The evolution of Article 142 and the fate of interim orders

The article discusses the power vested in the Supreme Court by virtue of Article 142 of the Constitution of India, with reference to the case of High Court Bar Association, Allahabad v. the State of UP.
Saga Legal - Ishwar Ahuja, Bhairavi S N
Saga Legal - Ishwar Ahuja, Bhairavi S N


Article 142 of the Constitution of India empowers the Supreme Court to pass any decree or order necessary for doing complete justice in any case or matter pending before it. Over the years, the interpretation and applicability of Article 142 have evolved through various precedents. The recent judgment of a five-Judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court of India in High Court Bar Association, Allahabad v. the State of U.P. & Ors, (‘Judgment’) has brought significant developments to the legal landscape, particularly concerning the interpretation and application of Article 142 of the Constitution. The judgment has overturned the earlier judgment of Asian Resurfacing of Road Agency Pvt. Ltd.& Anr. v. CBI (‘Asian Resurfacing’) and has also addressed crucial aspects related to interim orders, apart from issuing new guidelines and laying down principles under Article 142.

The main issues for consideration were the High Court's authority to vacate or modify an interim order and whether an interim order can automatically come to an end upon expiry of a specific time. The apex court had earlier dealt with the same issue in the case of Asian Resurfacing wherein it was held that an interim order, unless extended, automatically comes to an end after a period of six (6) months from the date of such order.

Observations of the Court

The Supreme Court revisited and overturned its dictum laid down in Asian Resurfacing and while doing so it reconsidered certain views expressed by it, specifically in paragraph no.s 36-37 thereof.

The Court has held that the condition of automatic expiry of interim orders upon lapse of time as held in Asian Resurfacing was unsustainable, and hence, overruled the same.

The Court laid down guidelines and principles regarding the scope of exercising its jurisdiction under Article 142 and clarified whether a court can fix any time limit while passing interlocutory orders which are passed in aid of final reliefs. The Court emphasized that the power under Article 142 should not be used to defeat the principles of natural justice or supplant the substantive rights of litigants. It underscored the importance of ensuring complete justice between the parties without overstepping the boundaries of statutory provisions or infringing fundamental rights.

Furthermore, the Court clarified that the jurisdiction under Article 142 should be invoked judiciously and only in extraordinary circumstances to address specific situations requiring immediate attention for the fair and just resolution of disputes. The Court emphasized that the powers conferred by Article 142 are meant to further the cause of justice and secure complete justice and cannot be exercised dehors the principles of natural justice.

The Supreme Court threw light on the constitutional position of the High Courts and observed that the High Courts are not judicially subordinate to the Supreme Court. It further observed that the power of High Courts under Article 227 of the Constitution emphasizes their authority to oversee all courts within their jurisdiction, including the ability to stay their proceedings. It cautioned against issuing blanket directions under Article 142 that could encroach upon the High Court's jurisdiction to grant interim relief. Such constraints could undermine the High Courts' authority under Article 227, which is integral to the constitutional framework.

The Court while overruling the earlier dictum in Asian Resurfacing, observed that the filing of an application to lift a stay order and application of judicial mind by a court is a sine qua non for vacation of a stay order passed under Article 226(3). If this application is not decided within a prescribed period of two weeks, the stay order does not automatically expire. Instead, the stay order remains in effect until the said application for its vacation is disposed of, following principles of natural justice, with reasons.

The Supreme Court also held that courts should not impose rigid timelines for the disposal of cases unless there are exceptional circumstances; recognizing case complexities allows for a flexible approach to serve justice effectively.

Key guidelines and principles

The key principles laid down by the Supreme Court in the judgment are as follows:

(i) Vacation of Interim Orders: Interim orders will not automatically lapse based on time. The court must assess the merits of the case and the litigants' rights before vacating such interim orders to uphold justice and protect rights.

(ii) Parameters for exercising powers under Article 142:

  1. Jurisdiction: The powers under Article 142 can be exercised by the court to do complete justice for the parties before it, but in doing so the court shall not nullify valid judicial orders passed in favour of other litigants in other jurisdictions.

  2. Substantive Rights: The powers of the court under Article 142 should not override substantive law. The court must respect litigants' substantive rights within its jurisdiction, preserving legal integrity.

  3. Natural Justice: The powers of the court under Article 142 must not undermine principles of natural justice. Litigants have a right to be heard before adverse orders are passed, including vacating of stay orders, thus ensuring fairness.


The evolution of Article 142 through this judgment has brought about important changes in the interpretation and its applicability in this era of evolving jurisprudence. The new guidelines and principles set by the Supreme Court emphasize the importance of considering the merits of the case, protecting substantive rights, and upholding the principles of fairness and natural justice. These developments contribute to the ongoing evolution of India's legal system and the pursuit of justice for all.

The judgment sets a precedent for a balanced and nuanced approach to the exercise of judicial powers, emphasizing the need for a meticulous application of legal principles while upholding the core tenets of justice and fairness. However, it is yet to be seen how the infinite operation of stay orders and this judgment impacts the disposal of cases.

About the authors: Ishwar Ahuja is a Principal Associate and Bhairavi SN is a Senior Associate at Saga Legal. Ishaan Aggarwal, Intern, assisted on this article.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) alone and are meant to provide the readers with an understanding of the judgment passed in High Court Bar Association, Allahabad v. the State of U.P. & Ors. The contents of the aforesaid article do not necessarily reflect the official position of Saga Legal. The readers are suggested to obtain specific opinions/ advice with respect to their individual case(s) from professionals/ experts and not to use this article in place of expert legal advice.

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