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Written by:
Prachi Sethi
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Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru and Ors v State of Kerala was the key decision in which the Supreme Court proclaimed the theory of the basic structure. This was the landmark judgment wherein the Doctrine of Basic Structure was established. The Supreme Court has had many ups and downs since the Indian Constitution was enforced in 1950. While it performed the function of the Conservative Court in the outset, it also provided numerous instances for the delivery of justice by judicial activism which gave rise to several judges which have always been crucially important in reinforcing India's basic constitutional democracy.

It is the duty of the Supreme Court to safeguard the fundamental rights of the people enshrined in the constitution of India. The "fundamental rights" of citizens must be safeguarded. The parliamentary authority exercising the powers of the 'judicial review' pursuant to Article 13 of the Constitution of India, on the other hand, has also an obligation to ensure the Constitutional legitimacy of legislation. The Supreme Court is entitled to nullify any legislation that breaches any provision of the Constitution as it is regarded as the testing stone of any law. In the same way the Supreme Court shall have the responsibility to render law unlawful in the defence of the supremacy of fundamental rights of citizens whenever a government adopts legislation that removes any of the fundamental rights guaranteed under Part 3 of the Constitution.

The major question was whether or not the fundamental rights in Part III of the Indian Constitution were acceptable. In accordance with the "Basic Structure of the Constitution," the Supreme Court has ruled that it is the State's responsibility to adopt or modify any law or bring in any constitutional amendment that also safeguards people' 'Basic Rights.'

'Basic Structure Doctrine' is a widely accepted common law doctrine in India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Pakistan and Uganda. The constitution of a sovereign state contains some essential elements or frameworks according to this concept, which cannot be modified or repealed at any moment by the legislature. In India, the Supreme Court developed this theory against the background of the creation of the 'Basic Structure Doctrine' via a number of decisions in the 1950s and 1970s culminating in the Kesavananda Bharati vs. Kerala case in 1973.

Under Article 368 of the Indian Constitution, the legislature has the ability, but cannot modify or delete anything in such a way as to affect the Basic or Framework of the Constitution in any portion or in any of the articles of India's Constitution, including 'fundamental rights.' In this case, several features of the Indian Constitution are specifically identified by the Supreme Court as the "Basic Structure" itself. If such characteristics are attacked, the only goals of the constitution's founders will surely be vitiated.

Thus the Supreme Court found, especially in situations of constitutional changes, that even the constitutionally elected Government can do no matter what it wants to do. The government can modify the Constitution as necessary, but the constitution's fundamental elements cannot be taken away. Justice Hans Raj Khanna argued that "India's Constitution has some 'base characteristics,' which the Parliament of India cannot modify or destroy by amending." The 'fundamental rights' provided by the Constitution to people are the most significant of these 'basic features,' as explained by Justice Khanna. The basic structure of the constitution cannot be amended as it is the testing stone of any legislation passed in the country.


In this case, Kesavana Bharati Sripadagalvaru's petitioner was the leader of 'Edneer Matt,' a Hindu Mutt, in Edneer, a village in Kasaragod, the Kerala region. This 'Mutt' was named for specific parts of land. When the Kerala State legislature passed the 1963 Kerala Land Reform Act, further modified and the 1969 Kerala Land Reform Act, some lands were purchased by the State to carry out its socio-economic duties under the Act. Consequently, all the following Articles constituting rights were infringed:

  • Article 14 which constitutes the Right to equality before the law,
  •  Article 19(1)(f) which constituted the Right to acquire property but was later repealed by 44th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1978,
  • Article 25 constituted the right to Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice, and propagation of religion,
  • Article 26 constituted the right to Freedom to manage religious affairs,
  •  Article 31 constituted the right of Compulsory acquisition of property which was later repealed by 44th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1978)

On 21 March 1970, after being convinced of well-established lawyer Nani Palkhivala, the petitioner Kesavananda Bharati questioned the Kerala Land Reforms (amendment) Act, 1969 first of all before the Kerala High Court and afterwards before the Supreme Court under Article 32. In 1971, with the appeal still being pending in the Supreme Court, the government again introduced an amendment to a Kerala Land Reform Act (Amendment). Both of them were then challenged in the supreme court.


The background of the Kesavananda Bharati case was not formed in one night. The background of the case was supported by several earlier instances. In all these situations, the same question has always been raised as whether or not the fundamental rights under Article 368 of the Constitution are amendable. The Supreme Court issued many resolutions in answer to this question, and it finally reached the ultimate verdict in the case of Kesavananda Bharati. These were cases —

  • Shri Sankari Prasad Deo v. Union of India & State of Bihar 1951 SC 458

In this case, the First Constitutional Amendment Act of 1951 was challanged on the grounds that it was infringing and so violated the "Fundamental Rights" enshrined in Part III of the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court confirmed that "the authority of the legislature to change any section of the Constitution under article 368 includes also the power to amend 'fundamental rights' integrated into Part III of the constitution." The Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of this Act of Constitutional Amendment. In the present instance the Supreme Court therefore concluded that, in regard of the other part of the Constitution, Part III had no unique status and, like any other regular part of the constitution, the provisions included in this Constitution were likewise amendable under Article 368 by the legislature.

  • Sajjan Singh V. State of Rajasthan 1965 AIR 845

In this case, while most opinions backed Sankari Prasad's correctness, Judges J.R. Mudholkar and M. Hidayatullah were in disagreement and believed that the Indian Constitution had some fundamental characteristics and those should not fall under the purview of the Article 368. The fundamental characteristics, sacred and impregnable, must remain protected from arbitrary state intrusions by the modifying authority provided for in Article 368. So, in this matter, the initial theory was the 'Basic Structure Doctrine' which has ultimately been approved in the Kesavananda Bharati Case.

  • C. Golakhnath and Ors.  V. State of Punjab and Ors. 1967 AIR 1643

In this decision, the Supreme Court changed the view takin in the Sajjan Singh and Sankari Prasad cases and held that the fundamental human rights of Parts III of the Constitution cannot be assailed and they are not subject to Article 368's provisions. The Court has called the legislative authority under Part III of the Constitution to modify any of the fundamental rights ultra vires, or beyond powers. The Constitution of the 11 Justices Bench was held by the slim majority of 6 judges to apply to the Constitutional Amendment Acts of a legislature, too, to the power of the Supreme Court in the context of 'judicial review' under Article 13. The court further concluded that a Constitutional Amendment Act and an Amendment Act of any regular legislation do not vary greatly.

Therefore, if any of the 'fundamental rights' is 'taken away or abridged by the legislative body, the court is entitled to disallow that Constitutional Amendment Act would like any other common amendment laws in accordance with Article 13.

There were many other cases and ample of constitutional amendments that led to the judgement of the landmark case of Keshvananda Bharti.


  • Whether the ‘Fundamental Rights’ contained in Part III of the Constitution are amenable by the Parliament within the scope of Article 368 or not.
  • Whether 24th, 25th & 29th Constitutional Amendment Acts were valid or not.



In Kesavananda Bharati, the Golaknath case verdict was overturned and a 'Basic Structure Doctrine' was developed by the Supreme Court. It was firmly decided by the Court that provision related to the Amendment of the Constitution is the characteristic or most significant element of the current Constitutions of every democratic country in the World. In this case, each judge presented his own opinions, the basic or important characteristics of the Indian constitution they considered. Another important aspect is that the majority position was also not unanimous.

The Constitutional Bench concluded by a 7-6 judgement that Parliament should be prohibited from modifying the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution. According to the court, the new amendment had to stay in the original Constitution under Article 368, providing Parliament with the modifying rights.

The Court did not, however, define the so-called 'fundamental structure' and simply included several concepts — federalism, secularism, democracy. Since that time, more features have been added by the Court.


The doctrine of the 'basic structure' laid down in this case has been interpreting the constitution's supremacy, rule of law, judges' independence, separation doctrine, federalism, secularism, the democratic sovereign republic, the system of the parliamentary government, the principle of free and fair elections, the welfare state and others. More importantly: this case, including the previous case ranging from "Sankari Prasad Case" to "Golaknath Case" has numerous examples of the battle of power between India's three major pillars of democracy – the legislature, the executive and the courts. This can be described as "the historical case of fundamental rights prevented the country from entering a totalitarian regime. In short, this case played a major role in saving the democracy of the country.