Author : Shriya Khurana, Student at Bennett University, Greater Noida
THE CASE THAT EXTRICATED OUR DEMOCRACY
Before this landmark judgement salvaged our democracy, we were caught in a heavy crossfire between Judiciary and Legislature. It manifested in the form of a power struggle of sorts that infringed upon the right of several citizens destroying the prime purpose behind the establishment of our Constitution.
The Kesavananda Bharti case runs in hundreds of pages it was decided by the largest constitutional bench so far comprising of 13 judges. The judgement was divided into eight parts,
- First part deals with the introduction, the
- Second part interprets the Golaknath case, the
- Third part deals with Article 368 that is, it analysed and set the bars for limitation of power of the Parliament to amend the Constitution.
- Fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh parts elaborating on the validity of twenty fourth, twenty-fifth and twenty-ninth amendments respectively
- Finally the eighth part summarizing and concluding the judgement. 
The academic work gone into writing this informative as well as integral judgement is visible prima facie, the case cites hundreds of precedents worldwide as well as analyses and draws from the provisions of the constitutions of more than 70 countries.
BACKGROUND AND FACTS
In this case the aggrieved party that is the petitioner Kesavananda Bharti moved to the supreme court under Article 32 of the constitution. He challenged the Kerala Land Reforms Amendment act 1969 as it infringed upon his fundamental rights namely, Article 25, 26,14, 19(1)(f) and 31. The petitioner contended that the act in question hindered his rights to freely practice and propagate his profession, mange his religious affairs, equality before law and own property.
The case also looked into the validity of the twenty fourth, twenty fifth, twenty ninth constitutional amendments act as well as the interpreted Article 368 in order to restrict the power in the hands of the parliament.
- Whether the 24th, 25th and 29th Constitutional Amendment Act adhere to structure of the Constitution of India, 1950
- Whether the parliament has the power to amend the constitution, and what amounts to be the limitation to the amend?
RATIO DECENDI AND IMPACT ANALYSIS
The judgement emphasized the importance of the preamble which portrays the vision of the constitution makers and sought to interpret Article 368 against the background of the constitution and thereby upheld the supremacy of the basic structure that shall stand unwavering in the face of Article 368, as laid down in the preamble. The case also established judicial review as well judicial supremacy in matters concerning our constitution. The judgement reinstated the fact that the judiciary indeed exists to uphold and protect the constitutional rights of the citizens. The judges who delivered the judgement applied several doctrines in order to limit the power of the legislature and establish peace between the various actors of state. The judgment was delivered by a 7:6 wafer thin majority in an attempt to strike balance between the amending powers of legislature and the scope of intervention of judiciary. Honourable Justice Hegde & Mukherjeajj elucidated the doctrine of basic structure by attaching philosophical significance, they viewed constitution as a legal, social, cultural and economic document that exists with the sole aim of protecting us.
A restrictive connotation was attached to the word ‘amend’ in order to protect the fundamentals of our constitution, the case also overruled the Golaknath judgement. The judgement in the end armed both parliament and judiciary with the arsenal that was restrictive yet enough to safeguard our constitutional machinery.
DECIDING ON CONSTITUTIONAL VALIDITY:
- The case upheld the validity of the 24th Amendment act which imposed a restriction on the absoluteness of the fundamental rights by arming the parliament with the power to amend the same.
- The first part and section 2(a), 2(b) of the 25th Amendment act was also upheld which applied reasonable impositions on absolute ownership of property by placing acquisition of the same in view of public purposes on a higher pedestal. However, a distinctive portion of the 25th Amendment act was held to void as it went against the primary principles of our constitution
- The 29th Amendment was held to be valid which added the Kerala Land Reforms Act to the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution.
- As for Article 31C the first part of the same was upheld which is now called upon to decide on the question of economic equality of any contested act. However, the second part of Article 31C was scrapped and rightfully regarded as unconstitutional.
Kesavananda Bharti case restored the faith of general public in democracy yet left certain loose ends which are till date subjected to ambiguity and interpretation. First was the phrase ‘Basic Structure’, judiciary upheld its importance however did not define it in a restrictive and comprehensive manner in order to narrow down the scope. All the judges had their own idea of the same but along with providing their interpretation the judgment clearly establishes that the list runs unexhaustive. Judiciary was successful in putting a check on the autonomy of the parliament however it opened new arenas of discretion. In the aftermath of this historical judgment Article 19(1)(f) was deleted as well as legislative geared up for damage repair done by the judgement through a series of amendments as well as suspicious judicial appointments.
However the judgement also paved way for clarity it went on to elaborate on Article 13(3) as well upheld the supremacy of fundamental rights which in future can be subjected to the scrutiny of Article 368 subject to certain restrictions. It was also noted that Article 368 is not the real weapon in the hands of the parliament as it only prescribes the procedure for amending a law, however the actual source of power lies in Article 255, 246 and 248 of the constitution.
Though all the respected judges comprising the bench had their own varying idea of ‘basic structure’, Kesavananda Bharti case gave us a fairly basic idea by mentioning certain generic features that were fundamental to our existence.
BASIC STRUCTURE DOCTRINE
The basic structure doctrine was established in this very case, however with every precedent it has evolved to suit our society as well as to accommodate the social and cultural differences that exist in our country. Few of the features that lay down the base for the doctrine are:-
- Rule of law adhering to the ideals of limitation of power as well as equality.
- The phrases; Sovereign, Socialist, secular, Democratic and Republic
- Judicial Review establishing judicial supremacy.
- Doctrine of Separation of powers, that is maintaining a system of checks and balance as well as, differentiating the three organs namely legislature, executive and judiciary.
- Free and fair elections as well as abiding by the rule of Universal Adult Franchise.
- Ensuring basic freedom and rights to all citizens alike as well as carrying out our duty as a welfare state.
- Upholding the importance and the need of the directive principles of state policy as well as the fundamental rights.
The doctrine has evolved through a series of judgements namely; The Indira Gandhi case followed by the Minerva Mills case, Indira Sawhney case and finally the S.R Bomai case.
As citizens entitled with a right to hold an opinion we are eternally grateful to this landmark judgement which has retained our basic structure and helped us to hold on to our fundamental principles even after the span of 104 amendments the basic structure of our constitution stands unwavering in the face of change.
The impact of this judgement is evident worldwide, in 1989 the country of Bangladesh adopted the doctrine of basic structure relying on the reasoning given in the Kesavananda Bharti case.
All in all Kesavananda Bharti V. State of Kerala stands to be an important precedent which paved the way for new questions as well as answered some. It also ended the struggle of dominion between parliament and judiciary by establishing clear roles.
- Constitution of India
Cases Referred to;
- Golak Nath V State of Punjab
- Keshavanand Bharti V State of Kerala
- Indira Gandhi V Raj Narayan
- Minerva Mill s V Union of India
- Indira Sawhney Vs. Union of India
- R Bommai vs Union of India
- The Indian Express, 45 years on, recalling the verdict that identified the basic structure of the constitution, April 24, 2018
- The Hindu, The Case that saved Indian democracy, Arvind P. Datar, April 24, 2013
- MP Jain, Indian Constitutional Law, 7TH Edition
- V N SHUKLA, Constitution of India, Mahendra Pal Singh, Thirteenth Edition
 (1973) 4 SCC 225: AIR 1973 SC 1461, Paragraph 1
 The Hindu, The Case that saved Indian democracy, Arvind P. Datar, April 24, 2013
 (1973) 4 SCC 225: AIR 1973 SC 1461
 (1973) 4 SCC 225: AIR 1973 SC 1461
 The Indian Express, 45 years on, recalling the verdict that identified the basic structure of the constitution, April 24, 2018