Moving With Times – SC’s flexible approach to interpreting the Constitution has enhanced its relevance to governance

Source: The post is based on the article “Moving With Times – SC’s flexible approach to interpreting the Constitution has enhanced its relevance to governance” published in The Times of India on 13th February 2023.

Syllabus: GS 2 – Indian Constitution—historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure.

Relevance: About Constitution as a living document.

News: Recently, the Supreme Court highlighted the universal debate on how a country’s Constitution should be interpreted.

About the Case recognising Constitution as a living document

There are two types of interpretations of the Constitution. a) One who believes in prism of originalism, a theory which advocates sticking to an interpretation of the Constitution’s drafters, and b) One who believes in seeing the constitution as a living document where interpretation adapts to changes in society.

The Supreme Court recently referred the writ petition to a larger bench which involves the right of a religious community to excommunicate followers.

While referring to it, the court implied the constitution as a living constitution. Such as a) The idea of freedom is not static, b) Judicial interpretation needs to keep pace with changing social mores.

How Supreme Court accepted the Constitution as a living document?

The first draft of the Constitution might not be conceptualized in every scenario. The gaps have been interpreted in light of social and economic changes.

Many landmark verdicts reflect underlying changes in society and interpreted the constitution as a living document. Four key judgments include a) Kesavananda Bharati case in 1973 led to the establishment of the basic structure doctrine. It ensured that a parliamentary majority would not lead to constitutional amendments that could undermine its essence, b) Vishaka case led the court to frame guidelines to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. In this, the court was way ahead of the legislature in responding to a big social and economic change, c) The private agreements override government control over natural resources. But in 2010, the court allowed the state to continue to exercise its grip on key areas of economic activity, and d) In 2017, in a unanimous verdict the court held the right to privacy as fundamental.

Overall, the court allowed a gradual change in the way constitutional principles are understood and applied by both the legislature and executive. In India, a flexible approach to interpretation has gradually allowed individual rights to come to the fore.

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