This case is important for UPSC and MPSC aspirants
Keshavananda Bharati V State Of Kerala
Citation : AIR 1973 SC 1461 : (1973) 4 SCC 225 : (1973) Supp SCR 1
Court : Supreme Court Of India
Date of Decision : 24 April 1973
Judges : SM Sikri CJ, AN Grover, AN Ray, HR Khanna, DG Palekar, KK Mathew, JM Shelat, KS Hegde, P Jaganmohan Reddy, MH Beg, SN Dwivedi, AK Mukherjea and YV Chandrachud, JJ
Petitioner : Keshavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru and Ors
Respondent : State Of Kerala and Anr
When we think about an unique, extremely thoughtful and well executed judgement which has had a massive impact, the one name that always comes to everyone’s mind is of Keshavananda Bharati V State Of Kerala, this cases decision can be said to have played a major role in preserving India’s parliamentary democracy. This very cases judgement is of extreme importance as it is a landmark judgement which gave the basic structure doctrine of the constitution and this judgement was of significant importance as this case was heard by the largest bench constituted by the Hon’ble Supreme Court. This case was one of the longest as it’s hearing lasted for over 68 days and eleven different judgements pronounced as well as 700 pages long decision. This judgement, it incorporated a solution for the citizens right to protect their Fundamental Rights and for the parliaments rights to amend laws.
Through this judgement the Hon’ble Bench solved the unanswered questions of the Golaknath V State of Punjab case as the decision given in the Golaknath case was overruled by The Keshavananda Bharati’s judgement as restrictions were put on the Parliament’s right to amend the Constitution. Keshavananda Bharati’s case left the door open to a judicial view on whether any amendment to a fundamental right can be said to amend the basic structure.
Sri Keshavananda Bharati was the chief pontiff of the Edneer Mutt a monastic religious institution located in the Kasaragod district of Kerala, Keshavananda Bharati owned some plots of land in the Mutt. In this case the validity of the Constitution’s 24th Amendment Act, 1971 was challenged in this case, the Parliament enacted the 24th Amendment Act which amended Article 368 making it explicit that the Parliament would have the constituent power under that Article to amend by a way of addition, variation or repeal any provision of the Constitution and that Article 13 would be inapplicable to such amendments.
This was done in order to nullify the effect of the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s decision in the Golaknath case hence Keshavananda Bharati had challenged the validity of the Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963. During the pendency of the petition the Kerala Act was amended in 1971 and was placed in the Ninth Schedule by the 29th Amendment Act. Keshavananda Bharati was permitted to challenge the validity of the 24th Amendment, 25th Amendment Act and 29th Amendment Act to the Constitution.
– The key issue was the validity of the 24th Amendment Act on which depended the validity of the 25th Amendment, 26th Amendment and 29th Amendment.
– What was the extent of the amending powers conferred by Article 368 of the Constitution.
Contentions of the Petitioner’s
The petitioners contented that the Parliament cannot amend the Constitution in a manner they want to as the power to do this is limited and the Parliament cannot make an amendment to the Constitution to change its basic structure as was set forth by Justice Mudholkar in the Sajjan Singh V State Of Rajasthan case. They also argued that the 24th and 25th Constitutional Amendments were violative of the Fundamental Right provided in Article 19(1)(f) Fundamental Rights are rights which are available to the citizens of India to ensure freedom and if any Constitutional amendment takes away such right then the freedom which is ensured under the Constitution to its citizens will be deemed to be taken away from them.
Contentions of the Respondent’s
The respondents stated that the Parliament’s supremacy is the Indian legal system’s basic structure and therefore it had boundless power to amend the Constitution, the respondents stressed that in order to fulfil its socio-economic obligations the unlimited power of the Parliament to amend the Constitution must be upheld.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India by majority of 7 : 6 held that the parliament can amend any provisions of the Constitution to fulfil its socioeconomic obligations guaranteed to the citizens under the preamble subjected to the condition that such amendment will not change the basic structure of the Constitution. The petitioner was contending that the amending power was wide but not unlimited under Article 368 and the Parliament cannot demolish the basic feature of the Constitution. The union of India claimed that amending power was unlimited and short of repeal of the Constitution any change could be affected.
The majority of the opinion was that although no part of the Constitution, including the Fundamental Rights were beyond the amending power of the Parliament and the basic structure of the Constitution could not be abrogated even by a Constitutional amendment. The decision of the majority in the case of Golaknath, that the then Article 368 of the Constitution merely prescribed the procedure for the amendment of the Constitution and that the power of amendment had to be traced to the Entry 97 of List I, Schedule VII read with Articles 245, 246 and 248 of the Constitution is not accurate.
– It was held by all the thirteen judges that the 24th, 25th and 29th Amendment Acts were valid.
– It was held by seven judges that the power of amendment was plenary and could be used to amend all the Articles of the Constitution (including the Fundamental Rights).
– It was held by ten judges that the Golaknath case was wrongly decided and that an amendment to the Constitution was not a ‘law’ for the purpose of Article 13.
– It was held by seven judges (six judges dissenting on this point) that “the power to amend does not include the power to alter the basic structure of the Constitution so as to change its identity”.
– It was held by seven judges (two judges dissenting; one leaving this point open) that “there are no inherent or implied limitations on the power of amendment under Article 368”
– Chief Justice Sikri, writing for the majority indicated that the Basic Structure was:
i. The supremacy of the Constitution
ii. A republican and democratic form of Government
iii. The secular character of the Constitution
iv. Maintenance of the separation of powers
v. The federal character of the Constitution
– Justice Shelat and Grover added three features to the Chief Justice Sikri’s list:
i. The mandate to build a welfare state contained in the Directive Principles of State policy
ii. Maintenance of the unity and integrity of India
iii. The Sovereignty of the country
– Justices Hegde and Mukherjea instead provided in their opinion a separate and shorter list :
i. The sovereignty of India
ii. The democratic character of the polity
iii. The unity of the country
iv. Essential features of individual freedoms
v. The mandate to build a welfare state
– Justice Reddy stated that the basic structure of the Constitution were laid out by the Preamble and thus could be represented by :
i. A sovereign democratic republic
ii. The provision of social, economic and political justice
iii. Liberty of the right, expression, belief, faith and worship
iv. Equality of status and opportunity
– Hence the Hon’ble court by a majority 7 : 6 held that the Parliament had wide powers of amending the Constitution and it extends to all the Articles but Article 368 does not enable Parliament to alter the basic structure or framework of the Constitution. This case established the principle that the basic structure cannot be amended on the ground that a power to amend is not a power to destroy.
The Doctrine of Basic Structure
The Basic Structure Doctrine states that the Parliament has immense power to amend the Constitution subjected to one condition that such amendments should not change the Constitution’s basic structure. The bench did not mention the basic structure of the Constitution and it was left to the interpretation of the courts, this was subsequently laid down in several other judgments by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.
The court contended that the term (amend) mentioned in Article 368 does not imply amendments that can alter the Constitution’s basic structure, if the Parliament intends to make an amendment with respect to a constitutional provision then such an amendment would necessarily have to undergo the basic structure test.
This case holds significant importance as the judgment of this case is said to be the second most important text after the Constitution of India itself. The Hon’ble Supreme Court had set up the largest bench of 13 judges to hear this case, in this case relief was sought against the Kerala government in regard to the two state land reform laws (under the 9th schedule) which had imposed restrictions on the management of the religious property. The most important aspect of this case was that it was held that the Parliament could amend any part of the Constitution as long as it did not alter or amend the basic structure to the essential features of the Constitution. It was Said by Keshavananda Bharati that the decision of the case was “God’s decision” the seer lost the battle but won the war because the amending powers were made subjected to the basic structure. The verdict of this case upheld the power of the Supreme Court to judicially review laws of the Parliament and it also evolved the concept of separation of powers among the three branches of the governance legislative, executive and the judiciary.