[Answered] Examine the doctrine of basic structure. Discuss its evolution and significance.

Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual Introduction.
Body. Evolution and significance of basic structure of constitution.
Conclusion. Way forward.

The basic structure doctrine, termed as Judicial Innovation evolved by the SC is a Judicial principle that states that the core underlying features termed basic are not subjected to the amending power of the legislature under article 368. Though the court did not explicitly define what are those principles few of them can be derived from various SC judgements over the years like supremacy of the COI, Rule of law, judicial review, federalism, secularism, Fundamental rights, Article 32, balance between FR and DPSP etc. and are not static but dynamic and continuously evolving.

Basic Structure doctrine:

  1. Doctrine of Basic Structure’: It was propounded by the Indian Judiciary on 24th April 1973 in Keshavananda Bharati case to put a limitation on the amending powers of the Parliament so that the ‘basic structure of the basic law of the land’ cannot be amended in exercise of its ‘constituent power’ under the Constitution.
  2. Basic structure though is not exactly defined but through its contents which have been provided by the judicature clarifies a scope defining the frame or the structure of the constitution. Some of its constituents are Rule of law, Sovereignty, liberty and republic nature of Indian polity, judicial review, Separation of power, secularism, and Republic nature of India etc.

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. The amendment was challenged on the ground that it violates the Part-III of the constitution and therefore, should be considered invalid. The Supreme Court held that the Parliament, under Article 368, has the power to amend any part of the constitution including fundamental rights.
  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. According to the Supreme Court ruling, Article 368 only lays down the procedure to amend the constitution and does not give absolute powers to the parliament to amend any part of the constitution.
  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. It also made it obligatory for the President to give his assent on all the Constitution Amendment bills sent to him.
  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. The Supreme Court held that the Parliament has power to amend any provision of the constitution, but doing so, the basic structure of the constitution is to be maintained. But the Apex Court did not any clear definition of the basic structure. It held that the basic structure of the Constitution could not be abrogated even by a constitutional amendment.

Significance of basic structure:

  1. The basic structure doctrine is a testimony to the theory of Constitutionalism to prevent the damage to essence of COI by brute majority of the ruling majority.
  2. The basic doctrine saved the Indian democracy as it acts as a limitation of constituent power or else unlimited power of parliament might have turned India into a totalitarian
  3. It helps us to retain the basic tenets of our constitution so meticulously framed by the founding fathers of our Constitution.
  4. It certainly saved Indian democracy from degenerating into authoritarian regime.
  5. It strengthens our democracy by delineating a true separation of power where Judiciary is independent of other two organs. It has also given immense untold unbridled power to Supreme Court and made it the most powerful court in the world
  6. By restraining the amending powers of legislative organ of State, it provided basic Rights to Citizens which no organ of State can overrule.
  7. Being dynamic in nature, it is more progressive and open to changes in time unlike the rigid nature of earlier judgements.

The basic structure doctrine though subject to intense debate from the date of its inception and lack of textual basis of the same still continues to hold forte to hold up delicate constitutional balance of powers.

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