Introduction The case of Golaknath v State of Punjab is one of the landmark cases in Indian legitimate history. The judgment of this case came at an urgent time. It came when the majority rules system was experiencing the beginning of what later turned into the “most obscure decade” of India. The judgement overruled the Majority Judgement of… Read More »

Introduction The case of Golaknath v State of Punjab is one of the landmark cases in Indian legitimate history. The judgment of this case came at an urgent time. It came when the majority rules system was experiencing the beginning of what later turned into the “most obscure decade” of India. The judgement overruled the Majority Judgement of Shankari Prasad v Union of India[1] and Sajjan Singh v State of Rajasthan[2] which held that the words ‘amendment of the...

Introduction

The case of Golaknath v State of Punjab is one of the landmark cases in Indian legitimate history. The judgment of this case came at an urgent time. It came when the majority rules system was experiencing the beginning of what later turned into the “most obscure decade” of India. The judgement overruled the Majority Judgement of Shankari Prasad v Union of India[1] and Sajjan Singh v State of Rajasthan[2] which held that the words ‘amendment of the Constitution” means an amendment of all the provisions of the Constitution.

Citation: AIR 1971 SC 1643[3]

Judges: Subba Rao (CJ), Wanchoo, K.N. Hidyatullah, M. Shah, J.C. Sikri, S.M. Bachawat, R.S. Ramaswami, V. Shelat, J.M. Bhargava, Vishishtha Mitter, G.K. Vaidyialingam, C.A.

Facts

The group of Henry and William Golaknath was in control of more than 500 sections of land farmland in Jalandhar, Punjab. Under the Punjab Security and Land Tenures Act, the public authority held that the siblings could keep just thirty sections of land each, a couple of sections of land would go to occupants and the rest was proclaimed excess. This was challenged by the group of Golaknath in the courts. Further, this case alluded to the Supreme Court in 1965.

The family documented a request under Article 32 challenging the 1953 Punjab Act in light of the fact that it denied them their sacred rights to procure and hold property and practice any calling (Article 19 (f) and (g) and to uniformity before the insurance of the law (Article 14). They looked to have the seventeenth amendment – which had set the Punjab Act in the ninth timetable – proclaimed ultra vires (past the forces).

Issues

  1. Whether Parliament have the power to amend the Part III of the Constitution, to take away or abridge fundamental rights?
  2. Whether Constitutional (17th Amendment) Act 1964, which inserted certain states Acts in the 9th Schedule is valid or not?

Arguments

Petitioners Arguments

  1. It was contended by Petitioners that Parliament had no power to amend fundamental rights in Part III of the Constitution.
  2. It was contended by Petitioners that Article 368 only defines the procedure for amending the Constitution. It does not grant the power to parliament to amend the Constitution.
  3. The petitioners also went on to contend that Amendment under Article 368 does not mean change of the Constitution with new ideas, but it is merely a change according to the current parlance. The basic ideas cannot be amended by the Parliament.
  4. It was contended that the Indian Constituent Assembly while adopting the manner of amendment to the Constitution adopted a mid-way between flexible and rigid so that Parliament does not go on amending the basic feature.
  5. It was contended by the petitioner that Article 13(3)(a) in its definition of “law” will cover all types of law i.e. statutory or constitutional etc. in its ambit therefore by the virtue of Article 13(2), any constitutional amendment violates of Part III will be unconstitutional.

Respondents Arguments

  1. The respondent contended that during the constitution lawmakers haven’t made an exception to Article 386 of the Constitution to eliminate fundamental rights from being amended.
  2. The respondent went on to state that the very object of the amendment is to change the laws of the nation as per the changing needs of the society. The absence of such provision would result in Constitution becoming too rigid.
  3. The respondent contended that there is no hierarchy in the Constitutional provisions as basic or non-basic and all the provisions are of equal importance and equal status.
  4. The respondent contended that the constitutional amendment is a result of the exercise of its sovereign power which the parliament enumerates from the Constitution. This exercise of sovereign power is different from the legislative power which parliament exercises to make the laws.

Judgement

Majority Judgement

The Supreme Court by the majority of 6 to 5 prospectively overruled its earlier decisions in Shankari Prasad and Sajjan Singh cases and held that Parliament has no power from the date of this decision to amend Part III of the Constitution as to take away the fundamental rights.

Subba Rao CJ., supported his judgement on the following reasoning:

  1. The court rejected the argument that power to amend the Constitution was a sovereign power and the said power was supreme to the legislative power and that it did permit any implied limitations and that amendments made in exercise of that power involve political questions and that therefore they were outside the purview of judicial review.
  2. the power of parliament to amend the Constitution is derived from Article 245, read with Entry 97 of List 1 of the Constitution and not from Article 368. Article 368 lays down merely the procedure for amendment of the Constitution.
  3. An amendment is a ‘law’ within the meaning of Article 13(2) and therefore, if it, violates any fundamental right it may be declared void. The word ‘law’ in Article 13(2) include every law, statutory as well as constitutional law and hence constitutional amendment which is in contravention of Article 13(2) shall be declared as void.

The majority judgement also held that the fundamental rights are assigned transcendental phase under our constitution and therefore, they are kept beyond the reach of parliament. The court applied Prospective Overruling and held that the decision will have an only prospective operation and therefore, the 1st, 4th and 17th Amendment will continue to be valid.

Minority Judgement

Justices K.N. Wanchoo, Vishistha Bhargava, and G.K Mitter all composed single minority sentiment and judges R.S. Bachawat and V. Ramaswami composed separate minority conclusions.

The minority judgement however held that the word ‘law’ in Article 13(2) of the Constitution referred to only ordinary law and not a constitutional amendment and hence Shankari Prasad and Sajjan Singh Judgements were rightly decided.

Article 368 of the Constitution does not only lay down the procedure that needs to be followed by the Parliament while amending the Constitution but also gives the Parliament the power to amend the Constitution of India.

Analysis

The judgment was focused on protecting the fundamental provisions which are equal to the fundamental or natural rights of mankind and no government can take it. Golaknath is a kind of victory of “rule of law” because it made it clear that even the lawmakers are not above the law.

The court held that the parliament can’t change the fundamental rights. The judgement of Golaknath is not a perfect judgement. One of the biggest flaws was that the judgement granted rigidity to the constitution.

This decision toppled in Kesavananda Bharati v Union of India[4]. In this, the court held that the parliament can alter the constitution including basic rights however the parliament can’t change the essential structure of the constitution. In that way, Golaknath was partially overruled by the Kesavananda Bharthi case.


[1] AIR 1951 SC 455

[2] AIR 1965 SC 845

[3] https://main.sci.gov.in/judgment/judis/2449.pdf.

[4] AIR 1973 SC 1461.


  1. Law Library: Notes and Study Material for LLB, LLM, Judiciary and Entrance Exams
  2. Legal Bites Academy – Ultimate Test Prep Destination
Updated On 2021-06-14T05:32:30+05:30
Meghana Reddy

Meghana Reddy

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