Basic Structure of the Constitution

    Edited by: Vaani Garg

    What is the basic structure doctrine?

    The concept of “Basic Structure” is nowhere defined in the Indian Constitution. The idea that the Parliament cannot introduce laws that would amend the basic structure of the constitution developed uniformly over the course of time. The purpose of basic structure is to preserve the nature of Indian democracy and protect the rights and liberties of people. This doctrine helps to protect and maintain the spirit of the constitution.

    BASIC FEATURES OF BASIC STRUCTURE :

    • Supremacy of the constitution
    • Republican and democratic form of government
    • Secular character of the constitution
    • Federal character of the constitution
    • Separation of power
    • Unity and sovereignty of India
    • Individual freedom

    Evolution of basic structure concept

    Shankari Prasad Singh case(1951)

    In the case Shankari  Prasad Singh v. Union of India, AIR 1951 SC 458 , the Supreme Court claimed that the Parliament’s power of amending the Constitution under Article 368 included the power to amend the Fundamental Rights conferred in Part III as well.

    Sajjan Singh case(1965)

    The case of Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan (1965)1 SCR 933, also challenged the First Constitution Act,1951 on the grounds that it infringed the part III of the constitution and therefore, it should be declared as invalid.

    The Supreme Court opined that the Parliament has the power to amend any part of the Constitution including the Fundamental Rights. 

    In both the cases,  the court said that  the term ‘law’ in Article 13 must be taken to mean rules or regulation made in exercise of ordinary legislation power and not amendments in exercise of  constituent power under Article 368.

    Golak Nath case(1967)

    In the case of Golak Nath v. State of Punjab,(1967) 2 SCR 762, the court reversed its earlier judgement that the Fundamental Rights can be amended. The  Supreme Court held that part III of the constitution cannot be amended . It said that Fundamental Rights are not amenable to the Parliamentary restriction as stated in Article 13, and to amend the Fundamental rights a new Constituent Assembly would be required. It also stated that Article 368 provides the procedure of amending Constitution but it does not give the power to the parliament to amend the Constitution.

    Kesavananda Bharati case (1973)

    This was a landmark case in defining the concept of the basic structure doctrine. In the case of Kesavananda Bharti v. State of Kerala, AIR 1973 SC1461,  the Supreme Court overruled the judgment of Golak Nath’s case,the court held that the under Article 368 parliament  is not empowered to amend the basic structure or framework of the Constitution.

    It held that first part of the twenty-fifth Amendment Act is valid but second part is invalid. It is beyond the power of parliament to amend any part of the Constitution including Fundamental Rights, ‘the basic structure or framework of the Constitution could not be destroyed or abrogated  even by  a Constitutional amendment. The judgement implied that the parliament can only amend the constitution and not alter the ‘basic structure or framework ‘ of the Constitution.

    Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain case (1975)

    Here, the SC applied the theory of basic structure and struck down Clause(4) of article 329-A, which was inserted by the 39th Amendment in 1975 on the grounds that it was beyond the Parliament’s amending power as it destroyed the ‘basic feature’ of the Constitution.

    Minerva Mills case (1980)

    The  Supreme Court by 4 to 1 majority stuck down Section 55 of the Constitution (forty-second Amendment) Act which had inserted clauses (4) and (5) of the Article 368 on the grounds that these clauses were destructive to basic feature of the Constitution.

    The judgment makes it clear about the supremacy of the Constitution. Parliament cannot have unlimited amending power so as to damage the Constitution. The judges ruled that a limited amending power itself is a basic feature of the Constitution. Judicial review and balance between Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles of State Policy(DPSP) were added in the list of basic structure of the constitution.