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His Holiness Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru and Ors. v. State of Kerala and Anr.


Authored by - Anjali Shekhawat

Keywords - Basic Structure doctrine, Judicial Review, Restricting overpowering by the legislature, Fundamental principles, Empowering Justice, Basic Features of the Constitution


Parties Involved:


Appellant: His Holiness Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru and Ors. Vs.

Respondent: State of Kerala and Anr.


Bench:


S. M. Sikri (CJ), J. M. Shelat, K. S. Hegde, A. N. Grover, A.N. Ray, P.J. Reddy, D.G. Palekar, Hans Raj Khanna, K.K., Mathew, M.H. Beg, S.N. Dwivedi, B. K. Mukherjea, and Y. V. Chandrachud


Court: Supreme Court of India


Abstract:


13th Judges’ bench decided the faith of the justice system in our country by shielding the foremost principles enshrined in our constitution. Kesavananda Bharti judgment did not just protect the basic structure of the constitution, it also empowered our judiciary to defeat any violation of the supreme law of our country, by the legislature. It empowered the judiciary to review any legislation which breached the basic structure of our constitution and thus, gave birth to much needed ‘Basic Structure Doctrine’. And hence it provided an extra layer of protection and enhanced the checks and balances on the legislature. This judgement is significant for the safeguarding of our democracy and avoids any chances of overpowering by the legislature.


Kesvananda Bharti and Ors. Versus State of Kerala and Anr., 1973, a historic decision in which through their basic structure principle the Supreme Court changed the course of constitutional history by denying the assertion of the supremacy of Parliament in matters of amending the Constitution at will solely on the basis of requisite voting strength, quite unmindful of the basic or fundamental rights of the citizens[1]. Through this case judicial review, among others, got entrenched as One of the basic features unamendable by Parliament ensuring the principle of limited government and supremacy of rule of law which is a remarkable step towards empowering justice[2]. The verdict unlocked the door to judicial review and activism, which to an extent is necessary for every democracy.

Background of the Case:


The primary step was made in the case of Shankari Prasad v. Union of India[3] which challenged the constitutionality of the 1st amendment Act stating that it violated the provisions of part-3, I.e., fundamental rights of the constitution and Supreme Court ruled in favor of the parliament by allowing them absolute power to amend the constitution. Later, in Golaknath v. State of Punjab[4] it was held that fundamental rights cannot be amended. Finally, in Kesavananda Bharti case, all those issues were addressed. The four controversial constitutional amendments 24th, 25th, 26th, and 29th also came under question in this case.


Facts in Brief:


Swami HH Sri Kesavananda Bharati who was the chief of Edneer Mutt, Kasaragod Region of Kerala filed a petition against the govt. Of Kerala alleging that the land acquired by the government belonged to the sect. Some of these lands by virtue of the Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963 which was further amended by the Kerala Land Reforms (Amendment) Act, 1969 were to be acquired by the state government to fulfill their socio-economic obligations [5]. The petition seeks to protect the rights of petitioners envisaged in Art25, 26, 19(1)(a), 14 and 31.


Issues:


1. Whether the constitutional amendments 24th and 25th are valid or not?

2. Whether the parliament can amend the constitution without any restriction?


Judgement:


The court opined that the land must be returned to the petitioner. The case was decided by a majority of 7:6, which held that there are certain basic principles of the constitution that cannot be amended by the parliament which was called the basic structure of the constitution. The court held that any law passed by the parliament can be brought under scrutiny if prima facie appeared to violate the basic structure of our constitution. The court upheld the 24th Constitutional amendment and declared certain provisions 25th Constitutional Amendments as ultra vires. The court answered the remaining questions in the golaknath case and held that the parliament is empowered to amend the constitution but this power is not absolute and thus the amendments can be up to a level where the basic fundamental principles of our constitution are not breached. This judgement established the ‘Basic Structure Doctrine’.


Analysis:


The judiciary, the third essential pillar of any democracy, must exercise certain powers over the legislature to keep it from misusing its power. The kesvananda Bharti case empowered the judiciary to review the actions of the parliament and preserve the constitution of India. The basic structure doctrine, as future events showed, saved Indian democracy and Kesavananda Bharati will always occupy a hallowed place in our constitutional history[6]. The enormous power assumed by the Supreme Court through the judgment is unique and has no parallel in any democratic Constitution in the world[7]. The court laid out that our constitution is based on certain inviolable fundamental principles and any alteration in such principles must not be allowed. However, certain aspects were vague as the court failed to determine the limits on the power given to high courts and the specific matters that can be laid down under the purview of the basic structure.

[1] Virendra Kumar, “BASIC STRUCTURE OF THE INDIAN CONSTITUTION: DOCTRINE OF CONSTITUTIONALLY CONTROLLED GOVERNANCE [From Kesavananda Bharati to I.R. Coelho]”, Journal of the Indian Law Institute, July-September 2007, Vol. 49, No. 3 (July September 2007), pp. 365-398 Published by: Indian Law Institute Stable URL: http://www.jstor.com/stable/43952120, Retrieved on 7 August, 2020. [2] T.R. Andhyarujina , “THE KESAVANANDA BHARATI CASE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF STRUGGLE FOR SUPREMACY BY SUPREME COURT AND PARLIAMENT”, Review by: N.R. Madhava Menon, Journal of the Indian Law Institute, OCTOBER-DECEMBER 2011, Vol. 53, No. 4 (OCTOBER-DECEMBER 2011), pp. 678-681 Published by: Indian Law Institute Stable URL: http://www.jstor.com/stable/45148584, Retrieved on 7 August 2020. [3] 1951 AIR 458. [4] 1967 AIR 1643. [5] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/257876/ [6] Arvind P. Datar, ‘A case that saved Indian democracy’, The Hindu, 24 April 2013, https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-case-that-saved-indian-democracy/article4647800.ece, Retrieved on 8th August, 2020.

[7] V. Nageswara Rao and G.B. Reddy, ‘DOCTRINE OF JUDICIAL REVIEW AND TRIBUNALS: SPEED BREAKERS AHEAD’ Journal of the Indian Law Institute, Vol. 39, No. 2/4 (APRIL-DECEMBER 1997), pp. 411-423 Published by: Indian Law Institute Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/43953285 Accessed: 08-08-2020 17:42 UTC.



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