Basic structure Doctrine

In news: The passing away of Kesavananda Bharati, led to a debate on the famous doctrine of basic structure propounded by the Supreme Court.

What is the Basic Structure Doctrine?

  • The “Basic Structure” doctrine is a doctrine made from judicial innovation specific to Indian context. The doctrine prescribes that certain features of the constitution are essential for the functioning of the state. Such features are beyond the limits of the amending powers of the Parliament.
  • The word “Basic Structure” is not mentioned in the Constitution of India. The concept developed gradually with the tussle between the Parliamentary power to amend the constitution and judiciary’s power to review such amendments.

The concept was recognised for the first time in the Kesavananda Bharati case in 1973.

Evolution of the Basic Structure Doctrine

  • 1951: The First Constitution Amendment Act, 1951: It was challenged in the Shankari Prasad vs. Union of India case. The Supreme Court held that the Parliament, under Article 368, has the power to amend any part of the constitution including fundamental rights.
  • 1964: Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan: The Constitution has “basic features” was first theorized in 1964, by Justice J.R. Mudholkar in the case of Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan. He questioned whether the ambit of Article 368 included the power to alter a basic feature or rewrite a part of the Constitution.
  • 1967: Golak Nath vs State of Punjab case: 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.
  • 1971: The Parliament 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.
  • 1971: The 25th Amendment to the Indian Constitution curtailed the right to property, and permitted the acquisition of private property by the government for public use, on the payment of compensation which would be determined by the Parliament and not the courts
  • 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.
  • 1981: Waaman Rao case: The SC adhered to the doctrine and clarified that the doctrine would apply to constitutional amendments after April 24th

Important Supreme Court Judgements and List of Basic Structure Elements:

Supreme Court JudgementElements of Basic Structure
Kesavananda Bharati Case, 1973Supremacy of the Constitution

Republican and democratic form of government

Secular character of the Constitution

Separation of powers between the legislature, executive and the judiciary

Federal character of the Constitution

The mandate to build a welfare state

Unity and integrity of the nation

Sovereignty of the country.

Freedoms secured to the citizens

Equality of status and the opportunity


Indira Gandhi v. Rajnarain,

Kihoto Hollohon case (Election Case), 1975

Rule of Law

Free and Fair Elections

India as a Democratic, Sovereign, Republic


Judicial Review

Minerva Mills Case, 1980Limited power of govt. to amend Constitution

Judicial Review

Harmony and Balance between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles


Central Coal Fields Ltd. Case, 1980Effective Access to Justice
L. Chandra Kumar Case, 1997Powers of High Court under Articles 226 and 227
IR Coelho Case (IX Schedule Case), 2007Rule of Law

Separation of Powers

Principles underlying Fundamental Rights

Judicial Review

Principles of Equality

National Legal Services Authority v. Union of IndiaArticle 14 has been clearly stated to be a part of the basic structure of the Constitution


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