What is the Basic Structure Doctrine?

1 min read
What is the Basic Structure Doctrine? Blog Image


Chief Justice of India recently refused to speak on the Basic Structure Doctrine at a public function, saying he would rather express through his judgments and not through a public pronouncement outside the court.

About Basic Structure Doctrine

  • In 1973, a 13-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court (SC) ruled in Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala that Article 368 of the Constitution does not enable Parliament to amend the basic framework of the document.
  • The historic ruling came to be known as the “basic structure” doctrine — a judicial principle that the Constitution has certain basic features that cannot be altered or destroyed by amendments by Parliament.
  • Over the years, various facets of the basic structure doctrine have evolved, forming the basis for judicial review of Constitutional amendments.
  • How did it evolve?
  • In I.C. Golak Nath v. State of Punjab (1967), the SC held that Parliament could not curtail fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution.
  • The then government enacted a series of constitutional amendments following successive rulings against it. 
  • The 24th Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 25th Constitutional (Amendment) Act, and 29th Constitutional (Amendment) Act gave Parliament uncontrolled power to alter or even abolish any fundamental right.
  • The Kesavananda Bharati case was the culmination of a conflictbetween the judiciary and the then-Indira Gandhi-led government.

Kesavananda Bharati vs. State of Kerala (1973):

  • The case is also known as the Fundamental Rights Case.
  • In 1970, Kesavananda Bharti, the head of a math in Kerala, challenged the Kerala Land Reforms Act related to restrictions on the management of religious property.
  • The case was heardby the largest-ever Constitution Bench of 13 judges.
  • It upheld the validity of the 24th Constitutional Amendment Act (1971) and stated that Parliament is empowered to abridge or take away any of the Fundamental Rights. 
  • As per 24th C.A.A., Constitutional Amendments were not considered laws under Article 13. This amendment gave unlimited power to the Parliament to amend or repeal any part of the Constitution of India.
  • However, the Court laid down a new doctrine of the ‘basic structure’ (or ‘basic features’) of the Constitution.
  • The SC in the Kesavananda Bharti case held that although Parliament has the power to amend any part of the Constitution, it could not use this power to alter or destroy its “basic structure.
  • The Court propounded what has come to be known as the “Basic Structure of the Constitution”.
  • Thus, this landmark judgment meant that every provision of the Constitution could be amended, but these amendments can be subjected to judicial review to ascertain that the Basic Structure of the Constitution remains intact.
  • The Parliament reacted to this judicially innovated doctrine of ‘basic structure’ by enacting the 42nd Amendment Act (1976). 
  • This Act amended Article 368 and declared that there is no limitation on the constituent power of Parliament, and no amendment can be questioned in any court on any ground, including that of the contravention of any of the Fundamental Rights. 
  • However, the SC in the Minerva Mills case (1980) invalidated this provision as it excluded judicial review, which is a ‘basic feature’ of the Constitution. 
  • Again in the Waman Rao case (1981), the SC adhered to the doctrine of the ‘basic structure’ and further clarified that it would apply to constitutional amendments enacted after April 24, 1973. It is the date of the judgement in the Kesavananda Bharati case.

Which features of the constitution constitute the Basic Structure?

The components of the Basic Structure provided in the constitution have been recognized by the judiciary in various cases to date. Some of these components are

o Supremacy of the Constitution

o Sovereign, democratic and republican nature of the Indian polity

o Separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary

o Judicial review

o Parliamentary system

o Rule of law

o Principle of equality

o Free and fair elections

o Independence of Judiciary

o Limited power of Parliament to amend the Constitution 

Q1: What is Article 13 of the Indian Constitution?

This Article talks about the legality of pre-constitutional and post-constitutional laws. This article states that if any law violates the provision of fundamental rights, then that law will be void to the extent of the violation. This Article plays an instrumental role in ensuring that parliament and the state legislature shall be bound by fundamental rights while exercising their law-making power.

Source: If I have to do something about basic structure doctrine, I should do it through my judgments: CJI