Bihar Study Notes: Basic Structure Doctrine of the Indian Constitution

By Brajendra|Updated : May 23rd, 2022

Indian constitution is a synthesis of parliamentary sovereignty and judicial supremacy. According to the Constitution, Parliament and therefore, the state legislatures in India have the power to form laws within their respective jurisdictions. This power is not absolute in nature. Art 368 of the constitution provides power to the parliament for the amendment of the constitution. On the other hand, Art 13 of the constitution stated that the state could not make any law that can derogate the Fundamental Rights. So the ‘Basic Structure of the Constitution’ evolved through time to time judicial interpretation of both the article, i.e. Art 13 and Art 368. This debate came into light when the Nehru Government amended the Constitution for the acquisition of land from Jamindars, who are the major landholder in the country

Basic Structure Doctrine of the Indian Constitution: Basic Structure Doctrine; Shankari Prasad Case; Golaknath case; Kesavananda Bharati case; Indra Sawhney Case; Minerva Mills case; S.R. Bommai case

Basic Structure Doctrine:

  • This doctrine was propounded by Justice Hans Raj Khanna, in Kesavananda Bharti Case (1973) that the Constitution of India has certain basic features that can't be altered or destroyed through amendments by the parliament.
  • Though basic structure is not defined anywhere in the constitution, it reflects through some of its constituents (as many time defined and narrated by the judiciary), i.e. Republic nature of India, sovereignty, Rule of Law, republic nature of Indian polity, liberty, judicial review, secularism, Separation of power etc.
  • The primary purpose of this doctrine is to preserve the soul idea and philosophy of the original constitution.
  • This doctrine only applies to constitutional amendments, mainly those amendments that can destroy or change basic philosophical ideas of the original constitution.
  • Any law that violates basic structure doctrine is declared as null by Supreme Court.

Evolution of Doctrine
This doctrine evolved through so many cases, i.e. through many judicial and legal interpretations:

Shankari Prasad Case (1951)

  • For the acquisition of land, the Nehru government used Art 368, i.e. amendment power of the constitution.
  • Inserted Art 31A, 31B and 9th schedule to constitution. It was the 1st amendment act of the Constitution (passed in 1951).
  • This amendment was challenged in the Supreme Court of India.
  • Supreme Court declared Art 368 stronger than Art 13. It means parliament can amend any part of the constitution.
  • So the 1st amendment was considered valid and legally acceptable.

Sajjan Singh case (1965)

  • Through the 17th amendment act (1964), Parliament inserted 44 new act in the 9th
  • This amendment was challenged by Sajjan Singh vs State of Rajasthan case.
  • But Supreme Court repeated the same judgment of Shankari Prasad case.
  • But one of the judge justice Mudholkar presented a different opinion. According to him ‘Every Constitution has a certain feature which is basic in nature, and those features cannot be changed’.

Golaknath case (1967)

  • In Golaknath vs state of Punjab case, the earlier decisions of the Supreme Court were overruled by eleven judge’s bench.
  • In its decision, the supreme court stated that Art 368 could not touch Art 13, i.e. fundament rights.
  • Supreme Court interpreted that fundamental rights are the basic part of the constitution of India. For the first time fundament right has been considered as sacrosanct.

In 1971, the 24th amendment act was passed by the parliament. By this amendment Art, 13 was amended and seek provided ‘From now onward nothing in Art 13 shall affect the amending power of article 368’.

Kesavananda Bharati case (1973)

  • 24th amendment act was challenged in Supreme Court by Kesavananda Bharti vs State of Kerala case. This was the landmark case for ‘Basic Structure Doctrine’.
  • This case was heard by 13 Judges Bench.
  • By 7:6 ratio Supreme Court ruled that “Verdict of Golakhnath case was not correct and Government can amend the fundamental rights by virtue of Article 13(4) and Art 368(3), and the constitution by Art 368, but without changing the basic structure and nature of the Constitution”.
  • This mean Parliament can’t take away a fundamental right that forms a part of the basic structure of the constitution.
  • In this case, Justice H.R. Khanna laid down the principle of “Basic Structure Doctrine”.

The 39th amendment act was passed in 1975, which inserted clause 4 in Art 329A. According to this clause, the judiciary cannot review the election of the President, the Vice President, the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha.

Indira Gandhi vs Raj Narain case(1975)

  • In this case, the Supreme Court invalidated the 39th amendment act.
  • The Court ruled that this provision was beyond the amending power of parliament as it affected the basic structure of the constitution.

Again by 42nd amendment act of 1976 parliament amended Art 368 and stated that constituent power of parliament has no limitation and no amendment can be questioned in any court on any ground including that of the infringement of any of the fundamental rights.

Minerva Mills case (1980)

  • In this case, the Supreme Court invalidated the 42nd amendment act.
  • Supreme Court stated in its judgment that this amendment is excluded the ‘Judicial Review’, which is part of the basic structure of the constitution.

Waman Rao Case (1981)

  • Again, in this case, the Supreme Court accepted the ‘basic structure doctrine’.
  • Supreme Court clarified that this doctrine would apply to constitutional amendment enacted after Kesavananda Bharti case (i.e. after the 24 April 1973).

Indra Sawhney and Union of India (1992)

  • In this case, the Supreme Court examined the scope and extent of Article 16(4).
  • The court sustained the constitutional validity of 27% reservation for the OBCs with certain conditions (like total reservation should not exceed 50%, exclusion of creamy layer, no reservation in promotion).
  • In this case, ‘Rule of Law’ was added to the basic features of the constitution.

S.R. Bommai case (1994)

  • In this case, the Supreme Court stated that proclamation of art 356 (i.e. imposition of president rule) is subject to judicial review.
  • Though this case was not on the ground of constitutional amendment concept of the basic structure of the Constitution was applied.
  • The court ruled that, if the policies of the States government is against the basic structure of the constitution, then Art 356 can be exercised.

This doctrine is the Judicial Innovation that works as a shield for the Indian constitution. The sole principle of this doctrine is- ‘The basic idea of the Constitution cannot be destroyed by any amendment by the parliament'.

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