In Kesavananda Bharthi v. Union of India (1973) case, Apex Court outlined the basic structure doctrine of the Constitution. In fact, in Kesavananda, the Court, by a 7-6 majority, went several steps ahead in asserting its power of judicial review so as to scrutinize any amendment to see if it violated the basic structure of the Constitution; and asserted its right to strike down amendments to the Constitution that were in violation of the fundamental architecture of the Constitution.

Factually, the case was a challenge to the Kerala Land. Reforms Act, 1963 which interfered with petitioner’s rights to manage property under Article 26. Furthermore, the Twenty-fourth, Twenty-fifth and Twenty-ninth constitutional amendments were also challenged. By Twenty-fourth Amendment, Articles 13 and 368 were amended to exclude constitutional amendments from the definition of law under Article 13; the Twenty-fifth Amendment excluded judicial review by providing that the law giving effect to principles specified in clause (b) or clause (c) of Article 39 could not be questioned by the Court; and the Twenty-ninth Amendment put certain land reform enactments in the Ninth Schedule.

Here are the variety of opinions expressed therein-


“209…..In other words, the expression ‘Amendment of this Constitution” does not include a revision of the whole Constitution. If this is true — I say that the concession was rightly made — then which is that meaning of the word “Amendment” that is most appropriate and fits in with the whole scheme of the Constitution.

In my view that meaning would be appropriate which would enable the country to achieve a social and economic revolution without destroying the democratic structure of the Constitution and the basic inalienable rights guaranteed in Part III and without going outside the contours delineated in the Preamble.

284. In view of the above reasons, a necessary implication arises that there are implied limitations on the power of Parliament that the expression “amendment of this Constitution” has consequently a limited meaning in our Constitution and not the meaning suggested by the respondents.

395. It was said that if Parliament cannot increase its power of amendment clause (d) of Section 3 of the 24th Amendment which makes Article 13 inapplicable to an amendment of the Constitution would be bad. I see no force in this contention. Article 13(2) as existing previous to the 24th Amendment as interpreted by the majority in Golak Nath’s case (supra), prevented Legislatures from taking away or abridging the rights conferred by Article 13.

In other words, any law which abridged a fundamental right even to a small extent was liable to be struck down Article 368 can amend every article of the Constitution as long as the result is within the limits already laid down by me.

The amendment of Article 13(2) does not go beyond the limits laid down because Parliament cannot even after the amendment abrogate or authorise abrogation or the taking away of fundamental rights. After the amendment now a law which has the effect of merely abridging a right while remaining within the limits laid down would not be liable to be struck down.

469. I have held that Article 368 does not enable Parliament to abrogate or take away fundamental rights. If this is so, it does not enable Parliament to do this by any means, including the device of Article 31-B and the Ninth Schedule. The device of Article 31-B and the Ninth Schedule is bad in so far as it protects Statutes even if they take away fundamental rights. Therefore, it is necessary to declare that the Twenty-Ninth Amendment is ineffective to protect the impugned Acts if they take away fundamental rights.


546. The meaning of the words “amendment of this Constitution” as used in Article 368 must be such which accords with the true intention of the Constitution-makers as ascertainable from the historical background, the Preamble, the entire scheme of the Constitution, its structure and framework and the intrinsic evidence in various articles including Article 368.

It is neither possible to give it a narrow meaning nor can such a wide meaning be given which can enable the amending body to change substantially or entirely the structure and identity of the Constitution. Even the concession of the learned Attorney-General and the Advocate- General of Maharashtra that the whole Constitution cannot be abrogated or repealed and a new one substituted supports the conclusion that the widest possible meaning cannot be given to it.

583. The entire discussion from the point of view of the meaning of the expression “amendment” as employed in Article 368 and the limitations which arise by implications leads to the result that the amending power under Article 368 is neither narrow nor unlimited. On the footing on which we have proceeded the validity of the 24th Amendment can be sustained if Article 368, as it originally stood and after the amendment, is read in the way we have read it.

The insertion of Articles 13(4) and 368(3) and the other amendments made will not affect the result, namely, that the power in Article 368 is wide enough to permit amendment of each and every article of the Constitution by way of addition, variation or repeal so long as its basic elements are not abrogated or denuded of their identity.

Justice Hegde, J. and Justice Mukherjea

666. On a careful consideration of the various aspects of the case, we are convinced that the Parliament has no power to abrogate or emasculate the basic elements or fundamental features of the Constitution such as the sovereignty of India, the democratic character of our polity, the unity of the country, the essential features of the individual freedoms secured to the citizens. Nor has the Parliament the power to revoke the mandate to build a Welfare State and egalitarian society. These limitations are only illustrative and not exhaustive.

Despite these limitations, however, there can be no question that the amending power is a wide power and it reaches every Article and every part of the Constitution. That power can be used to reshape the Constitution to fulfil the obligation imposed on the State. It can also be used to reshape the Constitution within the limits mentioned earlier, to make it an effective instrument for social good.

We are unable to agree with the contention that in order to build a Welfare State, it is necessary to destroy some of the human freedoms. That, at any rate is not the perspective of our Constitution. Our Constitution envisages that the State should without delay make available to all the citizens of this country the real benefits of those freedoms in a democratic way.… Every encroachment on freedoms sets a pattern for further encroachments. Our constitutional plan is to eradicate poverty without destruction of individual freedoms.

Justice Khanna

1416. Argument has then been advanced that if power be held to be vested in Parliament under Article 368 to take away or abridge fundamental rights, the power would be, or in any case could be, so used as would result in repeal of all provisions containing fundamental rights. India, it is urged, in such an event would be reduced to a police state wherein all cherished values like freedom and liberty would be non- existent.

This argument, in my opinion, is essentially an argument of fear and distrust in the majority of representatives of the people. It is also based upon the belief that the power under Article 368 by two-thirds of the members present and voting in each House of Parliament would be abused or used extravagantly. I find it difficult to deny to the Parliament the power to amend the Constitution so as to take away or abridge fundamental right by complying with the procedure of Article 368 because of any such supposed fear or possibility of the abuse of power.

I may in this context refer to the observations of Marshall, C.J., regarding the possibility of the abuse of power of legislation and of taxation in the case of Providence Bank v. Alpheus Billings:

“This vital power may be abused; but the Constitution of the United States was not intended to furnish the corrective for every abuse of power which may be committed by the State Governments. The interest, wisdom, and justice of the representative body, and its relations with its constituents furnish the only security where there is no express contract against unjust and excessive taxation, as well as against unwise legislation generally.”

1535. In exercising the power of judicial review, the Courts cannot be oblivious of the practical needs of the government. The door has to be left open for trial and error. Constitutional law like other mortal contrivances has to take some chances. Opportunity must be allowed for vindicating reasonable belief by experience. Judicial review is not intended to create what is sometimes called Judicial Oligarchy, the Aristocracy of the Robe, Covert Legislation, or Judge-made law. The proper forum to fight for the wise use of the legislative authority is that of public opinion and legislative assemblies. Such contest cannot be transferred to the judicial arena.

That all constitutional interpretations have political consequences should not obliterate the fact that the decision has to be arrived at in the calm and dispassionate atmosphere of the court room, that judges in order to give legitimacy to their decision have to keep aloof from the din and controversy of politics and that the fluctuating fortunes of rival political parties can have for them only academic interest. Their primary duty is to uphold the Constitution and the laws without fear or favour and in doing so, they cannot allow any political ideology or economic theory, which may have caught their fancy, to colour the decision.

The sobering reflection has always to be there that the Constitution is meant not merely for people of their way of thinking but for people of fundamentally differing views. As observed by Justice Holmes while dealing with the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

“The Fourteenth Amendment does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics…Some of these laws embody convictions or prejudices which judges are likely to share. Some may not. But a Constitution is not intended to embody a particular economic theory, whether of paternalism and the organic relation of the citizen to the State or of laissez faire. It is made for people of fundamentally differing views, and the accident of our finding certain opinions natural and familiar or novel and even shocking ought not to conclude our judgment upon the question whether statutes embodying them conflict with the Constitution of the United States.”