Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala is a landmark judgment in the Indian Constitutional Law history. This case established the doctrine of basic structure which says that the Constitution of India is made on a basic foundation of fundamental principles like liberty, freedom, democracy, sovereignty etc. and no amendment can destroy this basic structure.
A 13 judge bench was constituted to determine whether the Golaknath judgment was correctly decided. However, the most questions involved during this case was to decide the extent of the amending power conferred by Article 368 of the Constitution, aside from Article 13(2), on Parliament.
Glorious and ingenious arguments were raised by both the sides. However, the bench decided by a thin majority of 7-6 in favors of the petitioners. While exploring the meaning of amendment under article 368, the court discussed various theories, tools and case laws regarding interpretation.
HH Swami Sripad Kalvaru Kesavananda Bharti was the Senior Head of Edneer Mutt, a Hindu mutt situated within the village of Edneer, Kerala. The religious sector that he headed owned certain lands. The Kerala land reform Act, 1963 and its amendment in 1969 required those lands to be acquired by the government so as to meet their socio-economic obligations. Bharti challenged the Constitution (29th Amendment) Act, 1972, including the Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963 and its amending Act into the 9th Schedule of the Constitution, and moved to the Apex Court, on Nanabhoy Palkhivala’s suggestion, and filed a petition in 1970.
The petition upheld his rights and stated against the enforcement of rights under:
Article 25 (freedom to practice and propagate religion).
Article 26 (right to manage religious affairs)
Article 14 ( right to equality)
Article 19 (1)(f) (freedom to acquire property)
Article 31 (compulsory acquisition of property)
While the petitioner claimed that the power of the Parliament to amend the Constitution is proscribed and restricted. The Doctrine of the fundamental structure of the Constitution, as propounded by Justice Mudholkar in Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan case was base of the argument.
The respondent, i.e., the State contended that the power of Parliament with reference to amending the Constitution is absolute, unlimited, and unfettered. This argument was supported the essential principle of Supremacy of Parliament. The State set forth arguments that if the claim of the petitioner becomes the law, then all the social and egalitarian obligations bestowed on the Parliament by the Court will are available direct conflict with the rights under Part III. They contended that even democracy might be turned into a one-party rule, if needed, by the Parliament.
The judgment of this landmark case was given by the 13 judges’ bench on 24th April 1973, where the apex court held the whole 24th amendment to the Constitution along side the 2nd limb of the 25th amendment ultra vires. The Doctrine of the basic structure answered the long-awaited question that was raised within the Golaknath case, regarding the meaning and extent of ‘amendment’ that the Parliament is allowed to conduct. this means that the Parliament has the prerogative to amend entire Constitution, but such amendments must not in any manner interfere with the basic features of the Constitution that might make it spiritless.
The Supreme Court upheld the land reform Act and therefore the amendment Acts that had been challenged. But it struck down the 2nd limb of the Constitution 925th Amendment) Act, which denied the likelihood of judicial review. apart from a limit imposed on the powers of the Parliament to change the basic structure. This case was an overall success for the govt . judge Sikri held that ‘there were certain inherent limitations on the Parliaments power to amend based on higher principles underpinning the Constitution, the republican and democratic form of Government, separation of powers and therefore the secular and federal character of the Constitution.’ Amendment implies the continued existence of some ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution of India, both pre and post-amendment, thus preventing the Parliament from completely abrogating the Constitution.
Thanks to this case and therefore the judgment passed by the bench of 13 judges, since 1975, the courts have expanded and interpreted the Doctrine to incorporate judicial review of decision by the High Courts and Supreme Court under Article 226 and 32, secularism and federalism, the freedoms under Article 19, judicial independence and recently, and judicial primacy within the judicial appointment process to the basic structure and framework of the Constitution.
The Kesavananda Bharti case judgment may be a watershed moment within the Indian polity. Though Bharti lost his case, the judgment proved to be a savior of democracy and saved it from falling into pieces. As an impact of the case and its judgments, in various other cases like Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain and Minerva Mills v. Union of India, the supremacy of the Constitution and limits on the amending powers of the Parliament were upheld.
Author: Aditya Singh,
Intern at Lawportal,
Author: Aditya Singh,
AMITY LAW SCHOOL, NOIDA. / 2ND YEAR