Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, AIR 1973 SC 1461
Introduction: Kesavananda Bharati case is a landmark judgment in the Indian
Constitutional law, establishing the critical basic structure doctrine and
setting up the delicate balance between parliamentary power and fundamental
rights. The judgment delivered included thirteen-judge bench regarded to be
largest bench in Indian Supreme Court history, intensifying the significance if
- Petitioner: Swami kesavananda Bharati, head of Edneer Mutt in Kerala
- Respondent: State of Kerala
- 13-judge Bench: Hon'ble Justice YV Chandrachud, Justice SM Sikri, Justice The
JM Shelat, Justice AN Grover, Justice KS Hegde, Justice AN RAY, Justice PJ
Reddy, Justice DG Palekar, Justice KK Mathew, Justice MH Beg, Justice Hans Raj
Khanna, Justice SN Dwivedi, Justice BK Mukherjea.
Statement of facts: Swami Kesavananda Bharati, head of a Hindu monastery in
Kerala and the lead petitioner of this land mark case, who owned certain pieces
of land in Kasaragod in his own name. Issues arise when the Kerala Government
passed a new legislation land reform amendment act 1969 in which the government
has been entitled to capture parts of his land.
The petitioner filed a writ petition in Supreme Court under article 32 of Indian
Constitution for protection of fundamental rights. He contended that Kerala Land
Reforms Acts restricted ownership and management of religious property. He
further argued this legislation violated his right to manage religious affairs
under Article 26.
Statement of Issues:
- Article 26 Violation: Do the Land Reforms Acts encroach on Kesavananda Bharati's Article 26 rights?
- Unlimited Amendment Power: Can Parliament amend the Constitution without limitations, or are there boundaries?
- The Constitutionality of the Kerala Land reforms Act: The Act placed restrictions on the ownership and management of land, including religious property. The petitioner, Swami Kesavananda Bharati, argued that the Act violated his right to manage religious affairs under Article 26 of the Constitution.
- Amendment Power and Basic Structure: The petitioner also argued that the Act was unconstitutional because it was beyond Parliament's power to amend the Constitution. The petitioner argued that Parliament's power to amend the Constitution is not absolute, and that there are certain essential features of the Constitution that cannot be amended.
A. Petitioner's Arguments:
Violation of Article 26:
The Kerala Land Reforms Acts, which imposed restrictions on religious property ownership, infringed upon Bharati's right to manage religious affairs guaranteed by Article 26 of the Constitution.
Fundamental Rights Protection:
Parliament's amendment power cannot violate fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.
Limited Amendment Power:
Parliament's power to amend the Constitution is not absolute. There are certain "essential features" (termed as "basic structure") that cannot be altered even through amendments. These features include:
- Supremacy of the Constitution
- Republican and democratic form of government
- Separation of powers
- Fundamental rights
- Judicial Review: The Supreme Court has the power to review and strike down any amendments that violate the basic structure
B. Respondent's Arguments:
Land Reforms for Social Justice:
The Land Reforms Acts were necessary to promote social justice and reduce land inequality in Kerala. They did not specifically target religious institutions.
Unlimited Amendment Power:
Parliament has the sovereign power to amend the Constitution, including its fundamental rights provisions.
Parliament's legislative power is supreme, and its enactments should not be subjected to judicial scrutiny on the basis of hypothetical limitations like the "basic structure."
Judgment: On 24th of April 1973, The Supreme Court decided the case in a 7-6
majority decision. The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Sikri, upheld
the basic structure of the Constitution. The Court held that there were certain
essential features of the Constitution that could not be amended, even by
Parliament. These features included: sovereignty of India, the republican and
democratic form of government, separation of powers, the federal structure and
The Kesavananda Bharati judgment stands as a testament to the Indian judiciary's
role as a guardian of the Constitution.
Its eminent impacts are as follows:
Protection Fundamental Rights: By restricting Parliament's power to amend, the Court protected individual liberties enshrined in the Constitution.
Strengthening of federalism: The case also helped to strengthen federalism by limiting Parliament's power to alter the division of powers between the central and state governments. This has helped to protect the autonomy of the states and ensure that they have a meaningful role in the federal system.
Establishment of basic structure doctrine: The case established the basic structure doctrine, which is a set of essential features of the Constitution that cannot be amended. This doctrine has helped to safeguard the Constitution's core principles, such as democracy, secularism, and the rule of law.
The landmark case has profoundly proved that the Supreme Court has
the power to review and strike down any amendments that violate the basic
structure of Constitution. This has helped to ensure that the Constitution's
core principles are protected from legislative encroachment and thereby it
Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Swathika Kadieswaran
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