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Doctrine of Basic Structure

The words "Basic Structure" are nowhere defined in India's Constitution. The belief that Parliament can't impose changes that disturb the basic structure of the constitution has surfaced over a stretch of time in numerous cases. The aim is to guard Indian democracy's essence and shield people's rights and freedoms. This Doctrine of Basic Structure tied to India's Constitution plays a vital role in maintaining and safeguarding the Constitution's spirit.

The doctrine of basic structure is an Indian judicial principle that states that the Constitution of India has certain basic features that cannot be altered or destroyed through amendments by the parliament.

The doctrine of basic structure of a constitution primarily finds its origins in Indian Constitutional Law. It was introduced and established by the Indian Supreme Court through its landmark decision in Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala in 1973.

This verdict made basic structure of the constitution clear. They include the supremacy of the Constitution, India's unity and sovereignty, the country's democratic and republican form of government, the Constitution's federal form, secular spirit, separation of power, and protection of personal liberties.

With time, more features became part of the basic structure. They are the rule of law, judicial review, parliamentary system, principle of equality, balance between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy, free and fair elections, limitations on changes to the Constitution, and powers of the Supreme Court of India under Articles 32, 136, 142, 147 and High Courts under Articles 226, 227. If any rule proposed or change tried contradicts these, the Supreme Court can nullify it. This is because they hamper the basic structure of the Constitution.

The basic structure doctrine is a rule in common law. It means a country's constitution has specific features that its lawmakers can't change. This doctrine is recognized in countries like India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Uganda. India's Supreme Court developed this doctrine during constitutional law cases of the 1960s and 1970s. Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala is where it was officially adopted.

Interestingly, Bangladesh might be the only country that explicitly defines this doctrine of basic structure in a strict and written way. This is found in article 7B of its Constitution. In 2011, Parliament of Bangladesh added Article 7B to the Constitution. This change stated clearly that many parts of the Constitution could not be altered.

In India though there is no separate article in the Constitution to protect the basic structure, the Supreme Court of India has declared in the case of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala in 1973 that the basic structure of the Constitution cannot be amended. The preamble of the constitution of India may be presumed to represent a part of the basic structure of the constitution.

Prior to this case, there was a debate in India about the extent of Parliament's power to amend the Constitution. The government had argued that Parliament could amend any part of the Constitution, including its fundamental features. However, in the Kesavananda Bharati Case, the Supreme Court ruled that while Parliament had the authority to amend the Constitution, this power was not unlimited.

The concept of the doctrine of basic structure has been influential not only in India but also in other countries with written constitutions. It has provided a basis for constitutional courts to protect fundamental constitutional principles from being undermined by amendments made by the legislative authority. While the doctrine had its origins in India, similar ideas have been explored in different forms in various constitutional systems, as a means to safeguard the core principles of a constitution.

Written By: Md.Imran Wahab, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected], Ph no: 9836576565

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