The Kesavananda Bharati judgment introduced the Basic Structure doctrine which limited Parliament’s power to make drastic amendments that may affect the core values enshrined in the Constitution like secularism and federalism. The verdict upheld the power of the Supreme Court to judicially review laws of Parliament. It evolved the concept of separation of powers among the three branches of governance — legislative, executive and the judiciary.
Doctrine of Basic Structure says that
- The parliament’s unlimited power to amend the constitution is subject to only one restriction i.e it should not dilute or violate the basic structure of the constitution.
- Or the effects of the amendment should not be abrogating or disturbing in nature towards the basic structure.
The following four cases are important to understand the genesis of ‘Basic structure’ doctrine-
Evolution of doctrine of basic structure
|Shankari Prasad case||
|Keshavananda Bharati case||
|42nd CAA 1976||
|Minerva mills case||
|Waman Rao case 1981||
Elements Of Basic structure:
The doctrine of basic structure though is not exactly defined but through its contents which have been provided by the judicature clarifies a scope defining the frame or the structure of the constitution. From time-to-time basic structure is enhanced with some new contents and hence the Supreme Court is yet to define the exact basic structure of the constitution.
- Supremacy of the constitution
- Rule of law
- Sovereignty, liberty and republic nature of Indian polity.
- Judicial review
- Harmony and Balance between fundamental rights and directive principles.
- Separation of power.
- Federal character.
- Parliamentary system.
- Rule of equality.
- Unity and integrity of the nation.
- Free and fair elections. o Powers of SC under Article 32,136,142,147
- Power of HC under Article 226 and 227.
- Limited power of parliament to amend the constitution.
- Welfare state.
- Freedom and dignity of an individual.
- The Basic Structure concept got highlighted in various judgments of Supreme Court such as Indira Nehru Gandhi, Minerva Mills, Waman Rao and I.R.Coelho etc.
Significance of Basic Structure:
- The basic structure doctrine is a testimony to the theory of Constitutionalism to prevent the damage to essence of COI by brute majority of the ruling majority.
- The basic doctrine saved the Indian democracy as it acts as a limitation of constituent power or else unlimited power of parliament might have turned India into a totalitarian
- It helps us to retain the basic tenets of our constitution so meticulously framed by the founding fathers of our Constitution.
- It strengthens our democracy by delineating a true separation of power where Judiciary is independent of other two organs. It has also given immense untold unbridled power to Supreme Court and made it the most powerful court in the world
- By restraining the amending powers of legislative organ of State, it provided basic Rights to Citizens which no organ of State can overrule.
- Being dynamic in nature, it is more progressive and open to changes in time unlike the rigid nature of earlier judgements.
Main criticisms of Basic Structure:
- The common criticism is that the doctrine has no basis in the Constitution’s language. The doctrine does not have a textual basis. There is no provision stipulating that this Constitution has a basic structure and that this structure is beyond the competence of amending power
- Its detractors also believe the doctrine accords the judiciary a power to impose its philosophy over a democratically formed government
- There is no definite elucidation on what exactly constitutes basic structure, thereby, making the doctrine ambiguous
- In recent times, the doctrine has been invoked in cases that has been regarded as examples of judicial overreach. Ex: NJAC bill was declared null and void by the SC by relying on this doctrine
Some important terminologies:
At the end of the day, whether the Supreme Court chooses to invoke the basic structure doctrine is at its discretion. There have been cases in recent times which have been quite relevant to the India society and basic structure doctrine was challenged but the court did not invoke the doctrine during its final decision.
- It may well be the case that the basic structure doctrine is derived from the abstract. But that scarcely means it doesn’t exist within the Constitution. Comment. (250 words) (Insights secure)
- Examine the limitations in amending any part of the Indian constitution. (250 words) (Insights secure)