Basic structure of Indian Constitution
Indian Constitution Is a dynamic document that can be amended according to the needs of the society whenever required. Constitution under Article 368 grants power to the Parliament to amend whenever there is a necessity. The Article also lays down the procedure for amendment in detail. The doctrine of basic structure is nothing but a judicial innovation to ensure that the power of amendment is not misused by Parliament. The idea is that the basic features of the Constitution of India should not be altered to an extent that the identity of the Constitution is lost in the process. Indian Constitution upholds certain principles which are the governing rules for the Parliament, any amendment cannot change these principles and this is what the doctrine of basic structure upholds. The doctrine as we have today was not present always but over the years it has been propounded and upheld by the judicial officers of this country. In this article, we would dwell in detail on the evolution of the doctrine of basic structure and what are the features of the Constitution of India that have been regarded as part of the basic structure by the hon’ble courts.
Evolution of Basic Structure Doctrine
Indra Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain was the case in which the faith on the doctrine was affirmed and established. In this case, the appellant had filed an appeal against the decision of Allahabad High Court invalidating her election as the Prime Minister. While the appeal was still pending at the Supreme Court, the 39th Amendment was enacted and enforced which stated that no court has jurisdiction over the election disputes of the Prime Minister. The Hon’ble Supreme Court relying on the decision of Kesavananda Bharati stated that democracy was an essential feature of the Constitution and forms part of the basic structure. The bench added certain other features to the list of the basic structure, which were: Rule of Law and power of judicial review.
The basic structure then came up in the case of Minerva Mills Ltd. V. Union of India, wherein the Supreme Court provided clarity to the doctrine and laid down that the power of amendment under Article 368 is limited and exercise of such power cannot be absolute. A limited amending power was very well part of the basic structure doctrine of the Constitution. Further, the harmony and balance between fundamental rights and directive principles are also part of the basic structure, and anything that destroys the balance is an ipso facto violation of the doctrine. The case of L. Chandra Kumar v. Union of India again stated that the power of judicial review under Article 32 of the Supreme Court and Article 226 of the High Court is part of the basic structure doctrine and these powers cannot be diluted by transferring them to administrative tribunals.
Kesvananda Bharati v. the State of Kerala
This case was initially filed to challenge the validity of the Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963. But the 29th Amendment of the Constitution placed it under the Ninth Schedule. The petitioner was permitted to not only challenge the 29th Amendment but also the validity of the 24th and 25th Amendment. The historic judgment was delivered by a 13 judge bench and with the majority of 7:6; they overruled the Golak Nath case. It was held that the power of Parliament to amend the Constitution is far and wide and extends to all the Articles but it is not unlimited to an extent that it destroys certain basic features or framework of the Constitution. The Hon’ble Supreme Court, however, held that the 24th Amendment was valid as it only states what was present before implicitly. It does not enlarge the powers of Parliament; Article 368 always included the power and procedure to amend the Constitution. The judges did not provide what constitutes the basic structure but provided an illustrative list of what may constitute the basic structure. As per Sikri, C.J., the basic structure constitutes the following elements:
The supremacy of the Constitution
Republican and Democratic forms of Government
Secular character of the Constitution
Separation of Powers between the legislature, the Executive, and the Judiciary
Federal Character of the Constitution
Today there is no dispute regarding the existence of the doctrine, the only problem that arises time and again is the contents of the same. Certain contents have been reaffirmed again and again by the Courts whereas some of them are still in the process of deliberations. The basic structure doctrine grants the fine balance between flexibility and rigidity that should be present in the amending powers of any Constitution