The views expressed on the topic basic structure of the constitution are personal.
In 1950, we, the people of India gave ourselves the Indian constitution, which acknowledges our rights, duties, and other things but the most crucial part of the constitution is Part III, which talks about the fundamental rights. Another crucial aspect of the Constitution is the Preamble which provides us with the understanding of certain principle terms, such as, Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic, Republic. Some of them were already there from the very existence of the Constitution, while some of them were added by the 42nd constitutional amendment. After some years, the basic structure doctrine came into existence, for the protection of significant elements like these.
The Basic Structure Doctrine is one of the most salient features of the constitution in a democratic country. It states that the parliament cannot pass laws that can amend the basic structure that has come to its current form through many cases. In India, it is one of the most cardinal judicial principles of the constitution. It came into force during the landmark case of Kesavananda Bharti vs State of Kerala in which, there was a constitutional bench of 13 judges, where the Supreme Court ruled the verdict by 7-6, stating that the parliament can pass any law to amend the Constitution as long as its basic structure or its vital features are kept intact. This doctrine is also recognized by some other countries like Pakistan, Malaysia, Uganda.
What does this doctrine mean and how is it important in the Indian Constitution?
The doctrine of basic structure is nothing but a way to make sure that the power to amend the laws is not misused by the parliament. Article 368 grants the parliament the power to amend the laws when they find it necessary. The main reason behind this doctrine is that as and when the constitution is modified, it does not lose its identity and its basic characteristics.
The basic characteristics can include various features, some of them are:
- Unity and sovereignty of India
- Judicial review
- Rule of equality
- Rule of law
- Secular and federal features of the constitution
- Separation of power.
The Supreme Court can review the amendment passed by the parliament and if it alters the basic structure of the constitution then it can declare the law as unconstitutional.
How the doctrine of basic structure evolved over time in India.
- Shankari Prasad Singh Deo vs. Union of India (1951): The Supreme Court held that the power to amend the Constitution under Article 368 also included the power to amend fundamental rights. So, if a Constitutional Amendment violates any fundamental right, it will still be considered valid.
- Sajjan Singh vs. State of Rajasthan (1964): The Supreme Court held that Article 368 of the constitution gives Parliament the power to amend any constitutional law. It was held that the parliament can amend the fundamental rights of the people.
- Golak Nath vs. State of Punjab (1967): The Supreme Court reversed the previous judgement which had upheld the parliament’s power to amend all Parts of the constitution, which also included Part III, concerned with fundamental rights. After the judgement, Parliament had no power to amend fundamental rights.
- Keshavananda Bharti vs State of Kerala (1973): This case was heard by the largest constitutional bench ever of 13 judges. The court, with a majority of 7-6, ruled that 24th, 25th, and 29th amendments were valid and held that no part of the constitution was beyond the amending power of the constitution, hence it over-ruled the 1967 verdict, but it also stated that the basic structure of the constitution cannot be amended even by constitutional amendments.
- Indira Gandhi Nehru vs Raj Narain (1975): The supreme court, using the basic structure doctrine struck down Clause 4 of article 329-A, which was added by the 39th amendment in 1975 during the emergency period, on the basis that it was beyond the amending power of parliament and it destroyed the basic structure of Constitution.
- Minerva Mills vs Union of India (1980): Supreme Court added the clause of judicial review and harmony between the Fundamental Rights and Directive Principle of State Policy. It also held that limiting the power of the parliament to amend is also a part of the Basic Structure.
- Indra Sawhney & Others vs Union of India (1992): Rule of Law, Unity and Integrity of the Nation, Federal structure, Secular, and Socialist were added to the Basic Structure Doctrine by the Supreme Court.
- S.R. Bommai vs Union of India (1994): Preamble was also added to the Basic Structure, the court said that preamble acts as a steering wheel for the legislature.
While the idea of basic structure exists in the constitution, it is still not defined by the Supreme Court and most likely the decision won’t change in the far future. It has been established that the scope of basic structure cannot be completely determined, yet the Supreme Court can add or remove features from the list. Since the fundamental principles of the state lay down the founding policies of the society, they should not be under the control of any institution, be it Parliament or Supreme Court. For safeguarding the interests of the state and its Unity, Integrity, and citizens, this doctrine was added to the constitution.
Thus, we can say that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and no institution or authority is above it.