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About Kesavananda Bharati case


Fifty years ago, on April 24, 1973, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment in Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru and Ors vs State of Kerala and Anr, the landmark case that redefined the relationship between Parliament and the Constitution.


GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Kesavananda Bharati case
  2. Understanding the Doctrine of the Basic Structure:

Kesavananda Bharati case

  • The Kesavananda Bharati case was a landmark case in India that dealt with the extent of Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution.
  • In earlier cases, the Supreme Court viewed the power to amend the Constitution as unfettered, but this changed in the I C Golaknath & Ors vs State Of Punjab & Anrs (Feb 27, 1967), where the court ruled that Parliament cannot amend the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
  • Parliament responded by amending the Constitution to give itself the power to amend any part of the Constitution and passed a law that it cannot be reviewed by the courts.
  • The scope of the power to amend was the central challenge in the Kesavananda case, which dealt with the land ceiling laws that impacted the fundamental right to property.
  • In its majority ruling, the court held that fundamental rights cannot be taken away by amending them, but Parliament had vast powers to amend the Constitution.
  • The court drew a line by observing that certain parts are so inherent and intrinsic to the Constitution that even Parliament cannot touch it, and ruled that the amendment should not violate the “basic structure” of the Constitution.

Understanding the Doctrine of the Basic Structure:

  • The basic structure doctrine originated in the German Constitution after World War II, which introduced limits on Parliament’s power to amend certain parts of the Constitution considered “basic law”.
  • In India, the basic structure doctrine serves as the foundation for judicial review of all laws passed by Parliament, and prohibits any law that infringes on the basic structure.
  • The exact definition of the basic structure, however, remains a subject of ongoing debate and interpretation.
  • Some elements of the basic structure, as identified by the courts, include parliamentary democracy, fundamental rights, judicial review, and secularism.
  • Ultimately, it is the role of the Judiciary to determine what constitutes the basic structure of the Indian Constitution.

-Source: Indian Express

February 2024