Kesavananda Bharati Case – Summary, Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

Kesavananda Bharati Case, also known as the Fundamental Rights Case, holds a significant place in the history of the Supreme Court of India. This landmark case introduced the concept of the basic structure doctrine, which safeguards the fundamental principles and ideals of the Indian Constitution. The case involved Kesavananda Bharati, a prominent petitioner, and resulted in a 7:6 decision by the court, striking down amendments that violated the Constitution’s fundamental structure.

Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala Case, 1973, is a prominent legal case that established the concept of the basic structure doctrine in the Indian Constitution, ensuring the protection of fundamental constitutional principles. This case holds great importance in the UPSC exam as it falls under the polity section of the UPSC Syllabus. It helps candidates understand the concept of the basic structure of the Constitution, which is crucial in comprehending the legal framework and constitutional provisions of India.

Kesavananda Bharati Case

Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala Case, often known as the Fundamental Rights case, is unquestionably one of the most significant decisions in Indian constitutional history, if not the most significant verdict of the post-independence era.

  • S.M. Sikri C. J., Hegde J, Mukherjee J, Shehlat J, Grover J, Jaganmohan Reddy J, and Khanna J delivered the majority verdict in the case; Ray J, Palekar J, Mathew J, Beg J, Dwivedi J, and Chandrachud J dissented.
  • It is accurate to say that the decision in the Kesavananda Bharati Case ended the struggle between the government and the court and saved the nation’s democratic structure and framework. The case’s final ruling resulted from a protracted legal battle between N.A. Palkhivala (who represented the petitioners) and H.M. Seervai, two constitutional heavyweights and legal giants (who represented the State of Kerala).
  • The lengthy hearing in the case lasted for sixty-eight days, and on April 24, 1973, a lengthy judgment of 703 pages was issued.

Kesavananda Bharati Case Summary

The Kesavananda Bharati Case was a significant legal milestone in India that questioned the extent of Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution and its impact on fundamental rights. Here is a summary of the case:

  • Issue: The case examined whether Parliament had unrestricted authority to change the Constitution of India, including the ability to eliminate essential rights.
  • Petitioners’ arguments: They contended that Parliament’s authority to amend the Constitution was limited and couldn’t alter its fundamental design. They cited a previous ruling to support their claim and argued that certain Constitutional Amendments violated Article 19(1) pertaining to Fundamental Rights.
  • Respondents’ arguments: The State argued that Parliament’s supremacy was a fundamental principle of the Indian legal system, giving it unrestricted authority to modify the Constitution to fulfill socio-economic commitments.
  • Landmark principles established:
    • In the Kesavananda Bharati Case 1973, the Supreme Court established some landmark principles as the 24th Amendment Act was upheld.
    • The first provision of the 25th Amendment Act was affirmed, but the second clause was deemed unconstitutional as it undermined judicial review, a fundamental aspect of the Constitution.
    • Overturning Golak Nath’s decision, it was ruled that Parliament can amend the Constitution but only in line with its fundamental principles, including the alteration of Fundamental Rights.
    • The concept of the basic structure doctrine was upheld, restricting Parliament from making changes that violate the Constitution’s fundamental structure.
    • It was recognized that judges have the authority to review court decisions.

Keshwananda Bharti Case: Summary, Judgement of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, 1973 | UPSC

Background of the Kesavananda Bharati Case 1973

Kesavananda Bharati case, decided in 1973, is a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court of India. It is widely regarded as one of the most important cases in Indian constitutional history, as it defined the basic structure doctrine, which places limitations on the amending power of the Indian Parliament. Check the Background of Kesavananda Bharati Case

  • The court had concluded that in both situations, the term “law” in Article 13 must be understood to refer to rules or regulations passed in the course of standard legislative authority instead of amendments to the Constitution made in the course of exercising constituent power under Article 368.
  • This implies that the Parliament may change any provision of the Constitution, including Fundamental Rights.
    • A law made in violation of Article 13(2), which states that “The State shall not create any law which takes away or abridges the right granted by this Part (i.e., Part-III), and any law made in contravention of this article shall, to the extent of the contravention, be void,” is not always complied with.
  • However, the Supreme Court ruled in the Golaknath case (1967) that only a Constituent Assembly would have the authority to change the Constitution and that Parliament could not amend Fundamental Rights.
  • According to the Court, if an amendment “takes away or abridges” a Fundamental Right granted by Part III, it is void since it constitutes “law” within Article 13 of the Constitution.
  • The then-government passed significant Constitutional revisions to overturn the Supreme Court’s rulings in the Golaknath case (1967), the RC Cooper case (1970), and the Madhavrao Scindia case (1970). most prominently
    • The 24th Constitutional (Amendment) Act of 1971 granted Parliament the authority to change any provision of the Constitution.
    • The property right had been eliminated as a fundamental right by the 25th Constitutional (Amendment) Act of 1972.

Significance of Kesavananda Bharati Case

The judgment is regarded as the second-most significant text after the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court convened its largest-ever bench of 13 judges to hear the case.

  • In the Kesavananda Bharati Case, relief was requested from two state land reform legislation (under the 9th Schedule) that placed limitations on the management of the holy property and were directed against the Kerala government.
  • According to this interpretation, Parliament could change any part of the Constitution if the changes did not affect the document’s fundamental design or core principles.
  • The late Kesavananda Bharati referred to it as “God’s decision”: Because the amending power was subject to the fundamental framework, the seer won the war despite losing the battle.

Kesavananda Bharati Case 1973 Judgement

The historic ruling, handed down on April 24th by a razor-thin 7:6 vote, held that the Parliament might amend any provision of the Indian Constitution to fulfil the socioeconomic guarantees made to the people in the Preamble, so long as the amendment did not fundamentally alter the Constitution.

  • However, the minority’s dissenting opinion cautioned against handing the Parliament unrestricted amending power.
  • According to the court, the 24th Amendment to the Constitution was completely legal. However, the second section of the 25th Constitutional Amendment was unlawful.
  • Because the judicial review is a fundamental component and cannot be removed, the Supreme Court determined Article 31C to be illegal and unlawful.
  • The court maintained the legislation that eliminated the fundamental right to property despite the court’s decision that Parliament cannot violate fundamental rights.
  • According to the court, the modification wouldn’t go against the “fundamental structure” of the Constitution.

Important Facts of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala

Kesavananda Bharati served as the head priest of the Edneer Mutt, a monastic religious organization having its main office in Kasaragod, Kerala. In the Mutt, Bharati possessed some property. The Kerala state legislature passed the Land Reforms Amendment Act in 1969. This Act allowed the government to buy a portion of Mutt’s lands. By Section 32 of the Constitution, Bharati filed a Supreme Court petition in March 1970 to uphold the following rights:

  • Article 14: Right to equality
  • Article 19(1)(f): Freedom to acquire property
  • Article 25: Right to practice & propagate religion
  • Article 26: Right to manage religious affairs
  • Article 31: Compulsory acquisition of property

Even as the court considered the petition, the Kerala state government passed another law, the Kerala Land Reforms (Amendment) Act, in 1971. The arguments put up by the petitioners highlighted the legitimacy of certain modifications that the Parliament introduced to overturn the results of Golaknath v. the State of Punjab. The petitioners specifically contested the legitimacy of three constitutional amendments—the 24th, 25th, and 29th Amendments.

Kesavananda Bharati, the primary petitioner in the Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru and Ors v. State of Kerala Case, 1973 (famous for establishing the Supreme Court’s basic structure concept), passed away on September 6, 2020, in Idnir Math at the age of 79 from diseases associated with aging.

Kesavananda Bharati Case Preamble

The Preamble of Indian Constitution is a solemn and dignified epitome of the basic structure of the Constitution. The Indian Constitution was framed in the light of the Preamble, and the Supreme Court of India, in its various judgments, has clarified that being a part of the Constitution, the Preamble can be subjected to Constitutional Amendments exercised under Article 368 of the Constitution. However, the amendment should not alter the basic structure.

The Preamble is considered the heart and soul of the Constitution. The preamble is neither enforceable nor justifiable in a court of law. Supreme Court, in Kesavananda Bharati Case 1973, held that the Parliament has the authority to amend any clause of the constitution as long as the amendment does not violate the Basic Structure of the Constitution.

Doctrine of Basic Structure

The concept of the Doctrine of Basic Structure has been explained in the points below:

  • The German Constitution, which was altered to protect some fundamental laws following the Nazi era, is where the basic structure philosophy has its roots.
  • As a result of that experience, the new German Constitution placed significant restrictions on Parliament’s ability to change certain provisions it deemed to be “fundamental legislation.”
  • The fundamental structure theory has served as the cornerstone of judicial examination of all laws enacted by Parliament in India.
  • No law may alter the fundamental framework. But there has been an ongoing discussion on the fundamental structure.
  • The list is not all-inclusive, but courts uphold secularism, parliamentary democracy, and fundamental rights as the essential framework.
  • The Judiciary is in charge of determining the structure’s fundamental elements.

Kesavananda Bharati Case UPSC

Keshvanand Bharati Case is a landmark judgment that holds immense relevance in Indian Polity and is a crucial topic in the UPSC Syllabus. It is advisable for candidates to refer the Polity books for UPSC to do proper preparation and strengthen the understanding of this topic and its implications on the Constitution.

Candidates can explore the comprehensive summary, background, significance, and judgment details of the Keshvanand Bharati Case mentioned above. This topic holds significance not only for the UPSC Prelims but also for the mains examination, making it essential for thorough preparation.

Kesavananda Bharati Case UPSC Questions

Keshwanand Bharati Case is a landmark judgment that has greatly impacted the Indian Constitution. This topic is often asked in the UPSC Exams. Candidates should practice this topic thoroughly. Below are a few questions to kickstart your preparation.

Question: In which case did the Supreme Court pronounce the judgment for the first time that Parliament cannot amend the basic structure of the Constitution? (A) Shankari Prasad Case (B) Golaknath Case (C) Kesavananda Bharati Case (D) Minerva Mills Case

Answer: (C) Kesavananda Bharati Case

Question: Which one of the following cases prompted the Parliament to enact the 24th Constitutional Amendment Act? (A) Golaknath Case (B) Shankari Prasad Case (C) Kesavananda Bharati case (D) Minerva Mills case

Answer: Option A

Question: Discuss the significance of the Kesavananda Bharati case in shaping the doctrine of basic structure of the Constitution of India. How did this landmark case impact the power balance between the judiciary and the legislature?

Question: Analyze the major arguments put forth by the petitioners and the government in the Kesavananda Bharati case. How did the Supreme Court’s ruling on the case impact the interpretation of the amending power under Article 368 of the Constitution?

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