Case Studies
Kesavananda Bharti vs State of Kerala: 47 Years Since Landmark Judgment That Saved Democracy

Kesavananda Bharti vs State of Kerala: 47 Years Since Landmark Judgment That Saved Democracy

Kesavananda Bharti case is a landmark judgment in the history of the Indian constitution as this case gave rise to the doctrine of the basic structure of the constitution which cannot be taken away.

Kesavananda Bharti was a Hindu monk who served as the Shankaracharya of Edneer Mutt, a Hindu monastery in Kasaragod district, Kerala. He continued the position of the head until he died on 6 September 2020.

He was a follower of Smartha Bhagawatha tradition and the Advaita Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy

The petition was filed by Kesavananda Bharti on 21st March 1970 and the judgment was delivered by the Supreme Court on 24th April 1973. The bench constituted, in this case, consisted of 13 judges. It is the largest bench constituted till now. The judgment was delivered with a majority of 7:6. The case was heard for 68 days.

He filed a petition under Article 32 for the enforcement of his fundamental rights in Articles 25, 26, 14, 19(1)(f) and 31 of the constitution. He prayed the supreme court to declare Kerala land reform act 1963 as amended by Act 1969 as void.

While the petition was in court Kesavananda Bharti asked the court to allow the amendment in the petition to challenge the recent amendments of the constitution.

Kesavananda Bharti challenged the 24th amendment, Section 2 and Section 3 of 25th amendment, and the validity of 29th amendment. The 24th amendment added clause 4 to Article 13 of the constitution and it also amended article 368 itself.

For deciding the above amendments validity court interpreted Article 368. In interpreting Article 368 the main question before the court was to decide the ambit of the power of amending the constitution that parliament has through article 368.

Kesavananda Bharti claimed that,” The power of amending the constitution is much wide that it can abrogate fundamental rights such as freedom of speech, expression, and freedom of religion.”

He further added that, “Parliament can also make the one-party rule by taking democracy indeed short of repeal of the constitution, any form of government with no freedom to the citizens that can be set up by parliament by exercising its power under article 368.”

Kesavananda Bharti contended that the power of parliament is limited. He submitted that constitution gave Indian citizens freedom which was to subsist forever and the constitution was drafted to free the nation from future tyranny of the representatives of the people. He further submitted that it is the freedom that is taken by the 25th amendment.

Judgment of Kesavananda Bharti vs State of Kerala

Judgment of Kesavananda Bharti vs State of Kerala

Interpretation of Article 368.

The court held that there are implied limitations on the power of parliament to amend the constitution.  Chief Justice S.M Sikri said that “I am driven to the conclusion by the expression of the amendment of the constitution. Article 368 means any addition or change in any of the provisions of the constitution within the countries of the preamble and the Constitution to carry out the objectives in the preamble and directive principles.

He added that, “Applied to fundamental rights, it would mean that while fundamental yvcannot be aborgated reasonable abridgement of fundamental rights can be affected in public interest. It was held that every provision of the constitution can be amended provided basic foundation and basic structure of Constitution remains same.”

Basic structure of constitution consists of:

  • Supremacy of constitution.
  • Republican and democratic form of government.
  • Secular character of constitution.
  • Separation of powers.
  • Federal character.

According to the Cheif Justice, “Basic structure is based on the basic foundation of the constitution. All the basic features are easily discernible not only from the preamble but the whole scheme of the constitution.”

Court also held the validity of 24th amendment and sec 2 of 25th amendment act of the constitution. Sec 3 of 25th amendment was held void as it delegates powers to legislatures to amend the constitution.

To check the validity of 29th amendment, it was refereed to constitutional bench to check it in line with the judement.

The four judges which did not sign the judgement were A.N. Ray, K.K.Mathew, M.H. Beg and S.N. Dwivedi.

This judgement till now is the core of Indian constitution.

This judgement overruled what was held in Golak nath case. In Golaknath case it was decided that the amendment would be void if it abridged article 13(2) even in public interest.

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