This article on ‘Minerva Mills v. Union of India: Case Analysis’ was written by Toya Sen, an intern at Legal Upanishad.
Fundamental Rights are a significant aspect of our Constitution. These rights are those that have been guaranteed to all the citizens of India, without any discrimination, whether it is based on gender, caste, religion, etc. These rights if violated, are enforceable in the court of law.
Charles de Montesquieu a political thinker, advocated the doctrine of Separation of Power in his influential book called ‘The Spirit of the Laws’ he discussed various political theories and proposed the idea of diving governmental power into three branches, that is the legislative, executive and the judiciary, this division of the government into three vital organs is known as ‘Separation of Powers’ which is practiced all around the world including in India.
This is an essential practice in the Indian political scenario where the separation of powers sets up a way to ensure that no branch of the government becomes too powerful and that there is a balance maintained between all three organs. There have been multiple occasions wherein the executive and the legislative have tried to exert and increase their power other three organs. Thus, to protect the rights of individuals, the judiciary has proved multiple times the steps it has taken to protect those rights.
One such incident fell before the Supreme Court in the case of Minerva Mills vs Union of India, where the Parliament had attempted to increase its power on a textile mill. This article will provide an insight into the landmark case which once again broadens the scope of the basic structure of the Constitution.
Facts of the ‘Minerva Mills v. Union of India‘ Case
- A textile mill that is situated close to Bengaluru city known as Minerva Mills, had a major decline in its’s output rate, due to this, the Central Government of India in the year 1970 set up a committee under Section 15 of the Industries Development Act of 1951 to report the conditions of the mill to the government.
- A year later, in October 1971, this committee submitted a report.
- Following the submission, an organization created under the Industries Development Act of 1951 known as The National Textile Corporation Limited, was allowed by the Central Government to take over and administer the Minerva Mills and nationalize it.
- In the 9th Schedule of the 39th Amendment, the nationalization of any entity was excused from judicial review.
- In the year 1976, after the tussle between the Indira Gandhi v, Raj Narain court case, the parliament approved the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution which changed Article 31C via Section 4 of the act. Furthermore, Article 368 which grants special powers to the parliament to make alterations and amendments to the constitution was also changed by Section 55 of the same act.
- The impact of the 13-bench Judgement of Kesavananda Bharti would be null and void because of the changes made by this amendment.
- Do the addition of Article 31C and the modification of Article 368 made by Sections 55 and 4 of the 42nd Amendment Act violate the idea of basic structure?
- Are the Indian Constitution’s Fundamental Rights superseded by the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSPs)?
- Whether the Central Government’s order to nationalize Minerva Mills is legal?
The laws that were involved in this case are as follows:
- Article 14 and Article 19 of the Indian Constitution
- Article 31C and Article 368 of the Indian Constitution
- Section 55 of the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976
- Section 4 of the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976
- Section 5(b) of the Nationalization Act, 1974
- Section 19(3) of the Nationalization Act, 1974
- Section 21 of the Nationalization Act, 1974
- Section 25 of the Nationalization Act, 1974
- Section 27 of the Nationalization Act, 1974.
(Kindly read the Sections of the Nationalization Act, 1974 with the 2nd Schedule)
A bench consisting of 5 judges held the decision with a majority of 4:1 in 1980, 7 years after the case was first in the court of law.
The majority opinion of the judgment was given by Justice Chandrachud, with Justice N.L Untwalia, Justice A.C Gupta, and Justice P.S. Kailasam. The minority judgment was given by Justice Bhagwati.
The 4 judges stated that the power to amend the Constitution should fall under the basic structure of the Constitution. The judges struck down Sections 4 and 55 of the 42nd Amendment Act as it was deemed to be unconstitutional and violated the aforementioned basic structure. It stated that Clause (5) of Article 368 was unlawful since it hampered the basic structure of the Constitution as well.
The Supreme Court also dismissed Clause 4 of Article 368 as it limited the court’s ability to conduct judicial reviews, which would have rendered Parliament’s powers unmanageable. The judges further advanced the idea that having unlimited authority to alter the Constitution would alienate democracy and favour the establishment of a totalitarian regime.
Regarding Article 31C of the Indian Constitution, the court declared that if Part IV of the Indian Constitution overthrew Part III of the Constitution, the principle of basic structure would be abolished. The judges explained section 4 of the act tried to separate Articles 14 and 19 from Article 31C.
The court went ahead to explain the relation between Part III and Part IV of the constitution and stated that the DPSPs are basic principles that govern our country and the Fundamental Rights have a crucial role to play in the lives of our citizens, the entire constitution depends on these two features and giving primacy of one over the other would shake the foundation of our constitution. Therefore, it is important to maintain a balance between the two. This must be achieved without abrogating the provisions of Part III.
This case is one of the landmark cases that not only broadens the scope of the doctrine of the basic structure of our constitution by also strengthens it. Our Constitution is uniquely designed and its parts are dependent upon each other. The DPSPs and the Fundamental Rights are major aspects of our government that help in the functioning of the government as well as affect the people’s lives.
Hence, instead of overthrowing each other, it is important to strike a balance between them. This case not only helped in providing a step to healing the power tussle between parliament and judiciary but also helped to establish a precedent for future constitutional cases where the rights of the people are yet being infringed.
- Darshit Vora, ‘Minerva Mills vs Union of India: a significant case that India has forgotten’, iPleaders Blog, 8 January 2021, available at: https://blog.ipleaders.in/minerva-mills-vs-union-india-significant-case-india-forgotten/
- ‘Minerva Mills Ltd. & Ors. v. UOI: A Significant case that India should never forget, Prime Legal, 30 October 2022, available at: https://primelegal.in/2022/10/30/minerva-mills-ltd-ors-v-uoi-a-significant-case-that-india-should-never-forget/
- ‘Minerva Mills Ltd. & Ors vs Union Of India & Ors on 31 July, 1980’, Indian Kanoon, available at: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1939993/