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

By Balaji

Updated on: February 17th, 2023

The Kesavananda Bharati Case was a landmark case in the Supreme Court of India. The Kesavananda Bharati Case Summary outlined the basic structure doctrine of the Indian Constitution, thus also giving the Kesavananda Bharati Case 1973 the other name, the Fundamental Rights Case.

In a 7:6 decision, the court struck down amendments to the Constitution that violated the fundamental structure of the Indian Constitution. According to Justice Hans Raj Khanna’s Basic Structure doctrine, the constitution has a fundamental structure of constitutional ideals and principles. The main petitioner of the Kesavananda Bharati Case was Kesavananda Bharati, of Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru. The case came to be known as the Kesavananda Bharati and Ors. v. State of Kerala Case, 1973.

The Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala Case comes under the polity section of the UPSC Syllabus and is a judgment to understand the concept of the basic structure of the Constitution.

Table of content

  • 1. What is Kesavananda Bharati Case? (more)
  • 2. Kesavananda Bharati Case Summary (more)
  • 3. Background of the Kesavananda Bharati Case 1973 (more)
  • 4. Significance of Kesavananda Bharati Case (more)
  • 5. Kesavananda Bharati Case 1973 Judgement (more)
  • 6. Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala: Important Facts (more)
  • 7. Kesavananda Bharati Case – Preamble (more)
  • 8. Kesavananda Bharati Case UPSC (more)
  • 9. Kesavananda Bharati Case UPSC Questions (more)

What is Kesavananda Bharati Case?

The 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

Kesavananda Bharati Case ended the conflict between the executive and the judiciary and proved to be a savior of the democratic system. Go through the Kesavananda Bharati Case Summary to memorize the important points.

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

Issues before the Court

The issue in the Kesavananda Bharati Case additionally included: Was Parliament’s ability to change the Indian Constitution unrestricted? In other words, could Parliament change, amend, or even repeal any part of the Constitution to the point that all essential rights were eliminated?

Contentions of the Petitioners

Petitioners argued that because the Parliament’s authority to alter the Constitution is constrained, they cannot do it in the way they would like. To the ruling made by Justice Mudholkar in the case of Sajjan Singh v. the State of Rajasthan, the Parliament is not permitted to rewrite the Constitution to alter its fundamental design.

They claimed that Article 19(1) Fundamental Rights was violated by the 24th and 25th Constitutional Amendments (f).

Contentions of the Respondents

According to the State, the supremacy of the Parliament is the fundamental tenet of the Indian legal system, and as such, it has unrestricted authority to modify the Constitution. The respondents emphasized that the Parliament’s unrestricted ability to modify the Constitution must be upheld to fulfill its socio-economic commitments.

Landmark Principles on Kesavananda Bharti case

In the Kesavananda Bharati Case 1973, the Supreme Court established some landmark principles as,

The 24th Amendment Act was upheld.

It affirmed the first provision of the 25th Amendment Act. Still, it declared the second clause unconstitutional because judicial review is a fundamental aspect of the Constitution. As a fundamental structure, 31C must be subject to judicial review and cannot be eliminated.

Golak Nath’s decision was overturned, and it was found that: Parliament can amend the Constitution, but only by its fundamental principles; Fundamental Rights can be changed.

It was decided to adhere to the basic structure doctrine.

It was claimed that judges could review court decisions.

Background of the Kesavananda Bharati Case 1973

According to the rulings in the Shankari Prasad Case (1951) and the Sajjan Singh case, the Supreme Court gave Parliament unrestricted authority to modify the Constitution (1965).

  • 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 Bharti 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.

Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala: Important Facts

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

Read: Why Article 14, 19 and 21 is Known as the Golden Triangle?

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 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 Bharti’s 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.

The 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

Keshwanand Bharti Case is a landmark judgment, making it a very relevant topic in Indian Polity and current affairs that can be inquired about in the UPSC Prelims, UPSC Mains, and the optional papers. Candidates can refer to appropriate Polity books for UPSC preparation to brush up on their basics about this topic.

Kesavananda Bharati Case UPSC Questions

Keshwanand Bharti Case is a landmark judgment that has greatly impacted the Indian Constitution, which is often mentioned 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?

  1. Shankari Prasad case
  2. Golaknath case
  3. Kesavananda Bharati case
  4. Minerva Mills case

Answer: Option C

Question: Which one of the following cases prompted the Parliament to enact the 24th Constitutional Amendment Act?

  1. Golaknath case
  2. Shankari Prasad case
  3. Kesavananda Bharati case
  4. Minerva Mills case

Answer: Option A

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