Basic Structure Doctrine of Indian Constitution

Background

  • The ‘basic structure’ doctrine has since been interpreted to include the supremacy of the Constitution, the rule of law, Independence of the judiciary, doctrine of separation of powers, federalism, secularism, sovereign democratic republic, the parliamentary system of government, the principle of free and fair elections, welfare state, etc. Basic Structure Doctrine of Indian Constitution

Evolution of the Basic Structure

The word “Basic Structure” is not mentioned in the constitution of India. The concept developed gradually with the interference of the judiciary from time to time to protect the basic rights of the people and the ideals and the philosophy of the constitution.

  1. The First Constitution Amendment Act, 1951 was challenged in the Shankari Prasad vs. Union of India case.
  2. In Golak Nath vs State of Punjab case in 1967, the Supreme Court overruled its earlier decision. The Supreme Court held that the Parliament has no power to amend Part III of the constitution as the fundamental rights are transcendental and immutable.
  3. The Parliament, in 1971, passed the 24th Constitution Amendment Act. The act gave the absolute power to the parliament to make any changes in the constitution including the fundamental rights.
  4. In 1973, in Kesavananda Bharti vs. State of Kerala case, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the 24th Constitution Amendment Act by reviewing its decision in Golaknath case. 

From the various judgements, the following have emerged as ‘basic features’ of the Constitution or elements of the ‘basic structure’ of the constitution:

  1. Supremacy of the Constitution
  2. Sovereign, democratic and republican nature of the Indian
    polity
  3. Secular character of the Constitution
  4. Separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary
  5. Federal character of the Constitution
  6. Unity and integrity of the nation
  7. Welfare state (socio-economic justice)
  8. Judicial review
  9. Freedom and dignity of the individual
  10. Parliamentary system
  11. Rule of law
  12. Harmony and balance between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles
  13. Principle of equality
  14. Free and fair elections
  15. Independence of Judiciary
  16. Limited power of Parliament to amend the Constitution
  17. Effective access to justice
  18. Principles (or essence) underlying fundamental rights
  19. Powers of the Supreme Court under Articles 32, 136, 141 and 1426
  20. Powers of the High Courts under Articles 226 and 227

Important Supreme Court Decisions:

Cases Decision by the Supreme Court
Shankari Prasad Vs. Union of India, 1951 The Parliament, under Article 368, has power to amend any part of the constitution
Sajjan Singh Vs. State of Rajasthan, 1965 The Parliament, under Article 368, has power to amend any part of the constitution
Golak Nath Vs. State of Punjab, 1967 The Parliament is not powered to amend the Part III (Fundamental Rights) of the constitution  
Kesavananda Bharti Vs. State of Kerala,1971 The Parliament can amend any provision, but can’t dilute the basic structure
Indira Gandhi Vs. Raj Narain, 1975 The Supreme Court reaffirmed its concept of basic structure
Minerva Mills Vs. Union of India, 1980 The concept of basic structure was further developed by adding ‘judicial review’ and the ‘balance between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles’ to the basic features
Kihoto hollohan Vs. Zachillhu, 1992 ‘Free and fair elections’ was added to the basic features
Indira Sawhney Vs. Union of India, 1992 ‘Rule of law, was added to the basic features
S.R Bommai vs Union of India, 1994 Federal structure, unity and integrity of India, secularism, socialism, social justice and judicial review were reiterated as basic features