The literal meaning of “eclipse” refers to the occurrence when one object overshadows another. In reference to Constitutional law, the doctrine of eclipse is known to be applied in cases in which an act or law has the tendency to violate the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution. In that scenario, the fundamental rights will overshadow the… Read More »

The literal meaning of “eclipse” refers to the occurrence when one object overshadows another. In reference to Constitutional law, the doctrine of eclipse is known to be applied in cases in which an act or law has the tendency to violate the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution. In that scenario, the fundamental rights will overshadow the other act or law and make it unenforceable. The unenforceability of the overshadowed act or law is not void ab initio...

The literal meaning of “eclipse” refers to the occurrence when one object overshadows another. In reference to Constitutional law, the doctrine of eclipse is known to be applied in cases in which an act or law has the tendency to violate the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution.

In that scenario, the fundamental rights will overshadow the other act or law and make it unenforceable. The unenforceability of the overshadowed act or law is not void ab initio or null meaning they can be reinforced again if the earlier restrictions as posed by the Fundamental rights are taken away but the concept and scope of this doctrine are more than that. Let’s head over to the main content of this article to have a detailed discussion on the doctrine of eclipse.

I. Meaning and Applicability of the Doctrine of Eclipse

The “doctrine of eclipse” is a doctrinal principle that envisages the concept of FRs being prospective in nature. Ideally, it suggests that, if any law made by the legislature is inconsistent with Part III (which deals with Fundamental Rights) of the Indian Constitution then that law will be considered invalid and inoperative to the extent of it being overshadowed by the Fundamental Rights.

To sum it up, the laws that stand in violation of FR become hidden by the FRs because of their supremacy hence casting an eclipse on it. To make the laws enforceable and operative again, it is mandatory that the restriction is removed by amending the corresponding FR.

The theory of this doctrine is explained in the context of Article 13 of the Indian Constitution that envisages four principles for application of Fundamental Rights. Art 13 deals with laws inconsistent with or in derogation of the Fundamental Rights. [1] It states that:

  1. “All laws in force in the territory of India immediately before the commencement of this constitution, in so far as they are inconsistent with the provisions of this part, shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, be void.

  2. The state shall not make any law which takes away or abridges the rights conferred by this Part and any law made in contravention of this clause shall, to the extent of the contravention, be void.

  3. In the Article, unless the context otherwise requires:

  4. “Law” includes any ordinance, order, bye-law, rule, regulation, notification, custom or usage having in the territory of India the force of law;

  5. “Laws in force” include laws passed or made by a legislation or other of this Constitution and not previously repealed, notwithstanding that any such law or any part thereof may not be then in operation either at all or in particular areas.” [2]

From aforesaid provision, it is clear that the salient features of this doctrine are as follow:

  • The doctrine of eclipse is applicable only in pre-constitutional laws cases that have now become operational with the commencement of the Constitution.
  • The doctrine is not applicable to post-constitutional laws, reason being, they are valid since their inception and cannot be validated even by any corresponding amendment.
  • The pre-constitutional laws must be in conflict with FR, then only it is said to be eclipsed by FR.
  • The impugned law is inoperative only, for the time being, hence is not null or void ab initio.
  • Any corresponding amendment to the relevant FR will make the impugned law enforceable again.

In that way, the Doctrine of Eclipse protects the dormancy of the FRs as given under Art. 13. Since the doctrine is prospective in nature, it will apply to pre-constitutional laws only and not the laws that came in effect after 26th Jan 1950 as under Article 13 (2). This aspect was meticulously explained in the case of Deep Chand v. State of Uttar Pradesh where the Supreme Court held that post-constitutional laws are in violation of FR but not dead. They are just void ab initio and stillborn. [3]

Further, in the landmark case of A.K Gopalan v. State of Madras [4], the Supreme Court found that the section 14 of the Preventive Detention Act is in violation of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. The court opined that in this scenario only the section 14 of the act has to be struck down and not the whole act.

II. Evolution of the Doctrine of Eclipse

The evolution of the Doctrine of Eclipse took place through three landmark judgments in the Indian Constitution, namely in three stages:

  • Behram Khurshid Pesikaka v. State of Bombay [5]

This is one of the earliest cases that discussed the reasonable nexus between Article 13 (1) and the Pre Constitutional Laws. The appellant in this case was an alleged accused under Section 66(b) of the Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949. Previously the Section 13(b) of the same act was found violative of Art 19(1)(f) and was declared void in F.N. Balsara case [6] so the appellant contended the case to be taken as a precedent. The Court held the specific part of the provision unconstitutional and void, not the whole law.

  • Bhikaji Narain Dhakras v. State of Madhya Pradesh

The Hon’ble Supreme Court has very well illustrated the theory of this doctrine in this case that led to its genesis in the post-constitutional era. The factual scenario was that the Section 43 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939 was amended by two pre-constitution legislations i.e., Berar Motor Vehicles and Central Provinces (Amendment) Act, 1947 so the doctrine of eclipse was applied and the act was upheld unenforceable.

Further, the 1951 Constitutional Amendment in Art 19(1)(6) empowered the state to carry on the business overturned the eclipse to make the provisions of the act operative against citizens as well as non-citizens. This effect was questioned and when the matter reached the Supreme Court, it was held that the impugned law for the time being became eclipsed by the FR.

The effect of the amendment was to remove the shadow and to make the impugned act free from all blemish or infirmity”. [7]

  • Keshav Madhavan Menon v. State of Bombay [8]

The case discussed the nature of Article 13 (1) being prospective or retrospective. As far as the facts are concerned, the petitioner was prosecuted under the Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act, 1931 for publishing a pamphlet without seeking permission to which he claimed that the provisions of the Press Act are in violation of his FR under Art 19 (1)(a). The case was pending during the commencement of the Constitution. The Supreme Court upheld the violation and held that FR is prima facie prospective in nature.

III. Landmark Case Laws

Since the adoption of the Indian Constitution, the doctrine of eclipse has developed through various Supreme Court rulings and is still currently applicable to many constitutional cases. One thing to note is that there has always been debate on the validity of Article 368 and eclipse cast on it due to FR in many cases.

The first case is of Golaknath v. State of Punjab [9] in which a petition was filed under Article 32 of the Constitution challenging the Punjab Act, 1953 as in violation of constitutional rights of the petitioner under Article 14 and Article 19 (f) & (g). The Supreme Court held that the parliament does not have the power to curtail the guaranteed fundamental rights in the constitution and any amendment to FR needs to be constitutional. This decision left Article 368 eclipsed.

Secondly, in the case of Shankari Prasad v. UOI [10], the Supreme court elaborately discussed the constitutional validity of the first amendment in 1951 that curtailed the right to property of citizens. The Supreme Court held that the power to make amendments in the constitution as per Art. 368 are inclusive of power to amend FR as well. Also, the use of the word “law” in Article 13(8) refers only to an ordinary law made in exercise of legislative powers and not any constitutional amendment that is brought in the exercise of constituent power. Thus it is implied that a constitutional amendment is deemed valid even if it is against the FR.

It is now settled that even though the Parliament of the country is not supreme, it has the power to amend the constitution without changing its basic structure. Accordingly, the fundamental rights are also amenable and the eclipse cast on Article 368 is also removed. [11]

IV. Conclusion

The theory of the doctrine of eclipse is of utmost importance in India as it seeks to safeguard the pre-constitutional laws in the country from being completely wiped out from statute books in terms of their applicability. It epitomizes both the rule of law and theory of Constitutionalism.

The thin line difference between the pre and post-constitutional laws is very well balanced by the doctrine to give maximum effect to the provisions and ensure justice. With no compromise on the working of the administrative and legislative wing in the country, the theory prevents wastage of valuable time and resources that may incur in a re-enactment of legislations.


References

[1] INDIAN CONST. art. 13.

[2] Ibid.

[3] AIR 1980 SC 633.

[4] AIR 1950 SC 27.

[5] AIR 1955 SC 123.

[6] AIR 1951 SC 318.

[7] 1955 AIR 781.

[8] 1951 AIR 128.

[9] 1967 AIR 1643.

[10] AIR 1951 SC 455.

[11] Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, (1973) 4 SCC 225.


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Updated On 2020-12-17T08:30:48+05:30
Anamika Gandhi

Anamika Gandhi

Student at National Law University, Odisha

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