In the case of Kesavananda Bharati v State of Kerala the Honourable Supreme Court of India had held that even though the Parliament had the power to amend the constitution under article 368 of the constitution, they could not change or affect its basic structure. The judgement in this case gave us the ‘basic structure doctrine.’
The basic structure doctrine so to speak is formulated by the essential features of the constitution of India which give it its character. Provisions of fundamental rights or the secularism of the nation or federal characteristics of the constitution among other things is said to form the basic structure.
This doctrine was upheld in the case of Indira Nehru Gandhi v Shri Raj Narain. In this case the constitutional validity of the 39th Amendment Act, 1975 was challenged. In the amendment, the Parliament had introduced clause four of article 329 A. According to this clause, the Supreme Court did not have the authority to adjudicate whether the elections to the offices of President, Vice President, Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha was valid or not. The Honourable Court, while citing the judgement given in the Kesavananda Bharati case, held that the provision of the 39th amendment was trying to amend the basic structure of the constitution, therefore, they were unconstitutional.
The Parliament, under the Sick Textiles Undertaking Act 1975, decided to acquire the assets of Minerva Mills, a silk mill in Karnataka. The central government was of the opinion that the production percentage of the mill was going to decrease because of which they gave the mills undertaking to the National Textile Corporation Limited.
The original administrators of the mill who were distressed by this change wanted to look for a legal remedy for their problem but couldn’t because of the 39th Amendment Act which had added the Nationalisation act to the ninth schedule. Anything listed under the ninth schedule falls outside the purview of judicial review because of this, the mill’s administrators were left helpless. Due to the amendments made to the constitution, the fundamental rights of the people were being curtailed. For this reason, the Plaintiffs decide to file a case challenging the validity of the 42nd Amendment Act.
- Whether sections 4 and 55 of the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act valid?
- Whether the Directive Principles of State Policy as mentioned under part IV of the Constitution have primacy over the Fundamental Rights as mentioned under part III of the Constitution?
The courts through their deliberations found that the Parliament, through the inclusion of clauses four and five, was trying to overthrow the judgement given in the Kesavananda Bharati case. In the judgement, the Supreme Court had imposed limitations on the amending rights of the Parliament under Article 368 of the Constitution. In the new amendment, the Parliament had tried to take away the court’s power of judicial review. The Parliament through this amendment aimed to make their power limitless, thereby violating the doctrine of the basic structure of the Parliament as laid down in the aforementioned case.
Via the new amendment, the Parliament tried to give the directive principles of state policy (hereinafter referred to as ”DPSP”) i.e. Part IV more importance than the fundamental rights, i.e. part III of the Constitution. By doing this, the Parliament wanted to curtail the rights granted to citizens and take away all their legal remedies while ensuring that their power or their position in the Parliament is secure.
The judgement granted by the five-judge bench had a four-judge opinion which was written by the then Chief Justice of India Justice Y.V. Chandrachud on behalf of Justices A.C. Gupta, N.L. Untwalia, and P.S. Kailasam JJ, and the dissenting opinion was given by Justice P.N. Bhagwati.
As for the first issue, the court held that the additions of clauses four and five of the 42nd Amendment Act were unconstitutional for they sought to change the basic structure of the Constitution. In the majority opinion, Justice Chandrachud wrote –
‘Parliament cannot, under Article 368, expand its amending power so as to acquire for itself the right to repeal or abrogate the Constitution or to destroy its basic and essential features. The donee of a limited power cannot by the exercise of that power convert the limited power into an unlimited one.’
As for the second issue, the court held that to suppress and to decrease the power of the Fundamental rights granted under part III only to uphold the DPSP under Part IV would be to subvert and destroy the basic structure of the Constitution. In the majority opinion, it was pointed out that both fundamental rights and DPSP need to work hand in hand to ensure the overall development of the citizens. Holding one above the other goes against the aim and intention of the constitutional makers and their directive.
The present judgement is based on the doctrine of the basic structure of the Constitution which was introduced in the case of Kesavananda Bharati. The doctrine imposes limitations on the parliament’s power to amend the Constitution under article 368. Though attempts had been made to get a similar judgement in Golaknath v. State of Punjab, it wasn’t successful.
If it weren’t for this judgement, the parliament would have had the power to go berserk while amending the Constitution. They would have had the power to remove its essential features. This judgement played a key role in ensuring that there is an authority which will help keep things in order.
The majority opinion and the minority opinion went separate ways on the question of the relationship between fundamental rights and DPSP. In the majority opinion as stated before said that the fundamental rights are to be given more importance.On the other hand, Justice Bhagwati in his minority opinion, said that the constitutional mandate of DPSP should prevail over that of the fundamental rights because the DPSP are the champions of equity who seek to uplift all classes of Indian society.
Through the present judgement, Justice Chandrachud in his majority opinion beautifully highlighted the importance of judicial review. He said,
“Our Constitution is founded on a nice balance of power among the three wings of the state, namely the Legislature, the Executive & the Judiciary. It is the function of the Judges nay their duty to pronounce upon the validity of laws.”
The judgement also does a wonderful job in pointing out why both fundamental rights and dpsp are important for the citizens. On one hand, fundamental rights ensure that basic rights are given to all citizens but without DPSP, the upliftment of our country from the baseline cannot be ensured for they charge the government with the responsibility of making sure that it happens through the directives which were given.
Kesavananda Bharati v State of Kerala, AIR 1973 SC 1461.
Indira Nehru Gandhi v Shri Raj Narain, AIR 1975 SC 2299.
Id at 1.
Id at 1.
Golaknath v. State of Punjab, 1967 AIR 1643.