Landmark Judgements on the Doctrine of Basic Structure



The doctrine of basic structure is the protector of the constitution. It limits the power of the parliament to amend the basic features of the constitution. It is a common law legal doctrine which establishes the sovereignty of the constitution. The concept of ‘basic structure’ came into existence in the landmark judgment in Kesavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala case (1973) 47 years ago.The idea behind the introduction of the doctrine was that the power of the amendment should not misused by the parl9smnnt for their own interest. 

Some basic structures of the constitution as:

  1. Supremacy of the Constitution
  2. Unity and sovereignty of India
  3. Democratic and republican form of government
  4. Federal character of the Constitution
  5. Secular character of the Constitution
  6. Separation of power
  7. Individual freedom 
  8. Rule of law
  9.  Judicial review 
  10. Parliamentary system
  11.  Rule of equality
  12.  Harmony and balance between the Fundamental Rights and DPSP
  13.  Free and fair elections 
  14. Limited power of the parliament to amend the Constitution
  15.  Power of the Supreme Court under Articles 32, 136, 142 and 14 
  16. Power of the High Court under Articles 226 and 227

Some of the landmark judgements related to the structure of basic doctrine are as follows

Sankari Prasad Singh Deo vs. Union of India & State of Bihar (1952)  AIR 458, 1952 SCR 89

The case was registered after the enactment of the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951. After the Amendment Act, Article 31A, 31B and 9th Schedule were included in the Constitution. This article deals with property rights. Articles 31A and 31B were introduced which said that the government has the right to acquire any property legally. The compensation to be paid to a person shall be decided by the Parliament itself. Article 19(1)(g) states that the government has the power to take over any business in part or in whole. These provisions were a hindrance to the fundamental rights of the citizens. These provisions were challenged in the case of Shankari Prasad v. Union of India and State of Bihar. The Supreme Court of India held that all the provisions made under the First Constitutional Amendment Act are valid and that under Article 368 the Parliament has all the powers to amend the Constitution, even fundamental rights. It was further stated that Article 13 would apply only to ordinary laws and not to Constitutional Amendment Acts.

Sajjan Singh vs. State of Rajasthan 1965 AIR 845, 1965 SCR (1) 933

Many changes were made in the 17th Constitutional Amendment Act. The state governments included all those land reform acts in the 9th schedule which were violating the fundamental rights of the citizens of the country. This was challenged in the Sajjan Singh case. CJ Gagendragadkar said that if the makers of the constitution wanted to protect the fundamental rights from amendment, then the provision expressed by them should be mentioned because it is not mentioned anywhere in the constitution, then it can be concluded that the fundamental rights can be amended. The parliament has the power to amend it. Justice Hidayatullah and Justice Mudholkar did not agree with CJ Gagendragadkar’s pledge. The matter was referred to a larger bench of 11 judges.

I.C. Golaknath & Ors vs State Of Punjab & Anrs, 1967 AIR 1643, 1967 SCR (2) 762

The case set aside the previous two judgments of Shankari Prasad Singh Deo v. Union of India and State of Bihar and Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan. The Supreme Court held that the powers under Article 368 are not absolute and judicial review can be incorporated. If the Parliament introduces a Constitutional Amendment Act, then Article 13 will apply to it. Also, Parliament cannot introduce any law which violates the fundamental rights of the citizens. This judgement reduced the power of the parliament. To regain its power parliament enacted 24th amendment act and article 13(4) and article 368(3) were added.  Article 13(4)  shall not apply to article 368 and under article 368(3), a provision was made that article 13 can not question the authority to amend the constitution including fundamental rights. These provisions reversed the judgement of the Golaknath case.

Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru & Ors. v. State of Kerala & Anr (1973) 4 SCC 225; AIR 1973 SC 1461

The main issue raised during the case was the extent to which Parliament had the power to amend Article 368 in addition to Article 13(2) in the Constitution?

The petitioner argued that Article 368 was curtailing his freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion and free association. The powers of Parliament are not limited but absolute. On the other hand, the Respondent claimed that the Parliament has every right to amend the Constitution including the Fundamental Rights. In this case the Constitution Amendment Act and the Golaknath case were challenged. The Hon’ble Supreme Court held that even before the 24th Constitutional Amendment Act came into force, the Parliament was empowered to amend the Constitution. The Supreme Court held that the 24th Constitutional Amendment Act is valid but Parliament does not have the power to amend the basic structure of the Constitution i.e. Fundamental Rights.

Indira Nehru Gandhi (Smt.) vs Raj Narain & Anr on 24 June, 1975 AIR 1590, 1975 SCC (2) 159

The hearing of Indira Gandhi v Raj Narayan was held on June 12, 1975, where the Allahabad High Court found Indira Gandhi guilty of electoral misconduct and annulled the election. He was also barred from holding any alternate post for 6 years. Indira Gandhi filed an appeal in the Supreme Court. A day before and after the passage of the 39th Constitutional Amendment Act, a national emergency was imposed in the country. Article 329A was introduced and Article 71 was repealed.

A special provision was made under Article 329A that the Supreme Court does not have the power to decide matters relating to electoral disputes and a separate body should be constituted. Later this provision was repealed under the leadership of Morarji Desai.

there will be no judicial review and there is no limit to the amendment in the Constitution.

Minerva Mills Ltd. & Ors vs Union Of India & Ors on 31 July, 1980 AIR 1789, 1981 SCR (1) 206

The 42nd Amendment Act is also known as the mini constitution of India. Article 31C, section4 and article 368(4) & 368(5) were added under this amendment act. Article 31C Section 4 states that if the Parliament adds any provision to Part IV of the Constitution, it shall be valid even if it violates the fundamental rights of citizens and there shall be no judicial review. Article 368(4) and (5) states that Part III of the Constitution can be amended and there will be no judicial review and there is no limit to the amendment in the Constitution. These provisions were made to nullify the effects of the Kesavananda Bharati case. This was challenged under the Minerva Mills case and declared null and void. The Supreme Court held that judicial review is a fundamental feature of the Constitution which cannot be suppressed by Parliament. It was also said that Parliament has limited amending power and finally a reconciliation between Part 3 and Part 4 of the Constitution should be done.

Waman Rao And Ors vs Union Of India And Ors. on 13 November, 1980 2 SCC 362, 1981 2 SCR 1

In this case, The important observation was made by the supreme court of india regarding the doctrine of basic structure. It was held that all the judgements prior to the Kesavananda Bharati case would remain valid i.e. it should not have retrospective effect. The direct impact of the judgement was that all the acts introduced under the ninth schedule would remain valid and can not be challenged on the grounds of violation of basic structure doctrine whereas the further amendment can be questioned on the grounds of the doctrine of basic structure. 


These landmark judgements given by the hon’ble court established the supremacy of the fundamental rights of the citizens. people experienced a sense of security and ensured peace and harmony in the country. People enjoy basic rights which can not be waived off by any person at any cost. Essentially, it limited the power of the parliament which is not absolute . It incorporated the principle of checks and balances between the three organs of the government for the effective functioning of the state. Some of the material has been repeatedly confirmed by the Courts while some of them are still in the process of deliberation. The basic structure principle provides the fine balance between the flexibility and rigidity that must be present in the amending powers of any constitution.


  • Shankari Prasad Singh Deo v. Union of India, AIR 1951 SC 455
  • Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan, AIR 1965 SC 845
  • Golak Nath v. State of Punjab, AIR 1967 SC 1643
  • Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, AIR 1973 SC 1461
  • Indra Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain, AIR 1975 SC 2299
  • Minerva Mills Ltd. V. Union of India, AIR 1980 SC 1789

Author: Roshni Agarwal, Amity Law School, Noida

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