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Case Analysis Of Keshvananda Bharati v/s State Of Kerala (1973)

The Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru & Ors. v. State of Kerala & Anr. (1973) judgement acts as a milestone for the Indian judiciary. This historical judgement laid down the test of the "doctrine of basic structure" for all future amendments in the Constitution of India. The historical 13-judge bench presented this doctrine aiming to satiate both the interest of the Parliament as well the People of India.

The judgement broke the deadlock created between the two stakeholders by the Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan judgement, Golaknath v. State of Punjab (1967) judgement, and subsequent Constitutional amendments by overruling the same and placing a suitable limit on the Parliament's ability to amend Fundamental Rights, but not placing an absolute restriction.

Legal Backdrop:
  1. Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan (1965)
    The legitimacy of the 17th Amendment Act, 1964 (that had added 44 additional provisions to the 9th Schedule of the Indian Constitution) was challenged, saying that it infringed on fundamental rights and correct procedure to pass the amendment was not followed. The Apex Court dismissed the petition as it held that the Parliament's power to pass an amendment in the Constitution under Article 368 is unlimited.
  2. I.C. Golaknath and Ors. v. State of Punjab and Anr. (1967)
    This landmark judgement curbed the powers of the Parliament, holding that the Parliament does not have the power to amend any fundamental right that has been bestowed upon the individuals under Part III of the Constitution of India. This decision was made in response to the plaintiff's complaint in respect of the acquisition of his property by the State under new legislation resulting in an infringement of his fundamental right to property. But as a way to overrule this judgement, the Parliament brought out the 24th Amendment in 1971 and the 25th and 29th Amendments in 1972.
  3. 24th Amendment
    As the Golaknath judgement has held that amendments made using Article 368 will act as an exemption under Article 13, this amendment was passed to add proviso 4 to Article 13 of the Indian Constitution. This was done so as to eliminate the impact of Article 13 on the passage of an amendment. The Parliament also added proviso 3 to Article 368, specifying that the contents of Article 3 will not apply to Article 368 to eliminate any vagueness.

    Furthermore, as Golaknath had relied on the fact that the 'procedure' and not the 'power' to amend is specified in Article 368, the Marginal Note was subsequently amended to include the latter term. The Parliament also attempted to differentiate between the procedure for passing an ordinary law and an amendment by revising Article 368 (2). Now the President no longer had the choice of refusing or withholding an amendment bill as before.
  4. 25th amendment
    In Article 31(2) of the Indian Constitution, The term 'compensation' was replaced by 'amount' so as to evade the responsibility of fairly paying the landowners for the property taken over by the government. Through this Amendment, the Parliament established that the State could pay a nominal amount to the landowners in the event of the State compulsorily acquiring their property. The correlation between Article 31(2) with Article 19(1)(f) was removed. Furthermore, so as to eliminate the hurdles in fulfilling the objective under Articles 39(b) and 39(c), it was provided that Articles 14, 19 & 31 will no longer be applicable to any law, the disallowing intervention of the Court in the law-making procedure.
  5. 29th amendment
    The Kerala Land Reforms Act was inserted into the 9th Schedule by the 29th Amendment Act. This caused the jurisdiction and ability to review the Act/amendment beyond the scope of the judiciary. All the amendments had been passed with a singular goal of shielding State legislation from judicial review. This was therefore challenged in the Keshavanada case.

Involved Parties:
  1. Petitioner: Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru and Others
  2. Respondent: The State of Kerala
  3. Bench: A constitutional 13-judge bench consisting of Justices S.M. Sikri, A.K. Mukherjea, K.S. Hegde, J.M. Shelat, H.R. Khanna, A.N. Grover, A.N. Ray, B. Jaganmohan Reddy, S.N. Dwivedi, Y.V. Chandrachud, M.H. Beg, & K.K. Mathew.

Statement of Facts:
  1. Keshvananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru, the head of Edneer Mutt, a religious sect in Kasaragod, Kerala, owned certain pieces of land in Kasaragod in his name. But due to the newly passed legislation, Land Reforms Amendment Act, 1969, the government was being entitled to capture parts of his land.
  2. Keshvananda Bharti Sripadagalvaru subsequently filed a Writ petition in Apex Court under Article 32 for protection of his fundamental rights under Article 14, Article 19(1)(f), Article 25, Article 26, and, Article 31 of the Indian Constitution on March 21, 1970.
  3. While pendency of this matter in the Court, the Kerala Land Reforms (Amendment) Act, 1971 was passed, and the 29th amendment to the constitution was also carried out.
Issue of the case:
In the present matter, the Court was to analyze the following:
  1. Constitutional validity of 24th Constitutional (Amendment), Act 1971.
  2. Constitutional validity of 25th Constitutional (Amendment), Act 1972.
  3. Scope of the Parliament's power to pass amendments in the Indian Constitution.

Arguments Advanced:
  1. Petitioner' arguments
    It was contended that the Parliament did not possess the power to amend the "basic structure" of the Indian Constitution. For the same, the view presented by Justice Mudhokar in the 1965 judgement of Sajjan Singh v State of Rajasthan was relied upon by the petitioner. It was further contended that the 24th and 25th Constitutional Amendments disregarded the Fundamental Rights bestowed upon the Indian citizens under Article 19(1)(f) of the Indian Constitution. In line with the same, he prayed for the protection of his property under Article 19(1)(f) from acquisition by the State.
  2. Respondent's arguments
    The respondent i.e. the State of Kerala, contended that the tenet of 'Supremacy of Parliament' is the foremost guiding principle of the Legislative System of India. Thus, the ability to amend the constitution unconditionally is legitimately possessed by the Indian Parliament. It was also contended that as the State is supposed to fulfil the socio-economic obligations towards its citizens as per the Preamble, the Parliament must be permitted to amend the Indian Constitution without the imposition of any restrictions.

On the 24th of April 1973, the Supreme Court, in the majority of 7:6, held that the Parliament could amend any provision of the Constitution as required by it to fulfil the socio-economic obligations towards its citizens. Yet, it is essential that such amendments do not alter the "basic structure" of the Indian Constitution.

The majority opinion was expressed by Justices S.M. Sikri (CJI), B.K. Mukherjea, A.N. Grover, P. Jagmohan, K.S. Hegde, B.J. Reddy, J.M. Shelat, and H.R. Khanna. While the minority opinion was composed of A.N. Ray, D.G. Palekar, K.K. Mathew, M.H. Beg, S.N. Dwivedi, and Y.V. Chandrachud. The minority opinion specified separate and distinct reasons for dissenting of each judge. A commonality was that all dissenters were reluctant to bestow unregulated power to the Parliament to amend the Constitution.

The whole of the 24th Constitutional Amendment was declared to be legally valid by the Apex Court. As for the 25th Constitutional Amendment Act, the first part was held to be intra vires, while the second part was held to be ultra vires.

The 24th Amendment and the first part of the 25th Amendment were held to be valid by the Apex Court on the following two grounds:
  1. The court concurred that the term "amount" and "compensation" are distinct and have distinct applications. But the Court also directed the State not to pay highly unreasonable sums to the landlords and that the sum should be closely related to the remuneration contemporary market price of the land.
  2. The first part of the 25th Amendment was validated on the sole condition that judicial review would be permitted.
Most importantly, the Court laid down the 'Doctrine of Basic Structure' to eliminate any ambiguity left after the Golaknath judgement.

The Doctrine of Basic Structure
As laid down by the Bench, the Parliament has been provided with wide-ranging ability to amend the Indian Constitution, subject to the fact that it doesn't alter what was termed as the "basic structure" of the Constitution of India. The Parliament has been restricted from performing altercations in the essential and fundamental elements of the constitution, without which the document will lose its identity and uniqueness.

The term and criteria for its identification weren't laid down by the Court, and this was left to interpretation in individual cases, where judges are supposed to analyze in each case whether an amendment is impairing the basic structure of the Indian Constitution or not.

The Keshvananda Bharti judgement was successful only in partially overruling the Golaknath judgement. Still, it was only restricted to answering the unanswered in the Golaknath matter i.e. the ability of the Indian Parliament to amend the Constitution of India.

The Court opined that the word 'amend' in Article 368 didn't allude to amendments that altered the basic structure of the Indian Constitution, and such amendments will have to pass the test of 'Basic Structure'. The Parliament was therefore allowed complete autonomy to amend any provision in the Constitution, even Fundamental Rights, till the point by which they don't impair the basic structure.

It is true that all democracies are faced with a power struggle between various organs, and India has often faced and continues to face such struggles for power.

Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala was also the outcome of a similar power struggle, where the Judiciary and the Legislature of the world's largest democracy collided and fought. In the background of this altercation for claiming constitutional supremacy, the Hon'ble Supreme Court gave us this landmark judgement in 1973. The Bench delivered, what can be called, a historically monumental decision.

The 420,000 words long, 800-odd-page judgement delivered by the Supreme Court was truly historical as it was paramount in establishing the delicate balance between the Parliament's ability to amend the Indian Constitution, all the while preserving and defending the Fundamental Rights bestowed upon the individuals by the very Constitution.

The judgment provided us with the essential doctrine of the 'Basic Structure of Constitution' that plays an essential role in the functioning of the legislature and judiciary to date. The milestone achieved by this case is ensuring the stability and security of the Constitution. Regardless of the Petitioner losing the case partially, the judgement still turned out to be a knight in shining armour for conserving and protecting the Indian Democracy and, equivalently, preserving the essence of the longest Constitution in the world.

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