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Basic Structure Doctrine in the Kesavananda Bharati Case

Basic Structure Doctrine

Understanding the Basic Structure Doctrine

The Kesavananda Bharati case was a landmark legal decision that introduced the concept of the “Basic Structure” doctrine in Indian constitutional law. In this case, the validity of the 29th amendment, which protected Kerala’s takeover of religious mutt property within the Ninth Schedule, was challenged. The Basic Structure doctrine asserts that the power of judicial review is essential, and it identifies certain “essential features” that must be upheld through this power. Justice Bhagwati notably included “harmony” between fundamental rights and directive principles as one such essential feature. This case underscores the rare authority of the apex court to declare a constitutional amendment invalid.

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Essentially, the Basic Structure concept emphasizes that Parliament’s authority to amend the Constitution (as per Article 368) is not absolute. Any law or amendment passed is subject to judicial review, and the judiciary can invalidate it if found to be in violation of the Constitution. The Basic Structure doctrine reflects the wisdom of India’s founding fathers, serving as a check against potential state autocracy. It also reinforces the idea that the judiciary is the ultimate safeguard for citizens. This historic judgment can be viewed as a precursor to judicial activism, where the judiciary plays an active role in protecting constitutional principles.

Limits on the Powers of Supreme Court

  • The Court is firmly guided by the “golden triangle” of rights established in Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution.
  • The Court is tasked with understanding the core principles of the Constitution through its provisions.
  • From 1973 onward, the Supreme Court has consistently demonstrated a strong commitment to democratic values and ethical conduct when interpreting the doctrine of BSEF.

From the various judgements, the following have emerged as ‘Basic Features’ of the Constitution:

  • Supremacy of the Constitution
  • Sovereign, democratic and republican nature of the Indian polity
  • Secular character of the Constitution
  • Separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary
  • Federal character of the Constitution
  • Unity and integrity of the nation
  • Welfare state (socio-economic justice)
  • Judicial review
  • Freedom and dignity of the individual
  • Parliamentary system
  • Rule of law
  • Harmony and balance between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles
  • Principle of equality
  • Free and fair elections
  • Independence of Judiciary
  • Limited power of Parliament to amend the Constitution
  • Effective access to justice
  • Principle of reasonableness
  • Powers of the Supreme Court under Articles 32, 136, 141 and 142

Read Also: Why India Needs a New Constitutional Order?

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