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Law interpreters should ideally not veer onto the turf of policy- and law-makers, but India’s Supreme Court (SC) often accords itself an entry pass drawn from Article 142 of the Constitution, which grants it the right to pass a decree deemed “necessary for doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it". In the past, it has been invoked by our apex court to scrap coal block allocations, keep liquor vends away from highways, turn Ayodhya’s disputed site over to a trust for temple construction, and more. On Wednesday, it was even cited in a taxation case.

From 1 April 2021, a revised tax law was expected to bar the raking up of tax cases dating back more than three years for review. Yet, the first quarter of 2021-22 saw over 90,000 such past-case notices issued on the back of just a government notification. This dubious device was challenged by thousands of bewildered taxpayers. The SC, however, upheld those notices, exercising its special authority under Article 142 to do so, even as it expressed concern for the exchequer. This constitutes an awkward stretch of a provision meant for rare instances. For the sake of checks and balances, the country must limit its use.

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