Case Study on Golaknath v. State of Punjab


(1967 AIR 1643, 1967 SCR (2) 762)

Golaknath v. State of Punjab was one of the most important case in the legal history. This case raised a lot of concerns. The biggest issue of this case was whether or not the Parliament has the power to amend the Fundamental Rights embodied in the Indian Constitution. The court ruled that the fundamental rights cannot be amended by the Parliament.

Parties and Judges Names

Petitioner: I.C. Golaknath & Ors.

Respondent: State of Punjab & Anrs.

Bench: Subba Rao, K.N. Wanchoo, M. Hidayatullah, J.C. Shah, S.M. Sikri,  R.S. Bachawat, V. Ramaswami, J.M. Shelat, Vihishtha Bhargava, G.K. Mitter & C.A. Vaidiyalingam


In the cases of Shankari Prasad v Union of India[1] and Sajjan Singh v State of Rajasthan[2], the Supreme Court retained the State’s control and privilege to amend the Constitution, including the arrangements or clauses associated with the Fundamental Rights, and subsequently granted the Parliament specific powers. In Golaknath ‘s case, the Supreme Court took an opposing position and retained the divinity of the Fundamental Rights over the State’s power to amend it.


The problem that came before the court was whether the parliament has the full authority and the power to amend the fundamental rights or not?


The Henry and William Golaknath family lived in Jalandhar, Punjab, owning over 500 acres of farmland. Under the Punjab Protection and Land Tenures Act, the government held that only thirty acres each of the brothers could be retained, a few acres would go to tenants and the rest declared surplus. That was challenged in the courts by the Golaknath family. In 1965, this case was further referred to the Supreme Court. The family filed a petition under Article 32 questioning the Punjab Act of 1953 on the basis that it prohibited them their constitutional right to acquire and keep property and to perform any profession (Article19(f) and (g) and equality before the protection of the law (Article 14). They sought to have the seventeenth amendment declared ultra vires (beyond powers)–which had placed the Punjab Act in the ninth schedule.

Petitioner’s Arguments

  1. The Constitution of India as drafted by the Constituent Assembly is of a permanent nature and there is no constitutional act which changes or tries to bring about a change.
  2. The word ‘amendment’ means just a shift in accordance with the original concept & not a new idea entirely.
  3. A parliamentary act of whatever nature can not take away the fundamental rights provided for under Part III because they are the essential & integral part of the Constitution without which the Constitution is like a soulless body.
  4. Article 368 provides only for the process for amending the Constitution.
  5. Accordingly, Article 13(3)(a) in its definition of ‘law’ encompasses all forms of law, i.e. statutory or constitutional, etc. in its scope by virtue of Article 13(2), any constitutional amendment which violates Part III is unconstitutional.

Respondent’s Arguments

  1. Constitutional amendment results from the exercise of sovereign power and this exercise of sovereign power is different from the legislative power exercised by Parliament in making laws.
  2. The very aim of the amendment is to modify the nation’s laws according to the changing societal needs.
  3. The lack of such provision would end in constitution becoming too rigid. As it is always said that the Indian Constitution is both rigid and flexible.
  4. There is no classification as basic or non-basic in the Constitutional laws and all laws are of equal value and equal status.
  5. Most of the amendments which are the answers to political questions are beyond the scope of judicial scrutiny.


In Golaknath’s case majority opinion shows cynicism about the direction of parliament in their minds. The parliament has used Article 368 since 1950 and passed a variety of laws that violated constitutional rights under Part III of the Constitution in one way or another. The majority had doubts that if Sajjan Singh remained the law of the land, a time would come when all of the fundamental rights accepted by our constituent assembly would be modified by amendments. Holding the question of fundamental rights in mind and fearing that Democratic India can be turned into totalitarian India, cases of Sajjan Singh & Shankari Prasad was overruled by the majority.

The majority said parliament does not have the power to amend fundamental rights. These fundamental rights are held beyond parliamentary legislation’s scope. Consequently, to save democracy from parliamentary autocratic acts, the majority held that parliament should not amend the fundamental rights enshrined in Part III of the Indian Constitution. The majority declared that fundamental rights are the same as natural rights. Those rights are vital to a human being’s growth and development.


Doctrine of Prospective Overruling

The judgment provides, for prospective overruling of this judgment ‘s rule. The theory of prospective overruling means that the consequences of the legislation to be set down will only be applied on the dates of the future, i.e. past decisions will not be affected. The majority preferred Prospective Overruling due to the following reasons:

  • Most to save the nation from the turmoil of retrospective procedure and the judicial branch from numerous litigation that may follow after the decision has opted for prospective overruling. This was to mitigate the negative impact of the judgment which invalidated previous constitutional amendments.
  • Second reason why the majority agreed for prospective overruling was that since the Golaknath decision was that Parliament could not amend Fundamental Rights, all of the initial amendments would therefore be invalid and unconstitutional. Such amendments, however, were in line with & strictly in compliance with the laws laid down in Shankari Prasad and Sajjan Singh, hence they were valid as in the previous law.

After Effects of Case

Nath Pai M.P. of Rajapur Constituency on April 7, 1967 in order to overrule the decision indirectly introduced a private Member’s bill into Parliament. The bill however failed to hit the house floors. Indira Gandhi’s Congress Government swept the 1971 elections by a large margin. The Indira Gandhi government passed the Constitutional 24th Amendment Act, 1971, with sinister intent to overrule whatever was laid down in Golaknath.

The scope of the definition of the word Amendment was an significant issue left unanswered by the Golaknath judgment. Will that mean changing or modifying or abolishing or subtracting or reforming the whole Constitution or modifying the fundamental principles?

The majority bench was of the view that the parliament should devise a Constituent Assembly to create an alteration in the constitution. If the judiciary is cynical about the parliament ‘s conduct, how can they trust in the actions of the legislature that is the Parliament’s own child?

In 1973 it was overruled by some extent in Kesavananda Bharti because of these flaws in the judgment.

[1] AIR 1951, SC 455

[2] 1965 A.I.R. 845, 1965 S.C.R. (1) 933.

Author: Bahaar,
Amity Law School, Noida 3rd Year student

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