As a federal court, the Supreme Court decides the disputes between different units of the Indian Federation. More elaborately, any dispute between:
- The Centre and one or more states; or
- The Centre and any state or states on one side and one or more states on the other; or
- Between two or more states.
In the above federal disputes, the Supreme Court has exclusive original jurisdiction. Exclusive means, no other court can decide such disputes and original means, the power to hear such disputes in the first instance, not by way of appeal.
With regard to the exclusive original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, two points should be noted. One, the dispute must involve a question (whether of law or fact) on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends. Thus, the questions of political nature are excluded from it. Two, any suit brought before the Supreme Court by a private citizen against the Centre or a state cannot be entertained under this.
Further, this jurisdiction of the Supreme Court does not extend to the following:
- A dispute arising out of any pre-Constitution treaty, agreement, covenant, engagement, sanad or other similar instrument.
- A dispute arising out of any treaty, agreement, etc., which specifically provides that the said jurisdiction does not extent to such a dispute.
- Inter-state water disputes.
- Matters referred to the Finance Commission.