The Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru & Ors. v. State of Kerala & Anr.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Statement of Facts:
- Petitioner: Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru and Others
- Respondent: The State of Kerala
- 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.
Issue of the case:
In the present matter, the Court was to analyze the following:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Constitutional validity of 24th Constitutional (Amendment), Act 1971.
- Constitutional validity of 25th Constitutional (Amendment), Act 1972.
- Scope of the Parliament's power to pass amendments in the Indian
- 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.
- 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
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
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:
- 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 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
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
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.