This article on ‘Kesavananda Bharti Case: All you need to Know’ was written by Harshit Yadav, an intern at Legal Upanishad.
The Kesavananda Bharti issue is a seminal issue in Indian constitutional law, handled by the Supreme Court of India between October 31, 1972, and March 23, 1973. The lawsuit was launched by Swami Kesavananda Bharti, the head of a Hindu monastery in Kerala, who was opposing the Kerala government’s attempt to acquire the monastery’s land.
However, the issue took on much broader significance as it became a platform for a constitutional debate on the extent of the Indian Parliament’s rights to amend the Constitution. The Supreme Court was asked to decide whether Parliament’s capacity to amend the Constitution was limitless, or whether there were “basic features” of the Constitution that could not be amended.
The case is significant because it resulted in a significant change in Indian constitutional law. The Supreme Court’s decision in the Kesavananda Bharti Case created the concept of the “basic structure” of the Constitution, which meant that certain fundamental elements of the Constitution could not be changed even by constitutional amendments. This decision ensured that the Constitution would continue to be a living document while maintaining its core foundation. It also served as a check on the possible abuse of power by the Indian Parliament. This article tries to analyse the facts, issues and landmark judgement of Kesavananda Bharti vs the State of Kerela.
Overview of the case
Swami Kesavananda Bharti, the leader of a Hindu monastery in Kerala, launched a constitutional challenge in the Kesavananda Bharti Case against the Kerala government’s attempt to purchase the monastery’s land. However, when the SC was asked to rule on the extent of Parliament’s authority to amend the Constitution, the case quickly escalated into a larger constitutional issue.
The defendants in the case were Swami Kesavananda Bharti and the State of Kerala, while the petitioners were the Attorney General of India and other states.
The lawsuit centred on Article 368 of the Indian Constitution, which details the procedure for amending the Constitution. The Supreme Court was questioned if Parliament’s capacity to modify the Constitution was limited in any way.
In this case, there were two issues at stake. First, whether Parliament had the jurisdiction to amend any provision of the Constitution, including those that formed the essential structure of the Constitution. Second, whether the Court had the competence to examine parliamentary amendments to see if they violated the essential structure of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Kesavananda Bharti Case established the fundamental framework of the Constitution and set the parameters of Parliament’s power to make changes in the Constitution. It also established the judiciary’s jurisdiction to investigate constitutional modifications, ensuring that the Constitution remained a living document capable of evolving in response to changing times and circumstances while retaining its fundamental values.
Historical context and significance of the case
The Kesavananda Bharti Case took place in India during a period of high political and social volatility. The country had seen significant political turmoil in the preceding years, including Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s imposition of a state of emergency in 1975, which suspended civil liberties and permitted political opponents to be imprisoned.
The case was viewed as a significant challenge to the Indian Parliament’s power and ability to make fundamental changes to the Indian Constitution. At the time, there was rising worry among legal scholars and civil society groups that the Parliament was abusing its ability to modify the Constitution in order to undermine core democratic and legal norms.
The problem also showed a clash between traditional Hindu governance and new democratic concepts enshrined in the Indian Constitution. Swami Kesavananda Bharti’s challenge to the Kerala government’s attempt to purchase the property for his monastery was regarded as a challenge to Indian state power and the Constitution.
The Kesavananda Bharti Case is significant because it established the notion of the Constitution’s essential structure, which became a cornerstone of Indian constitutional law. The ruling of the Supreme Court ensured that the Indian Constitution remained a living text, capable of adapting to changing times and situations while preserving its essential values.
Laws discussed in this case
Article 13 of the Indian Constitution, which provides that any law that is inconsistent with or in derogation of the fundamental rights shall be void.
Article 368 of the Indian Constitution, which outlines the procedure for amending the Constitution.
The Constitution (Twenty-fourth Amendment) Act of 1971: The 24th Amendment Act attempted to limit the court’s jurisdiction to evaluate constitutional amendments.
Constitution (Twenty-fifth Amendment) Act, 1971: This amendment was introduced to nullify the Supreme Court’s decision in the Sajjan Singh case, which held that property rights were part of the basic structure of the Constitution.
Constitution (Twenty-sixth Amendment) Act, 1971: This amendment was introduced to give more powers to the government to regulate the appointment and transfer of High Court and Supreme Court judges.
Constitution (Twenty-ninth Amendment) Act, 1972: This amendment sought to place Kerala’s land reforms legislation under the protection of the 9th Schedule of the Constitution, which provides immunity to laws placed in it from judicial review. The validity of this amendment was also challenged in the Kesavananda Bharati case
Arguments presented by the petitioners and respondents
The Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution was unlimited and could not be restricted by any provisions of the Constitution.
Any restrictions on the Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution would undermine the principle of parliamentary sovereignty and the democratic nature of the Indian Constitution.
The Parliament could not change certain core aspects or the basic structure of the Constitution.
The power of Parliament to change the Constitution was limited and confined to the core structure of the Constitution.
The Court eventually found in favour of the respondents, stating that Parliament’s capacity to amend the Constitution was not limitless and that certain fundamental components or basic structures of the Constitution could not be amended. The supremacy of the Constitution, India’s sovereignty, the nation’s unity and integrity, and the essential aspects of individual liberty and dignity were all mentioned by the Court.
The Court’s decision had significant implications for Indian constitutional law, establishing the principle of the basic structure of the Constitution and providing a framework for the judiciary to review constitutional amendments. It also reinforced the importance of individual rights and liberties in the Indian Constitution and helped to prevent any potential abuse of power by the Parliament. Overall, the Court’s decision in the Kesavananda Bharti Case represented a significant victory for Indian democracy and the rule of law.
Judgment and its impact
The Supreme Court’s decision in the Kesavananda Bharti Case was a watershed moment in Indian constitutional law, with far-reaching repercussions. The Court determined that Parliament’s ability to amend the Constitution was not absolute and that certain fundamental aspects or basic structures of the Constitution could not be changed.
The Court listed several of these fundamental qualities, including the supremacy of the Constitution, India’s sovereignty, the nation’s unity and integrity, and the vital features of individual liberty and dignity. The Court also ruled that the judiciary had the authority to assess constitutional amendments to determine whether they violated the Constitution’s basic framework.
The Court’s ruling was significant because it established the notion of the basic structure of the Constitution, which became a cornerstone of Indian constitutional law. The judgement ensured that the Indian Constitution remained a living document, capable of adapting to changing times and situations while preserving its core ideas.
The ruling of the Supreme Court had a significant impact on Indian democracy and the rule of law. It bolstered the judiciary’s independence and emphasised the importance of individual rights and liberties under the Indian Constitution. It also served to prevent the Parliament from abusing its power and ensuring that the Constitution maintained a check on the government’s authority.
The decision has been referenced frequently in related cases, and the Indian Constitution has been interpreted using the case’s guiding principles. Overall, the Kesavananda Bharti Case ruling by the court is a landmark victory for Indian democracy and the rule of law.
In summary, The Kesavananda Bharti Case was a watershed moment in Indian constitutional law, establishing the basic structure concept and limiting Parliament’s power to change the Constitution. The Court recognised a number of basic aspects that were deemed necessary to the Constitution, including the Constitution’s supremacy, India’s sovereignty, the nation’s unity and integrity, and the vital features of individual liberty and dignity. The judgement had far-reaching repercussions for Indian democracy and the rule of law, reinforcing the value of individual rights and liberties and prohibiting any potential abuse of power by the Parliament.
Despite widespread criticism and debate, the Kesavananda Bharti Case has become a cornerstone of Indian constitutional law, influencing the evolution of Indian legal and political discourse. The case has been cited numerous times afterwards, and its themes have been used to help interpret the Indian Constitution. The legacy of the Kesavananda Bharti Case is a testament to the force and endurance of Indian democracy and the rule of law, as well as a reminder of the Constitution’s role as a bulwark against any prospective challenges to Indian democracy’s basic ideals.
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