The present article is a case summary of the landmark judgment of the case Kesavananda Bharati. To discuss so, the article has provided a brief summary of facts involved in the case, outlines the main issues involved, presents the contentions of both the parties and provides the decision held by the Apex Court of India. The present case of Kesavananda Bharati is considered one of the most significant landmark judgments of our country defining the doctrine of the Basic Structure of the Constitution.
The doctrine says that the Parliament of the country has unlimited power to amend the constitution subject to the condition that such amendment should not bring change in the basic structure of the Constitution, like the fundamental rights of citizens. Through the present case, the Supreme Court has carefully interpreted the doctrine and analyzes when a particular amendment is said to violate the basic structure of the Constitution of India. It has overruled the previous decision of the court in the Golaknath case and put a restriction on the wide power of the parliament on amending the constitution.
Case Name: Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru & Ors. v. State of Kerala & Anr. (1973)
Citation: AIR 1973 SC 1461.
Petitioner: Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru & Ors.
Respondent: State of Kerala
Bench: Bench: S.M. Sikri, K.S. Hegde, A.K. Mukherjea, J.M. Shelat, A.N. Grover, P. Jaganmohan Reddy, H.R. Khanna, A.N. Ray, K.K. Mathew, M.H. Beg, S.N. Dwivedi, & Y.V. Chandrachud.
II. Factual Background of the Case
His Holiness Kesavananda Bharati (hereinafter referred as the ‘Petitioner’) was the chief of Edneer Mutt, a religious sect in the Kasaragod district of Kerala. The Petitioner had certain acres of land in the sect which were owned by him in his name. Thereafter, the Kerala state government introduced the Land Reforms Amendment Act, 1969 which entitled the government to acquire some of the lands in the sect of which the Petitioner was the chief.
On March 21, 1970, the Petitioner moved to the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution for enforcement of his fundamental right to Articles 25 (Right to practice and propagate religion), Article 26 (Right to manage religious affairs), Article 14 (Right to Equality), Article 19(1)(f) (Freedom to acquire property), and Article 31 (Compulsory Acquisition of Property). When the petition was still under consideration before the Supreme Court, the state government passed another act named Kerala Land Reforms (Amendment) Act, 1971.
After the judgment of the court in the case of Golaknath v. State of Punjab, a series of amendments was passed by the parliament to overrule the judgment of the case. In 1971, parliament passed the 24th amendment and in the subsequent years, 25th and 29th amendment were passed. The following amendments were brought after the Golaknath case which was challenged in the present case are outlined as below:
Through the landmark judgment of the Golaknath case, it was laid down by the apex court of India that every amendment which is brought under Article 368 will be taken as an exception under Article 13 of the constitution. Therefore, with the objective to neutralize this effect, the parliament passed this amendment in Article 13 annexed clause 4 so that no amendment can have an effect under Article 13.
To remove any kind of ambiguity, Parliament added to clause 3 to the provision under Article 368 which read as, “Nothing in article 13 shall apply to any amendment made under this article.”
The majority of the judges observed that Article 368 contained provisions talking only about the procedure of a constitutional amendment and not the power to amend, so in order to include the word ‘power’ the article was amended by the parliament and the power word was added in the marginal note.
With the 24th amendment, the Parliament necessarily tried to draw a clear distinction between the procedure of bringing an amendment and bringing an ordinary law through an amendment as provided under Article 368(2). Earlier to this, the President of India could exercise his power to refuse or withhold a bill for the amendment but after the present amendment was passed, the president wasn’t left with the choice to refuse or withhold a bill. This was done in order to protect any amendment from the exception that is mentioned in Article 13 of the Constitution.
Through the 25th amendment, the parliament aimed to make it clear to the citizens that they aren’t bound to give adequate compensation to the landlords in case their property is seized by the state government, and in order to do so under Article 31 (2) of the constitution the word ‘compensation was replaced with the word ‘amount’. The amendment also removed the link between Article 19(1) (f) and Article 31(2).
Moreover, a new provision was added to Article 31(c) in order to remove all the difficulties and loopholes and to fulfil the objectives enshrined under Article 39(b) and Article 39(c), it was provided that Articles 14, 19, and 31 will not be applied to any law. The amendment seeks to make the provisions under Article 39(b) and 39(c) effective by immunizing the courts from intervening in any law made by the Parliament.
The 29th constitutional amendment was introduced in 1972 with the purpose to insert the Kerala Land Reforms Act into the 9th schedule of the constitution. The objective of the amendment was that all the matters related to the land reforms act will be outside the scope of the judiciary to entertain. Almost all the amendments passed by the central government in some or other way provided protection to the amendments passed by the state government from being tried in the court of law. That is why the provisions of the land reforms act along with the 24th, 25th, and 29th amendments were challenged before the court.
- Whether the 24th Constitutional (Amendment), Act 1971 is constitutionally valid or not?
- Whether the 25th Constitutional (Amendment), Act 1972 is constitutionally valid or not?
- What is the extent to which the Parliament can exercise its power to amend the constitution?
IV. Contention of the Parties
Arguments on behalf of the Petitioner
The Petitioner in this landmark judgment, inter alia, mainly contended that the power of the Parliament to amend the Indian Constitution is limited and restricted. The basis of the Petitioner’s arguments on the restrictive competence of the Parliament is the Doctrine of Basic Structure which was propounded by J. Mudholkar in the case of Sajjan Singh.
The counsel of the petitioner pleaded before the bench to protect his fundamental right to property as then guaranteed under Article 19(1) (f) violated by the enactment of the 24th and 25th constitutional amendments. He also contended that it was the Indian Constitution that granted the citizens of this country the freedom from the tyranny which they have suffered at the hands of Colonialism. The constitutional features of this guaranteed freedom will gradually wither away if it is not protected from the recent course of the Parliament.
Arguments on behalf of Respondent
The respondent, the Kerala state government, in this case, contended the same argument before the court which it has been contending since the case of Shankari Prasadi.e. Parliament’s power with respect to amending the Indian Constitution is absolute, unlimited, and unfettered. The argument of the respondent was based on the basic principle of the legal system of India which says there shall be the supremacy of the Parliament. The respondent pleaded that in order to fulfill the socio-economic obligations of the citizens guaranteed by the union in Preamble, it is of significant importance that there’s no limitation or restriction upon the authority of the Parliament.
The essence of the arguments was that if the contentions of the petitioner and in Golaknath are made law, then all social and egalitarian obligations of the Parliament bestowed to it by the Constitution will come in direct serious conflict with fundamental rights under Part III of the constitution. It was further submitted that even democracy can be turned into the one-party rule, if needed to be, by the Parliament.
V. Decision Held
The Apex Court of India held by a majority of 7:6 that Parliament has the power and authority to amend any provision of the Indian Constitution to fulfill its socio-economic obligations guaranteed to the citizens under the preamble, subject to the sole condition that such an amendment would not change the basic structure of the constitution.
Out of 7:6, the majority decision was delivered by S.M. Sikri CJI, A.N. Grover, B.K. Mukherjea, J.M. Shelat, K.S. Hegde, P. Jagmohan Reddy JJ. & Khanna J. Whereas, the minority opinions were given by A.N. Ray, K.K. Mathew, M.H. Beg, S.N. Dwivedi, D.G. Palekar & Y.V. Chandrachud. The minority bench delivered different opinions but was still in favour of giving unfettered authority to the Parliament.
On 24th April 1973, this landmark judgment was delivered in which the Supreme Court entirely upheld the 24th Constitutional Amendment Act but the 1st and 2nd part of the 25th amendment was found to be intra vires and ultra vires respectively. In relation to the powers of the Parliament to bring an amendment to the constitution, it was observed by the court that it was a question that was left unanswered in the Golaknath case.
The answer to this question on Parliament’s power to bring amendment in constitution was given in the present case and it was observed by the court that the Parliament has the power to bring amendment in the Constitution but to the extent that such an amendment doesn’t change the basic structure of the Constitution of India. It was laid down by the court that the Basic Structure Theory is to be followed by the Parliament while amending the provisions especially the fundamental provisions of the Constitution.
This 13-judge bench decision is a classic example of judicial policy. The present case has not only the incorrect rulings of the court in the past judgments of Shankari Prasad, Sajjan Singh, and Golaknath but also removed the inherent conflict and ambiguity in constitutional machinery in regard to the possibility of infringement of citizens’ fundamental rights and curbing parliament’s power to amend the basic structure of the constitution.
The decision of the majority to protect the fundamental features of the constitution was based on rational and sound reasoning and the decision to propound the Doctrine of Basic Structure to keep a check on Parliament’s power and any malicious objectives. To conclude, this judgment had restored the faith of citizens of this country in the Judiciary as well as in a democracy.
 AIR 1973 SC 1461.
 1967 AIR 1643.
 Sajjan Singh v. the State of Rajasthan, 1965 A.I.R. 845.
 Shankari Prasad v. Union of India, A.I.R. 1951 S.C. 455.
 Para 11, Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, A.I.R. 1973 S.C. 1461.