Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala (1973) stands as a seminal moment in Indian constitutional law, shaping the course of legal history. This landmark case introduced the "basic structure" doctrine, asserting that while the Constitution can be amended, certain core principles are immutable. This case has had the largest constitutional bench of 13 judges to decide the watershed moment that has laid the foundation of modern constitutional jurisprudence. Its legacy endures as a guardian of constitutional identity, safeguarding democratic values and ensuring that the bedrock principles of the Constitution remain unassailable against arbitrary modifications.
In the landmark case of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala (1973), the petitioner, Kesavananda Bharati, challenged the Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963, which sought to impose restrictions on the management and transfer of the properties owned by religious institutions.
- Whether the power of Parliament to amend the Constitution under Article 368 is unlimited?
- Whether there are any implied limitations on the amending power?
- Whether there exists a "basic structure" of the Constitution that is beyond the amending power of the Parliament?
- Whether the Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963, violates the basic structure?
The Supreme Court, in a historic 7-6 decision, held that while Parliament has the power to amend the Constitution under Article 368, this power is not unlimited. The Court established the doctrine of the "basic structure," asserting that certain features of the Constitution are beyond the scope of amendment. While upholding the validity of the Kerala Land Reforms Act, it laid down that the power to amend does not include the power to destroy or alter the essential features or basic structure of the Constitution.
Establishing the Basic Structure Doctrine
Kesavananda Bharati is considered a watershed moment in constitutional jurisprudence, introducing the "basic structure" doctrine. This doctrine implies that while Parliament has the authority to amend the Constitution, it cannot alter its fundamental features. The judgment fortified the principles of democracy, rule of law, separation of powers, and judicial review as integral to the basic structure. This decision established a framework to prevent arbitrary changes to the Constitution, ensuring its resilience and adaptability without compromising its core values. The Kesavananda Bharati case, with its profound impact, laid the foundation for preserving the constitutional identity of India.