Doctrine of Basic Structure under the Indian Constitution

Doctrine of Basic Structure under the Indian Constitution

This article on ‘The doctrine of basic structure under the Indian Constitution’ was written by Ayushi Mukherjee, an intern at Legal Upanishad.

Introduction

To reside in any country, especially the one which has the longest written form of the Constitution, it is of utmost necessity for anyone to know the legislation prevalent in the country. This article tries to bring forth the origin of the doctrine of the basic concept in the Constitution of India. It further delves into discussing the several cases which are relevant to this basic concept and the Parliament’s restriction of power to amend these basic features which are essential to the very structure of the Constitution.

The Constitution of India

The Constitution of India, also known as the Bhāratīya Saṁvidhāna, is the codified form of the supreme law of India and it puts forth the framework for governance, duties of citizens, fundamental rights, and directive principles. It is the longest written constitution any nation has in the world. On 26th November 1949, the current Constitution was adopted by the Constituent Assembly of India and on 26 January 1950, by replacing the Government of India Act 1935, the Constitution of India became effective and subsequently, the Dominion of India became the Republic of India.

The Indian Constitution in its preamble declares India as a “SOVEREIGN, SOCIALIST, SECULAR DEMOCRATIC and REPUBLIC” state that ensures its citizens’ justice, liberty, and equality and fosters the bonds of fraternity. By the Constitution of India, the Parliament and the State Legislatures within their jurisdiction, are allowed to make laws. The power to make any amendment to the Constitution lies solely in the hands of the Parliament with no involvement of the state legislative assemblies.

The Parliament, however, cannot override the constitution as the Parliament’s power to make any changes in the Constitution is not absolute. Only the Supreme Court has such power that enables the court to declare any law void if they find it to be unconstitutional.

Defining the concept of Basic Structure

The doctrine of basic structure is a doctrine of the common law country which states that there are certain characteristics of the Constitution of a sovereign country that cannot be abrogated or destroyed by the country’s legislature. It is a measure up taken during the Emergency Period to ensure that the power to amend the Constitution is not abused or misused by the Parliament. It is one of the fundamental judicial principles and essential features that are connected with the Indian Constitution. The concept of the basic structure of the Constitution has evolved over a period of time and requires the example of various landmark judgments to explain it vividly.

The doctrine of Basic Structure under the Indian Constitution

As per the doctrine of basic structure of the Constitution of India, if any amendment made in the Constitution tries to alter the essential framework of the Constitution, then such an amendment is to be considered invalid. Although the term “Basic Structure” is not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution, whether a particular provision can be regarded as a “basic feature” or not is decided solely by the judges of the courts.

In the 1973 case of Kesavananda Bharati v. the State of Kerala, the Apex court of India ruled that an amendment to the Constitution that seeks to modify the basic framework or structure of the Constitution will be declared invalid. It laid down some of the constitution’s basic structures which include:

  • Supremacy of the Constitution
  • Separation of power
  • Federal Character
Doctrine of Basic Structure under the Indian Constitution
The doctrine of basic structure under the Indian Constitution

Landmark Cases Relevant to the doctrine of Basic Structure

The cases relevant to the doctrine of basic structure of the Constitution of India are mentioned below:

  • Shankari Prasad Singh Deo vs Union of India (1951) 

The Supreme Court of India, in this case, held that the power to make amendments to the Constitution which are inclusive of the Fundamental rights is granted under Article 368 of the Indian Constitution.

  • Sajjan Singh vs State of Rajasthan (1965)

The Supreme Court of India, in this case, dealt with the validity of the 17th Constitutional Amendment and held a similar judgment that the Parliament is empowered to make amendments to any part of the Constitution even to the Fundamental Rights. 

  • Golak Nath vs the State of Punjab (1967)

The Supreme Court of India, in this case, nullified its previous order and passed a new order wherein the Fundamental Rights are not amendable unless a new Constituent Assembly is set up. Those rights are not within the ambit of the amendment of the Constitution.

  • Kesvananda Bharati vs the State of Kerala (1973)

The concept of the doctrine of Basic Structure, in this case, was defined as making the case a landmark judgment. The supreme court passed a verdict that the “basic structure of the Constitution could not be abrogated even by a constitutional amendment.”  It enables the judiciary to disregard or override any amendment that is passed by the Parliament that conflicts with the basic structure or essential features of the Constitution.

  • Minerva Mills Case (1980)

In this case, the judgment passed had struck down two alterations that were made by the 42nd Amendment Act 1976 to the Constitution and declared those changes to be violative of the basic structure. 

  • Indra Sawhney vs Union of India (1992)

The Apex Court of India, in this case, added to the Constitution’s basic features, the “Rule of Law”.

Conclusion

The doctrine of the essential framework or basic structure of the Constitution was introduced to help prevent legislative excesses which were evident in the Emergence Period. It acts to protect against an all-powerful parliament that has the potential to resort to the overuse of Article 368. Any law prevalent in a country highly influences the citizens residing in it. Thus, every citizen of the country of India needs to have a basic knowledge and understanding of this concept.

References

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