Basic Structure of Constitution – Doctrine of Basic Structure of Indian Constitution

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

The Basic Structure of the Constitution refers to the foundational principles and essential features that form the core of a constitution and cannot be altered or amended by the legislature. The concept of the Basic Structure Doctrine was established by the Supreme Court of India in the landmark case of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala (1973). According to the Kesavananda Bharati case judgment, the Supreme Court held that certain fundamental principles and values are inherent in the Constitution that cannot be abrogated or violated by any constitutional amendment.

According to the Basic Structure Doctrine of the Indian Constitution, any amendment that seeks to alter the constitution’s fundamental design shall be regarded as unconstitutional and invalid. The fundamental principles are considered essential for maintaining the democratic, republican, and secular character of the Indian Constitution.

What is Basic Structure of Constitution?

While the specific components of the Basic Structure of Constitution may be subject to interpretation and evolve over time, some of the commonly recognized elements include:

  1. Supremacy of the Constitution: The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and all authorities and institutions derive their power from it.
  2. Sovereign, democratic, and republican nature of the state: India is a sovereign nation, with a democratic form of government based on the principles of popular sovereignty and representative governance.
  3. Secularism: India is a secular country, ensuring equal treatment and protection of all religions and religious communities.
  4. Federalism: The division of powers between the central government and state governments, ensuring a balance of authority and autonomy.
  5. Separation of powers: The distribution of powers among the three branches of government – the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary – to ensure a system of checks and balances.
  6. Judicial review: The power of the judiciary to review and strike down laws or actions that violate the provisions of the Constitution.
  7. Rule of law: The principle that all individuals, including government officials, are subject to and equal before the law.
  8. Protection of fundamental rights: The guarantee of fundamental rights to all citizens, which include rights to equality, freedom of speech and expression, right to life and personal liberty, and others.
  9. Equality before the law: The principle that all individuals are equal in the eyes of the law and should be treated without discrimination.
  10. Protection and preservation of the basic features of democracy: Ensuring free and fair elections, accountability of public officials, and participation of citizens in the democratic process.

These are some of the key components that are generally considered part of the Basic Structure of the Constitution in India. The concept of the Basic Structure acts as a safeguard against arbitrary changes to the Constitution and ensures the preservation of its essential values and principles.

Learn more about Constitution of India:
Historical Background of Indian Constitution Important Articles in Constitution of India
Sources of Indian Constitution Schedules of Indian Constitution
Salient Features of Indian Constitution Preamble of Indian Constitution
Constitutional Morality Constitutional Development of India
Citizenship in Indian Constitution Comparison of Indian Constitution With Other Countries

Evolution of Basic Structure Doctrine

The Doctrine of Basic Structure has evolved through several key judicial pronouncements and landmark cases in the Indian legal system. Here is a brief overview of the evolution of the Basic Structure Doctrine:

Shankari Prasad Case (1951)

In this case, the Supreme Court held that the power of Parliament to amend the Constitution under Article 368 is unrestricted, and it can amend any part of the Constitution, including fundamental rights.

Sajjan Singh Case (1965)

The Supreme Court reaffirmed its position in the Shankari Prasad case and upheld the validity of the 17th Constitutional Amendment Act, which placed the state enactments relating to land reforms beyond the scope of judicial review.

Golak Nath Case (1967)

The Supreme Court departed from its earlier position in the Shankari Prasad and Sajjan Singh cases. It held that the Parliament cannot amend fundamental rights under Article 368 and that any amendment altering or abrogating fundamental rights would be unconstitutional.

Kesavananda Bharati Case (1973)

This landmark case is considered a turning point in the evolution of the Basic Structure Doctrine. The Supreme Court, in a 7-6 majority judgment, upheld the constitutional validity of the 24th Constitutional Amendment Act, which sought to curtail the power of judicial review. However, the Court also introduced the concept of the Basic Structure Doctrine, stating that certain fundamental features of the Constitution are beyond the amending power of Parliament.

Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain Case (1975)

The Supreme Court expanded the scope of the Basic Structure Doctrine by holding that even amendments made to overcome judicial decisions would be subject to review.

  • In this case, the SC used the basic structure doctrine to invalidate Clause 4 of Article 329 (A), which was added in 1975 by the 39th Amendment on the premise that it was outside the scope of the amending power of the Parliament because it damaged the fundamental elements of the Constitution.
  • While the Emergency Period was going on, Parliament approved the 39th Amendment Act. This Act exempted the election of the Prime Minister, the Lok Sabha’s speaker, the President, and the Vice President from judicial review.
  • The government took this action to block Indira Gandhi from being tried by the Allahabad High Court for engaging in unethical electoral procedures.

Minerva Mills Case (1980)

The Supreme Court clarified that the Basic Structure Doctrine is not limited to just fundamental rights but encompasses other essential features such as the principle of secularism, judicial review, federalism, and democracy.

Waman Rao Case (1981)

The Supreme Court reiterated that the Basic Structure Doctrine is not limited to explicit provisions but also includes implied limitations and essential features necessary for the functioning of the Constitution.

I.R. Coelho Case (2007)

The Supreme Court upheld the validity of the 9th Schedule, which provides protection to certain laws from judicial scrutiny. However, it held that laws placed in the 9th Schedule that violate the basic structure are still subject to judicial review.

Significance of Basic Structure Doctrine of Indian Constitution

The significance of the Basic Structure Doctrine is immense. These pointers have been briefly discussed below;

  • The basic structure of Constitution provides a basis that no one can harm the core principles of the Indian Constitution by force or majority.
  • It helps preserve the fundamental concept of Indian democracy; otherwise, unrestricted parliamentary power may have transformed India into a totalitarian state.
  • It is beneficial and crucial to retaining the fundamental and core principles of the constitution that was crafted diligently by our founding fathers.
  • By clearly defining a real division of powers in which the judiciary is autonomous, free of any interference from the other two organs, it improves our democracy. Additionally, it has greatly increased the Supreme Court’s power, making it the most dominant court in the world.
  • The doctrine of basic structure gave us fundamental rights which can not be taken away from us by any amendment.
  • Unlike the fixed character of prior judgments, it is dynamic in nature and more progressive and adaptable over time.

Criticism of the Basic Structure of Constitution

Go through the following points to understand the criticism of the Basic Structure doctrine of Indian Constitution:

  • The notion is frequently criticised for having no legal foundation in the language of the Constitution. The doctrine lacks a scriptural foundation. There is no clause stating that the fundamental framework of this Constitution is outside the purview of the right to alter it.
  • Detractors of the concept further contend that it gives the judiciary the power to enforce its philosophy on a democratically elected government.
  • The doctrine is unclear because there is no clear definition of what exactly comprises the basic structure.
  • The doctrine has recently been used in cases that have been viewed as instances of judicial overreach. Ex: The SC used this theory to declare the NJAC bill null and void.

The “Rule of Law” premise of the Constitution, which states that no one is superior to the Constitution and that the Constitution is supreme, is simply given life by the basic structural idea. This idea safeguards the fundamental character of the Constitution. Additionally, because the Supreme Court is the guardian of the Constitution, it is the last arbiter and has the right to enunciate the Basic Structure theory. However, this does not mean that the Supreme Court should assume absolute power.

Basic Structure Doctrine UPSC

Basic Structure of Indian Constitution UPSC notes hold significant importance for UPSC preparation as questions about the landmark judgements and cases related to the doctrine of Basic Structure might be asked in the Prelims and Mains exams. Go through the following questions taken from UPSC previous year question papers to understand the types and difficulty level of questions asked.

Basic Structure of Constitution UPSC Questions

Q1: The Doctrine of Basic Structure of the Constitution of India was propounded by which landmark case? – (a) Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, (b) Golak Nath v. State of Punjab, (c) Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain, (d) Minerva Mills v. Union of India

Answer: a) Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala

Q2: Which of the following is NOT considered a part of the Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution? – (a) Supremacy of the Constitution, (b) Separation of powers, (c) Directive Principles of State Policy, (d) Judicial review

Answer: c) Directive Principles of State Policy

Q3: The Doctrine of Basic Structure implies that amendments to the Constitution cannot: (a) Alter the secular nature of the Indian state, (b) Curtail the powers of the judiciary, (c) Abrogate fundamental rights, (d) All of the above

Answer: d) All of the above

Q4: The Basic Structure Doctrine acts as a check on the amending power of: (a) The President of India, (b) The Parliament of India, (c) The Supreme Court of India, (d) The Election Commission of India

Answer: b) The Parliament of India

Q5: The concept of the Basic Structure of the Constitution ensures the preservation of: (a) Fundamental duties of citizens, (b) The political ideology of the ruling party, (c) The core principles and values of the Constitution, (d) The powers of the President

Answer: c) The core principles and values of the Constitution

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