Facts of Kesavananda Bharti and Principles of Basic Structure Doctrine

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Basic Structure Doctrine

The Basic Structure Doctrine originated and was first identified in the German Constitution after the Nazi regime. The constitution was amended to protect the basic laws, further, the new German Constitution introduced certain limits to the power of the Parliament to amend some parts of the Constitution. In India, the Basic Structure Doctrine was identified in the landmark judgment named, Kesavananda Bharti Case which is discussed briefly in this article.

Background Judgments Before Kesavanda 

In this case, the Supreme Court gave unrestricted authority to the Parliament to modify the Constitution. The top Court mentioned that “the word ‘law’ in Article 13 includes only ordinary laws and not the constitutional amendment acts.” This means that the Parliament has the power to amend any part of the Constitution under Article 368 of the Indian Constitution including Fundamental Rights. 

In Sajjan Singh Case, the Supreme Court gave a similar judgment as of Shankari Prasad Singh case where the bench said that the Parliament has the power to amend any part of the Constitution including Fundamental Rights.

In 1967, another case was presented before the Supreme Court where the main question was whether the Parliament has the authority or power to amend any part of the Indian Constitution. Here, the bench held that Parliament could not curtail any of the Fundamental Rights in the Constitution of India. 

Facts of the Kesavananda Bharti Case

Kesavananda Bharti was the chief of the Edneer Mutt, a religious institution in Kasaragod district Kerala. The Government of Kerala imposed restrictions on the ownership of the land in 1970. Kesavananda Bharati challenged the constitutionality of the Land Reforms Amendment Act, 1969, in the Kerala High Court. The Act illustrated that the government was entitled to acquire the land of religious institutions of which Kesavananda was the Chief. He then moved to the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution of India for enforcement of his guaranteed rights under Article 14 (Right to equality), Article 19(1)(f) (freedom to acquire property), Article 25 (Right to practice and propagate religion), Article 26 (Right to manage religious affairs), and Article 31 (Compulsory Acquisition of Property). 

In the Supreme Court, a bench of 13 judges, the biggest so far, was constituted to hear the matter which includes then CJI SM SikriJustice KS HegdeJustice AN Ray, Justice DG Palekar, Justice KK Mathew, Justice SN Dwivedi, Justice YV ChandrachudJustice JM Shelat, Justice AN Grover, Justice P Jaganmohan ReddyJustice HR KhannaJustice MH Beg and Justice AK Mukherjea. The primary question answered in this landmark judgment was “Whether the power of Parliament to amend the Constitution is unlimited?” 

Majority Verdict 

On April 24, 1973, the landmark judgment was delivered by a majority ratio of 7:6 whereas the majority stated that the parliament has unrestricted power to amend any provision of the Constitution of India including the Fundamental Rights provided that the amendments should not change the basic structure of the Constitution. The majority verdict was given by CJI SM Sikri, Justice KS Hegde, Justice AK Mukherjea, Justice JM Shelat, Justice AN Grover, Justice P Jaganmohan Reddy, and Justice HR Khanna. The dissenting opinion of the minority verdict was cautions of giving unlimited authority to amend the Constitution to the Parliament. This minority decision was given by Justice AN Ray, Justice DG Palekar, Justice KK Mathew, Justice SN Dwivedi, Justice YV Chandrachud, and Justice MH Beg. Although, the basic structure of the Constitution was itself not defined appropriately; therefore, certain aspects including the rule of law, the protection of Fundamental Rights, Supremacy of the Constitution, the Federal character of the Constitution, and the separation of powers between the executive, the judiciary and the Legislature were identified as part of the Constitution’s Basic Structure. In addition, the top Court also answered the validity of the 24th and 25th Constitutional Amendment Acts. It was determined that the 24th Constitutional Amendment was upheld whereas part 1 and 2 of the 25th Constitutional Amendment Act was found intra vires and ultra vires respectively. 

Effects of Kesavananda Bharti Case

  • Parliament cannot alter the framework or basic structure of the Constitution under Article 368.
  • The judgment overruled the verdict delivered in the Golaknath case.
  • The 24th and 29th Constitutional Amendment Act was declared valid.
  • Section 2 Clauses (a) and (b) of the 25th Constitutional Amendment Act were valid.
  • The Second part of Section 3 of the 25th Constitutional Amendment Act was declared invalid by the bench which states that “no law containing a declaration that it is for giving effect to such policy shall be called in question in any Court on the ground that it does not give effect to such policy.”
  • The validity of the 26th Constitutional Amendment Act will be determined by the bench in context with the law.


Although the case was decided with a very narrow majority, it has cleared the air on Basic Structure Doctrine. This landmark judgment was the longest proceeding case for 68 days and has been cited hundreds of times in various judgments. Throughout the proceeding of the case, more than 70 constitutions were addressed by the judges and the advocates. The case, therefore, is also known as the ‘Fundamental Rights Case’ and the ‘Basic Structure Case’. 

Read the full Judgment with headnote here:Kesavananda Bharti Sripadagalvaru and Ors vs. State of Kerala & anthr.

1. When was Kesavanand Bharti case decided?
2. What was the majority ratio in the Kesavandabharti case?