Basic Structure of Constitution - Kesavananda Bharti Case

Wed Apr 26, 2023

Basic Structure of Constitution

Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala is a landmark case in the history of Indian constitutional law. The case was heard by a bench of thirteen judges of the Supreme Court of India in 1973. The verdict had far-reaching implications, as it settled the question of whether the Constitution of India could be amended by Parliament without any limitations.

Here are some key points about the Keshavananda Bharati case and the concept of Basic Structure:

  1. The case was brought by the head of a Hindu mutt (monastery), Keshavananda Bharati, who challenged the constitutional validity of the Kerala Land Reform Act, 1963.
  2. The main issue in the case was whether the power of Parliament to amend the Constitution under Article 368 was unlimited or subject to some implied limitations.
  3. The majority judgment in the case held that Parliament's power to amend the Constitution was not unlimited, and that the Constitution had a "basic structure" which could not be altered by the amending process.
  4. The concept of Basic Structure was first articulated by Justice J.R. Mudholkar in his dissenting opinion in the case of Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan (1965).
  5. The majority judgment in the Keshavananda Bharati case listed some of the features that constitute the Basic Structure of the Constitution. These included the supremacy of the Constitution, the republican and democratic form of government, separation of powers, the federal character of the Constitution, and protection of fundamental rights.
  6. The Basic Structure doctrine has been used by the Supreme Court in several subsequent cases to strike down constitutional amendments that are deemed to violate the Basic Structure.
  7. Some examples of amendments that have been struck down as violating the Basic Structure include the 39th Amendment (1975) that sought to transfer the power to declare a state of emergency from the President to the Prime Minister, and the 42nd Amendment (1976) that made several changes to the Constitution, including diluting the independence of the judiciary.

Evolution of Basic Structure  :

Shankari Prasad Case(1951) & Sajjan Singh Case (1965) - Supreme Court Stated that Parliament can amend any Part of Constitution 

 Golaknath Case (1967) - Parliament Could not amend Fundamental Rights 

Kesavananda Bharti Case (1973) - Verdict Passed By a thin majority of 7:6 ,any provision of the Indian Constitution can be amended by the Parliament, provided that such amendment did not change the Constitution’s Basic Structure

Minerva Mill Case (1980) - A majority of the court held that the parliament's power to amend is not a power to destroy. Hence the parliament cannot emasculate the fundamental rights of individuals, and also includes the right to liberty and equality (which is not a fundamental right but considered a basic structure of the Constitution) - Maintained Position of Kesavananda Bharti Case

The Keshavananda Bharati case and the concept of Basic Structure are significant in the development of Indian constitutional law. The idea of a basic structure has provided a framework for interpreting the Constitution and ensuring that the fundamental principles of the Constitution are not compromised by the amending process.

Abhiraj Saharan
A Nerdy Educator