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The doctrine of Eclipse and Its Applicability to Post Constitutional Laws: A Critical Analysis


Authored By- Anjali Chaudhary


Keywords: #doctrineofeclipse #conceal #voidabinitio

Abstract

This article talks about the evolution of Doctrine of Eclipse with help of Judicial pronouncements, and how the confusion caused by constant overruling by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India of its own decisions, and various legislative amendments presented by the Parliament led to shaping the Doctrine of Eclipse in its present form. Much discussion has taken place over the suitable applicability of the Doctrine between Judges, Lawyers, and Jurists alike. Through this article the Author would aim to further this discussion a little more while also discussing the present state of applicability of the Doctrineconcerning post-constitutional laws, and whether the Doctrine has persisted beyond its originally intended value.

Introduction

The Doctrine of Eclipse is a very useful and important tool in Constitutional Law. Eclipse means to “conceal” or “hide”. This doctrine is based on the principle that a law that is violative or is contradictory against the fundamental rights mentioned in Part III of the Indian Constitution, is not void from the very moment it begins to be contradictory, but merely becomes unenforceable. Such law gets overshadowed by the Fundamental Right, and for the period that it is overshadowed, it remains dormant but does not die. The part of such a law that is inconsistent with the Fundamental Right must be amended for the eclipse to be removed so that the whole of law can become valid.[i] So basically, a law that is violative of Fundamental Rights in Part III is held invalid and kept aside, and not disposed of entirely, until such contradiction is removed via an amendment to that law. Hence, when a court declares a portion of the law as invalid, it is said to be eclipsed. Such law becomes invalid; however, it continues to exist until “repaired” via legislative amendment.[ii]

Judicial and Legislative History

The Doctrine of Eclipse is talked about in Article 13 of the Indian Constitution. It is based on the principle that fundamental rights are prospective. It puts the fundamental rights on top of the pyramid and aims to defend the ideas of the same. Any scenario where another law, pre-constitutional or post-constitutional, enters within the ambit of fundamental rights and disturbs its flow, the court use the doctrine as a tool to not kill, but paralyze such law to the extent to which it had breached the bounds of the fundamental rights until a legislative amendment is brought in to fix such a law so it doesn’t contradict the fundamental right.[iii]

Historically, various Judicial pronouncements on the Doctrine of Eclipse have been given by courts over the years, and courts corrected themselves each time with different reasoning and arguments. The Doctrine first originated in KeshavanMadhava Manon vs. State of Bombay[1] where the court stated that since the Constitutional Rights came into existence on the day the Constitution came into being, the other laws with inconsistency with these rights must also arise on and after the rights came into being. In BhikajiNarain vs. State of Madhya Pradesh,[2] the Supreme Court for the very first time gave the law with inconsistency a “dormant, not dead” status. In Deep Chand vs. State of Uttar Pradesh,[3] the Supreme Court stated that the Doctrine does not apply to post-constitutional laws, but only pre-constitutional laws. In the P Ratnam[4] case, the Supreme Court eclipsed a Section from the Indian Penal Code, 1872, until it gets amended. In GianKaur's[5] case, the Apex Court reversed the P Ratnam case decision and made the IPC provision operable again. Finally, in the State of Gujrat vs. Ambica Mills,[6] the Supreme Court held that both post-constitutional laws and pre-constitutional laws are not void-ab-initio and can be subject to the Doctrine of Eclipse. In 1971, the Indira Gandhi government brought the 24th Constitutional Amendment that also amended Article 13 of the Constitution.

Conclusion

The Doctrine of Eclipse is a great tool for the Principle of Constitutionalism and Rule of Law. It has a highly effective function wherein it prevents unconstitutional statutes from getting completely wiped off the books, but to merely make them dysfunctional to the extent that they are as such. One can better understand the difference with the following example – In absence of Doctrine of Eclipse, an unconstitutional statute cannot be revived except via re-enactment, while a statute under Eclipse can be revived by removing the unconstitutional residue from such statute. The Supreme Court and other High Courts have, across time, taken into consideration various center-state constitutional disputes, and the Doctrine of Eclipse in its present form has stood the test of time and proven its utility to the public.

[1]KeshavanMadhuva Manon vs. State of Bombay, 1951 AIR 128, 1951 SCR 228 [2]BhikajiNarain vs. State of Madhya Pradesh, 1955, AIR 781 [3]Deep Chand vs. State of Uttar Pradesh, 1959 AIR 648 [4] P. Rathinam v. Union of India, 1994 AIR 1844 [5] Smt. Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab, 1996 AIR 946 [6]State of Gujrat vs. Ambica Mills, 1974 AIR 1300

References-

[i] Namrata Mahanta, Doctrine of Eclipse in Constitutional Law: A Critical Analysis, https://www.academia.edu/34801200/DOCTRINE_OF_ECLIPSE_IN_CONSTITUTIONAL_LAW_A_CRITICAL_ANALYSIS [ii] Doctrine of Eclipse and post Constitutional Laws <http://racolblegal.com/doctrine-of-eclipse-and-post-constitutional-laws/> [iii]Sushila Rao, The Doctrine of Eclipse in Constitutional Law: A Critical Reappraisal of its Contemporary Scope and Relevance, <https://www.jstor.org/stable/44306646?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents>

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