The Constitution of India has stated some basic features that cannot be altered through amendments by Parliament. This is known as BASIC STRUCTURE DOCTRINE. This gives power to Supreme Court to review and repeal the Constitutional amendments and acts enacted by Parliament which contradicts the basic features of the constitution. These basic features or basic structure is the backbone of the constitution and authorities are obliged to follow them while enacting Constitutional amendments and acts.

The framers of the Constitution didn’t want it to be rigid and wanted it to be adaptive to the changing society. Therefore, parliament was given amending rights under article 368. But it was necessary to maintain the originality of the Indian Constitution and thus they were restricted and obliged to not to destroy or alter the basic structure of the constitution. The word, Basic Structure is not mentioned in the constitution. In 1964, Justice J.R Mudholkar for the first time declared the concept of basic feature principle in the case of Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan. The supreme court considered this concept for the first time in Kesawananda Bharati case in 1973. Since then supreme court is the interpreter and arbiter of all amendments made by the parliament.

Pre-Kesawananda Bharati case

In 1951, the amending power of the parliament was challenged for the first time, especially amending of fundamental rights. Article 13(2) stated that parliament is prohibited from enacting any laws that violated the fundamental rights. But in Sankari Prasad Singh Deo v. Union of India case in 1952 and Sajjan Singh v. Rajasthan case in 1955, the supreme court rejected both the arguments and stated that parliament can amend any part of the constitution including fundamental rights of the citizen.

The Golaknath verdict

In 1967, Chief justice Subba Rao stated that article 368 just mentioned the amendment of the constitution and the amending procedure. It didn’t state the amending powers of the parliament. The amending power of the parliament is stated along with other provision in the constitution i.e. article 245, 246, 248. Article 13 puts restrictions on the powers of the parliament. M.K.Nambiar introduced the phrase ‘basic structure’ for the first time in Golakhnath case.

The Kesavananda milestone

Twenty fourth amendment stated that Golakhnath case was decided wrongly and article 368 contained power and procedure for amending the constitution, both. The parliament performs two kinds of functions, firstly legislative power to make laws and secondly constituent power to amend the constitution. Our constitution does not have all the laws to govern the country and thus parliament and state legislature enact laws from time to time with the help of the general rules for making these laws.

According to the keswananda verdict,

The basic features of the constitution are

According to chief justice, Sikri

  • Supremacy of the constitution
  • Republican and democratic form of government
  • Secular character of the constitution
  • Separation of powers between the legislature, executive and the judiciary
  • Federal character of the constitution
  • According to judge Jagmohan Reddy the basic structure of the constitution should be stated in the Preamble of the constitution
  • Sovereign democratic republic
  • Parliamentary democracy
  • Three organs of the state

In 1975, supreme court again had the opportunity to reaffirm the basic structure of the constitution in Indira Gandhi Election case. Each judge expressed their views about the basic structure of the constitution.

Justice H.R. Khanna stated that democracy is the basic feature of the constitution and it includes free and fair elections

Justice Y.V. Chandra Hud listed four basic features

  • Sovereign democratic republic status
  • Equality of status and opportunity of an individual
  • Secularism and freedom of conscience and religion
  • Government of laws and not men
  • Some of the basic features of the constitution are:
  • Supremacy of the constitution
  • Rule of law
  • The principle of separation of powers
  • The Sovereign, democratic and republican structure
  • Unity and integrity of the nation
  • The essence of other fundamental rights in part 3
  • Secularism
  • Effective access to justice
  • Welfare state, etc.

KESAVANANDA BHARATI V. STATE OF KERALA

In February 1970, Swami Sadananda Bharati, senior plaintiff and head of a Hindu mutt situated in Kerala, challenged the Kerala Government’s attempts, under two state land reform acts, to impose restrictions on the management of its property. The hearings consumed five months and it affected India’s democratic processes. The case commenced on October 31,1972 and ended on March 23, 1973 and it consists of 200 pages.

Judgement:

Fundamental rights cannot be abrogated but reasonable abridgement of fundamental rights could be affected in the public interest but the basic structure of the constitution remains the same.

 

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