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Kesavananda Bharati Case vs State of Kerala, Judgement, Analysis

Kesavananda Bharati Case

Kesavananda Bharati Case is marked to be the saviour of Indian democracy. It aimed at analyzing the infamous conflict between the legislature and judiciary and the role of the case in attaining constitutional harmony. Also called the Fundamental Rights Case.

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Kesavananda Bharati Case Background

The clash between the supreme democratic institutions has been repeatedly witnessed in India, early 1970s witnessed a face-off between the judiciary and legislature which resulted in the landmark judgement of the Kesavananda Bharati vs the State of Kerala.

Judgements before Kesavananda Bharati Case:

 Name of the Case Judgements of the Supreme Court
A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras (1950)
  • Theme: SC under this case interpreted the Fundamental Rights under Part III of the constitution.
  • SC held that protection under Article 21 is available against arbitrary executive action and not against arbitrary legislative action. This means a state based on law can deprive the right to life and personal liberty of the person.
  • Also, the Supreme Court held that ‘personal liberty’ means only liberty relating to the person or body of the individual.
Shankari Prasad and Sajjan Singh
  • Theme: In this case, the constitutional validity of the First Amendment Act 1951 was challenged.
  • The SC ruled that the power of the Parliament to amend the Constitution under Article 368 also includes the power to amend Fundamental Rights included under Part III. The word ‘law’ in Article 13 includes only ordinary laws and not the constitutional amendment acts under Article 368.
  • Hence the Parliament can take away any of the Fundamental Rights by enacting a constitutional amendment (Article 368) which will be not void under Article 13.
Golaknath v. State of Punjab (1967)
  • Theme: SC ruled that the Parliament cannot take away or abridge any of the Fundamental Rights.
  • The SC ruled that the Fundamental Rights cannot be amended for the implementation of the Directive Principles under Part IV of the Constitution.
  • The Parliament’s reaction to SCs Golaknath Case judgement (1967) and enacted.
  • 24th Amendment Act (1971) declared that the Parliament has the power to abridge or take away any of the Fundamental Rights by enacting Constitutional Amendment Acts.
  • 25th Amendment Act (1971) inserted a new Article 31C which contained the following two provisions:
    • First, no law which seeks to implement the socialistic Directive Principles specified in Article 39 (b) and (c) shall be void on the ground of contravention of the Fundamental Rights conferred under Article 14, Article 19, or Article 31.
    • Second, no law containing a declaration for giving effect to such a policy shall be questioned in any court on the ground that it does not give effect to such a policy.

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Who was Kesavananda Bharati?

Kesavananda Bharati was a Hindu Monk and a patron of Kannada culture and art. He was also the petitioner in the Keshvananda Bharati vs State of Kerala case. February 1970 Swami Kesavananda Bharati, senior plaintiff and head of the Hindu monastery, Kerala, challenged the Kerala government’s attempts, under two land reform acts, to impose restrictions on the management of its property. 

A petition under Article 26, concerning the right to manage religiously owned property without government interference, was filed. A 13-judge Bench was set up by the Supreme Court, to hear the case. To decide the question underlying the case was: Does the power of Parliament to amend the Constitution unlimited?

Kesavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala Case Verdict

The landmark judgement was delivered on 24 April 1973 by a thin majority of 7:6 wherein the majority held that any provision of the Indian Constitution can be amended by the Parliament in order to fulfil its socio-economic obligations which are guaranteed to the citizens as mentioned in the Preamble of Indian Constitution, provided that such amendment should not disturb the basic structure of the constitution.

Under its judgement SC held that the 24th Constitutional Amendment 1971 was is valid, but it also held that the second part of the 25th Constitutional Amendment 1971 was ultra vires.

The Supreme Court declared Article 31C as unconstitutional on the ground that judicial review is the basic structure and hence cannot be taken away from the judiciary. Despite the ruling that Parliament cannot breach fundamental rights, the amendment that removed the fundamental right to property was upheld by the court. The court ruled that in spirit, the amendment of the constitution would not violate the “basic structure”.

Doctrine of the Basic Structure

The origins of the basic structure doctrine can be traced back to the German Constitution which, after the Nazi regime, was amended to protect some basic laws of the country.

German Constitution introduced substantive limitations on the power of the Parliament to amend certain parts of the Constitution which it considered ‘basic law’. In India, the basic structure doctrine has formed the basis of the judicial review of all laws passed by Parliament. No law can violate the basic structure of the constitution.

Implications of Kesavananda Bharati Case Judgement

Politically, as a result of the verdict, the judiciary faced its biggest litmus test against the executive. They ignored the opinion government superseded three judges. Within less than two years of the restoration of Parliament’s amending powers to near absolute terms, the 42nd amendment 1946 was challenged before the Supreme Court by Minerva Mills owners (Bangalore) a sick industrial firm which was nationalised by the government in 1974. Minerva Mills reaffirmed the Basic structure doctrine which was later done in the Waman Rao case, in 1981.

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In which case the origin of the basic structure doctrine originated?

Keshwananda Bharati Case 1973

The credit of the origin of basic structure doctrine can be given to which country?

German Constitution.

42nd constitution amendment act was challenged in which case of Supreme Court?

Minerva Mills case 1980

How many judges bench was Keshwananda Bharati case?

It was a 13-judges Bench.

What was the majority of judges on the landmark judgement of Keshwananda Bharati case?

Landmark judgement was delivered on 24 April 1973 by a thin majority of 7:6.

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