Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution: The doctrine of the Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution was propounded by the Supreme Court of India while giving its judgement on the Kehavananda Bharti Case in 1973. However, as we explain below, the Kehavananda Bharti Case was just the culmination of the doctrine which took more than a decade to build, during the 1960s and 70s.
The doctrine of the Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution is perhaps the most important feature of the Constitution invented by the Supreme Court. It has preserved the structure of India’s political system and paved the way for deepened democracy. Similar doctrines were propounded by Pakistan, Malaysia, Belize, Singapore, Bangladesh and Uganda with inspiration from India. This makes the doctrine of the Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution extremely important from the exam point of view. Thus, in this article, we explain to you the doctrine of the Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution.
What is the Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution?
The doctrine of the Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution says that the Constitution of India has certain characteristics that cannot be removed or amended by the Parliament using its amending power. These basic features, though not explicitly enshrined, form the soul of the Constitution. The features included in the Basic Structure can only be added by the Supreme Court. The underlying idea behind this doctrine is that the power to amend a Constitution is not tantamount to the power to make a Constitution.
The Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution comprises the following features
|Judicial Review||Rule of Law||Republican System|
|Democracy||Separation of Powers||Equality|
|The Essence of Fundamental Rights enshrined in Part III of the Constitution||Supremacy of the Constitution||Free and Fair Elections|
|Judicial Independence||Objectives in the Preamble||Social and Economic Justice|
Evolution of the Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution
Shankari Prasad Case (1951)
- The evolution of the Basic Structure of the Constitution can be traced to the First Constitutional Amendment, 1951 itself. The amendment included Articles 31(A) and 31(B) into the Constitution.
- The latter article created the 9th Schedule which included laws of the Parliament as well as the State Legislatures which cannot be challenged on the grounds of violation of Fundamental Rights.
- The Shankari Prasad Case challenged the amendment. In its judgement, the Supreme Court opined that the Parliament had the power to amend the Fundamental Rights as a constitutional amendment was not a ‘Law’ as mentioned in Article 13(2).
Sajjan Singh Case (1965)
- The first case that raised doubts about the unfettered power of the Parliament to amend Fundamental Rights was Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan (1965) in which Justice M. Hdayatullah raised cautions against the unlimited power of the constitution.
- Though the judgement upheld the constitutional amendments that further restricted the Fundamental Right of Property, the case marked the beginning of the Basic Structure Doctrine.
Golaknath Case (1967)
- The Golaknath Case (1967) marked the reversal of the previous opinion repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court regarding the power held by the Parliament to amend Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Constitution.
- The Supreme Court ruled that the Fundamental Rights are not amenable by the Parliament. The power to do so rests only with the Constituent Assembly.
- Reversing its previous position, it ruled that a Constitutional Amendment is also a law.
- The Court further ruled that Parliament was prohibited from altering, limiting, or damaging Part III’s Fundamental Freedoms due to the structure of the Constitution and the nature of the liberties it gave.
- The Court said that Fundamental Rights have been given a “transcendental position” by the Constitution.
Kesavananda Bharati Case (1973)
- The Largest Constitutional bench of the Supreme Court -consisting of 13 justices- sat in a case challenging the 24th, 25th and 29th Amendments to the Constitution which was brought by the government to annul the Golaknath Case judgement. The case was a watershed moment in the history of the Indian judiciary
- Though the judgement of the case upheld the constitutional amendments, the court disagreed with the government’s take on the power of the Parliament to amend any part of the Constitution. The Supreme Court noted that the amending power of the Parliament is wide but not unlimited. Any part of the Constitution can be amended as long as it does not violate the ‘Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution’.
- The court also held that Article 368 of the Constitution does not bestow upon the Parliament any power to amend the Constitution but merely lays out the procedure. The power of amending the Constitution is derived from the usual legislative power of the Parliament.
- The verdict, which was delivered with a 7:6 majority, did not explicitly mention the exhaustive list of the features of the Basic Structure. This provided a kind of flexibility to the doctrine.
- The Basic Structure was thus laid out by successive Supreme Court Judgements.
Election Case (1975)
- The Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain case, popularly known as the Election Case (1975) was a case in the Supreme Court that is widely considered to be the trigger for the imposition of Emergency in 1975. The case, however, is also important when it comes to the Basic Structure doctrine.
- In response to the 1975 State of Uttar Pradesh v. Raj Narain Case, the Union Government passed the 39th Amendment to the Constitution, 1975, which placed the election of the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha beyond Judicial Scrutiny.
- The Election Case struck down the 39th Amendment on the grounds that Judicial Review was a feature of the Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution.
- To nullify the judgement of the Election Case, the Parliament passed the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976 which is known for being a mini-constitution in itself.
Minerva Mills Case (1980)
- The Case of Minerva Mills vs. Union of India (1980) is the most important case regarding the Basic Structure Doctrine, second only to the Kesavananda Bharati Case. The case struck down parts of the 42nd Amendment (1976) that snatched the Judiciary’s power from Judicial Review of elections.
- The court noted again that Judicial Review was a Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution
- Along with that, the court ruled that the Constitution sits on a bedrock of balance between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy.
Central Coalfields Case (1980)
- In this case, the Supreme Court noted that effective access to justice is a feature of the Basic Structure
Waman Rao Case (1981)
- In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that the doctrine must not be applied in retrospect and stated the date of the judgement of the Keshavanada Bharti Case as the cutoff date.
Mandal Case (1992)
- In Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, Popularly known as the Mandal Case (1992), Rule of Law was added to the list of features of the Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution
S.R. Bommai vs. Union of India (1994)
- In this case, Federalism, Democracy and Secularism were added to the list of features of the Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution
The above list of cases relating to the Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution is not exhaustive. Moreover, being dynamic in nature, the list of cases and features of the Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution are subjected to constant change.