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Kesavananda Bharati Case, 1973

Kesavananda Bharti v/s state of Kerala 1973 is a landmark case in the judicial history of India because it formulated the basic structure of the Indian constitution.

In this case the Supreme Court reversed the judgement of I.C Golakhnath v/s state of Punjab the parliament via article 368 cannot amend the fundamental rights.

Core question:
All this effort was to answer just one question.
  • Was the power of parliament to amend the constitution is unlimited.
  • In other words could the parliament alter, amend, abrogate any part of the constitution even to the extent of taking away all the fundamental rights?
The Supreme Court answered these questions by formulating the basic structure doctrine and judiciary held that constitution will stay supreme as parliament powers are wide but not unlimited and they cannot change the basic structure of the Indian constitution.

Article 368(1) of Indian constitution:

The constitution of India grants constituent power to make formal amendment and empowers parliament to amend.

The constitution by way of addition, variation or repeal of any provision according to the procedure lied down here in, which is different from this procedure for ordinary legislations.
Article 31 of the Indian constitution not only guarantee the right of private ownership but also the right to enjoy and dispose of property free from restrictions other than reasonable restrictions the article states that no person shall be deprived of his/her property except by authority of the law.

24th amendment empower parliament of India to amend any part of the constitution. In this case the validity of 24th, 25th , 29th amendment of the constitution was challenged.

Facts of the case:
  • Kesavananda Bharti is a senior pontiff of edneer mutt in Kerala.
  • Edneer mutt has 100ís of acres of land received as donation.
  • Kerala state government passed the land reform act.
  • Kerala state government wanted to take possession of the property of mutt.
  • Nani Palkhiwala suggested Kesavananda Bharti to challenge this decision into Supreme Court.
  • Nani Palkhiwala suggested that the decision of Kerala state government to take possession of the land violates article 25, 26 of the Indian constitution which are our fundamental rights.
  • Nani Palkhiwala also became the lawyer of Kesavananda Bharti in the case.

Judgment of the case:
This case made the constitutional bench of 13 judges and the decision was given by the narrow majority of 7:6 (Highest number of judges on a panel of the case)
  • The Supreme Court held that Article 368 of the constitution is valid.
  • Parliament can amend any part of the constitution but it cannot change the basic structure of the constitution.
  • The power of the parliament is wide but not unlimited.
  • The parliament of India can amend anything even the fundamental rights (supreme court reversed the Golakhnath judgement) however parliament of India cannot amend the basic structure of the constitution of India.

Basic structure of Indian constitution:

The basic structure doctrine is an Indian judicial principle that the constitution of India has certain basic feature that cannot be altered or destroyed through amendments by the parliament.
The doctrine is build upon the principle i.e. the freedom and dignity of an individual, parliament cannot amend the basic structure of the Indian constitution.

Main elements of basic structure:

  • Supremacy of the constitution.
  • Republic and democratic form of government.
  • Sovereignty of the country.
  • Secular and federal character of the constitution.
  • Separation of powers between 3 pillars of the constitution.
Written by: Saksham Ahlawat - B.A.LL.B (hons) Chandigarh University, Gharuan, Mohali.

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