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Who was Kesavananda Bharati?

Topics Covered: Indian Constitution- historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure.

Who was Kesavananda Bharati?

Why in News?

Kesavananda Bharati, the man who lent his name to an iconic case as the petitioner, died on Sunday.

  • The landmark ruling in which the Supreme Court announced the basic structure doctrine was in the case of His Holiness Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru and Ors v State of Kerala.

Who was Kesavananda Bharati? Why is he remembered?

He was the head seer of the Edneer Mutt in Kasaragod district of Kerala since 1961.

He left his signature in one of the significant rulings of the Supreme Court when he challenged the Kerala land reforms legislation in 1970.

What was the case about?

The case was primarily about the extent of Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution.

  1. First, the court was reviewing a 1967 decision in Golaknath v State of Punjab which, reversing earlier verdicts, had ruled that Parliament cannot amend fundamental rights.
  2. Second, the court was deciding the constitutional validity of several other amendments. Notably, the right to property had been removed as a fundamental right, and Parliament had also given itself the power to amend any part of the Constitution and passed a law that it cannot be reviewed by the courts.

Politically, the case represented the fight for supremacy of Parliament led by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

What happened then?

A 13-judge Bench was set up by the Supreme Court, the biggest so far, and the case was heard over 68 working days spread over six months. The basic structure doctrine was evolved in the majority judgment.

What did the court decide?

  • In its majority ruling, the court held that fundamental rights cannot be taken away by amending them.
  • While the court said that Parliament had vast powers to amend the Constitution, it drew the line by observing that certain parts are so inherent and intrinsic to the Constitution that even Parliament cannot touch it.
  • However, despite the ruling that Parliament cannot breach fundamental rights, the court upheld the amendment that removed the fundamental right to property. The court ruled that in spirit, the amendment would not violate the “basic structure” of the Constitution.

Essentially, Kesavananda Bharati, lost the case. But as many legal scholars point out, the government did not win the case either.

What constitutes the basic structure?

The Constitutional Bench ruled by a 7-6 verdict that Parliament should be restrained from altering the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution.

The court held that under Article 368, which provides Parliament amending powers, something must remain of the original Constitution that the new amendment would change.

  • However, the court did not define the ‘basic structure’, and only listed a few principles — federalism, secularism, democracy — as being its part. Since then, the court has been adding new features to this concept.

‘Basic structure’ since Kesavananda:

The ‘basic structure’ doctrine has since been interpreted to include the supremacy of the Constitution, the rule of law, Independence of the judiciary, doctrine of separation of powers, federalism, secularism, sovereign democratic republic, the parliamentary system of government, the principle of free and fair elections, welfare state, etc.



Prelims Link:

  1. Constitutional amendments under Article 368 and other constitutional amendments.
  2. Types of amendments.
  3. Key changes introduced by CAA 25, 26, 39 and 41.
  4. Different benches of the Supreme Court.
  5. Definition and ambit of basic structure.
  6. FRs vs DPSPs.

Mains Link:

Discuss the significance of Supreme Court’s verdict in Kesavanand Bharati case judgment.

Sources: the Hindu.