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50 years of Kesavananda Bharati Case: SSB Interview Lecturette Topic

On Monday, the Supreme Court will mark the 50th anniversary of its important judgment in Kesavananda Bharati, in which it established the “basic structure” concept on the limits of Parliament’s...

On Monday, the Supreme Court will mark the 50th anniversary of its important judgment in Kesavananda Bharati, in which it established the “basic structure” concept on the limits of Parliament’s power to modify the Constitution. The basic structure theory has been regularly challenged over the years for weakening the principle of separation of powers and eroding Parliament’s authority, as well as for providing a vague and subjective form of judicial review.

50 Years Of Kesavananda Bharati Case

Why In The News?

  • The Historic Ruling In Kesavananda Bharati, In Which The Supreme Court Laid Down The “Basic Structure” Doctrine On The Limits Of Parliament’s Power To Amend The Constitution, Completes 50 Years On 24th April 2023.
  • Over The Decades, The Basic Structure Doctrine Has Been Criticised Repeatedly For Diluting The Principle Of Separation Of Powers And Undermining The Sovereignty Of Parliament, And As A Vague And Subjective Form Of Judicial Review.
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Who Was Kesavananda Bharati?

  • Kesavananda Bharati Was An Indian Hindu Monk Who Served As The Shankaracharya (Head) Of Edneer Mutt, A Hindu Monastery In Kasaragod District, Kerala, India From 1961 Until His Death In September 2020.

What Was His Petition About?

  • He Challenged The Kerala Land Reforms Legislation In 1970, Which Imposed Restrictions On The Management Of Religious Property. The Case Was Challenged Under Article 26, Concerning The Right To Manage Religiously Owned Property Without Government Interference.
  • A 13-Judge Bench Was Set Up By The Supreme Court, The Biggest So Far, To Hear The Case. The Main Issue Discussed Was Regarding The Power Of Parliament To Amend The Constitution Unlimited Even To The Extent Of Taking Away All Fundamental Rights.
50 years of Kesavananda Bharati Case

Background For The Case

  • In The Shankari Prasad Case (1951) And Sajjan Singh Case (1965) – SC Said Parliament Had The Power To Amend Any Part Of The Constitution.
  • In Golaknath Case (1967), The Supreme Court Held That Parliament Could Not Amend Fundamental Rights, And Power To Amend The Constitution Would Be Only With A Constituent Assembly.
  • To Disaffect The Judgments Of The Supreme Court In The Golaknath Case (1967), RC Cooper Case (1970), And Madhavrao Scindia Case (1970), The Then Government Enacted Major Amendments To The Constitution. Most Notably:
  • 24 Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 1971- Parliament Had Also Given Itself The Power To Amend Any Part Of The Constitution.
  • 25 Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 1972- The Right To Property Had Been Removed As A Fundamental Right.
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Verdict In The Kesavananda Bharati Case

  • It Was On 24th April 1973 The Landmark Judgment Was Delivered By The Indian Supreme Court With A Thin Majority Of 7:6 Wherein The Majority Held That Any Provision Of The Indian Constitution Can Be Amended By The Parliament.
  • In Order To Fulfil Its Socio-Economic Obligations That Were Guaranteed To The Citizens As Given In The Preamble, Provided That Such An Amendment Did Not Change The Constitution’s Basic Structure.
  • The Court Held That The 24 Constitutional Amendment Was Entirely Valid. But It Found The Second Part Of The 25 Constitutional Amendment To Be Ultra Vires. The Supreme Court Declared That Judicial Review Is A Basic Structure And Hence Cannot Be Taken Away.
  • Despite The Ruling That Parliament Cannot Breach Fundamental Rights, The Court Upheld The Amendment That Removed The Fundamental Right To Property. The Court Ruled That In Spirit, The Amendment Would Not Violate The “Basic Structure” Of The Constitution.

Doctrine Of The Basic Structure

  • The Origins Of The Basic Structure Doctrine Are Found In The German Constitution, After The Nazi Regime, Was Amended To Protect Some Basic Laws.
  • Learning From That Experience, The New German Constitution Introduced Substantive Limits On Parliament’s Powers To Amend Certain Parts Of The Constitution Which It Considered ‘Basic Law’.
  • In India, The Basic Structure Doctrine Has Formed The Bedrock Of Judicial Review Of All Laws Passed By Parliament. No Law Can Impinge On The Basic Structure. What The Basic Structure Is, However, Has Been A Continuing Deliberation.
  • Parliamentary Democracy, Fundamental Rights, Judicial Review, And Secularism- Are All Held By Courts As Basic Structure, The List Is Not Exhaustive. It Is The Judiciary Responsible For Deciding What Constitutes The Basic Structure. Basic Structure Doctrine Was Reaffirmed In The Minerva Mills And Later In The Waman Rao Case, 1981.
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