Kesavananda Bharti: case and its legacy

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Context: April 24th, 2023, marked the 50th anniversary of the landmark Kesavananda Bharati case, in which the Supreme Court established the “basic structure” doctrine to set boundaries on Parliament’s authority to amend the Constitution.

Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru and Ors vs State of Kerala and Anr (1973): 

  • Fifty years ago, on April 24, 1973, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment in the landmark case that redefined the relationship between Parliament and the Constitution
  • It established that the Constitution’s “basic structure” is sacrosanct and cannot be altered by the Parliament.
  • The court allowed land ceiling laws to stand but struck down a portion of the 25th Amendment that allowed laws enacted to implement Directive Principles to override fundamental rights.
  • The court outlined specific boundaries for Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution, emphasizing that no amendment may violate the Constitution’s basic structure.
  • It places judiciary as the ultimate authority in determining whether an amendment infringes on the Constitution’s basic structure and what constitutes that structure. 

Some of the features which has been said to be the Basic Structure over a certain period are

  • Supremacy of the Constitution
  • Sovereign, democratic, and republican nature of the Indian Polity
  • Secular character of the Constitution
  • Separation of powers between the legislature, executive and the judiciary
  • Federal character of the Constitution
  • Welfare State (socio-economic justice)
  • Unity and integrity of the nation
  • Judicial Review 
  • Free and fair elections
  • Rule of law

Basic Structure Doctrine – Example of Living & Dynamic Constitution

  • The theory of basic structure exemplifies the concept of a living constitution, as it was not explicitly stated in the Constitution but was derived from judicial interpretation. 
  • This implies that the Judiciary has effectively altered the Constitution without a formal amendment, indicating that the Constitution evolves through judicial rulings. 
  • Moreover, the Basic Structure doctrine has reinforced the equilibrium between rigidity and flexibility by disallowing amendments to specific constitutional provisions while permitting changes to others.
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Mains 2019 General Studies Paper II

Q. “Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution is a limited power and it cannot be enlarged into absolute power.” In the light of this statement explain whether Parliament under Article 368 of the Constitution can destroy the Basic Structure of the Constitution by expanding its amending power? (Answer in 250 words)

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