit for contempt is a judicial power is, in our opinion, not a compelling reason for denying the power to the Legislative Assembly because our Constitution does not provide for a rigid separation of powers. Since, even according to the petitioner’s learned counsel, Article 193 gives the Legislative Assembly the power to punish a person who sits or votes as a member of the Assembly in certain circumstances, which is also like judicial power, it cannot be said that the idea of the Assembly exercising judicial power was abhorrent to the Constitution-makers.

The HC rejected Keshav Singh’s argument that the facts discovered against the petitioner by Parliament did not constitute contempt of Parliament. The HC also ruled that the defendants did not violate Article 21 or natural rights because the Legislatures had established procedures for investigating allegations of violation of privilege. The HC also said the county jail warden is within the jurisdiction to execute the chairman’s warrant. Noting that the provisions of Part III of the Constitution do not apply where Article 194(3) of the Constitution applies, the HC notes that the fundamental rights of Part III are governed by Article 194(3) of the Constitution. The HC also ruled that the applicant was deprived of his liberties following the legal procedure set out in the last part of Article 194(3). Petitioners also argued that Congress’ decision to arrest him was motivated by political animosity and hatred. The Court couldn’t prove it for that reason alone. The Supreme Court dismissed the Keshab Singh case and refused to infer parliamentary malice. In dismissing Keshav Singh’s motion, the High Court said only the House could decide whether there was contempt of the House of Commons in a particular circumstance and that the court had not addressed the question of legality.

While the case is about violations of fundamental rights and constitutional crises, the focus is on symbolic gestures of solidarity by judicial authorities and how they collectively resolve disputes while they exist. It is about upholding the dignity and basic rights of citizens. enshrined in the Indian Constitution. This case highlights the importance of the separation of powers as one of the key building blocks of the constitution and how each can control excesses and respond appropriately. This decision ensured a proper balance of power between the two peers.

The Supreme Court also ruled that Articles 105(3) and 194 should not be used to limit the rights of citizens and lawyers to bring cases before the court. The Supreme Court has ruled that the House of Commons, as the highest court of record in the country, not Congress, can only try someone for contempt with an unwarranted general arrest warrant. The principles of Fundamental Rights and Judicial Review, especially Articles 32 and 226, not only empower but also impose obligations on the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court to exercise fundamental rights. The Indian Parliament and the State Legislatures are entitled to such privileges. As a result, courts may view the House’s implied warrant as a statutory order to punish someone for contempt. The SC not only wanted to recognize that the House has the power to punish insults and violations of privilege. The independence of the judiciary is seriously undermined if the House asserts the right to question the actions of judges. Not only that, the house has the power to punish disrespect and violation of privilege. Before a decision is made, the Privileges Committee will conduct an investigation and allow the complainant to comment.


If it weren’t for several defects and errors in judgment, the conflicts between the high court and the Uttar Pradesh assembly would never have escalated to the extent that they did. It was unusual for Singh’s attorney to enter a plea with only one day left in Singh’s sentence. The judge would have promptly revoked Singh’s bail if the government’s attorney had arrived at the high court at 3 p.m. with a report on the case. The fact that this case shows how readily constitutional institutions can turn against one another and how tough situations are best resolved by statesmanship rather than brinksmanship makes it noteworthy in and of itself.


  1. Keshav Singh vs Speaker, Legislative Assembly AIR 1965 All 349, 1965 CriLJ 170
  2. Atharva Kulshrestha, Keshav Singh – Case commentary, Accessed: 09 July, 2022)

This blog is written by Jay Kumar Gupta, a student of the School of Law, NMIMS Bangalore, currently in the second-year of BBA LL.B.(Hons.).

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