The Kesavananda Bharati case, officially known as Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru & Ors. v. State of Kerala & Anr., is a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of India that established the "Basic Structure Doctrine" of the Indian Constitution.
Background and Facts of the Case:
The case began when His Holiness Kesavananda Bharati, the head of the Edneer Mutt in Kerala, challenged the constitutionality of the Kerala Land Reforms Acts of 1969 and 1971. These acts, passed by the Kerala State government, aimed to acquire land from the Mutt. Kesavananda Bharati contended that these acts infringed upon various fundamental rights, including the right to equality (Article 14), the right to acquire property (Article 19(1)(f), later repealed), and the right to manage religious affairs (Article 26).
Legal Issues and Contentions:
The key legal issues revolved around the extent of Parliament's power to amend the Constitution, particularly whether Parliament could amend the Constitution in a way that would affect its basic structure. The case challenged the 24th and 25th Constitutional Amendment Acts. The petitioner argued that these amendments violated his fundamental rights and that Parliament could not alter the Constitution's basic structure. On the other hand, the State of Kerala argued for the absolute power of Parliament to amend the Constitution, a principle rooted in the supremacy of Parliament.
Judgment and Basic Structure Doctrine:
The Supreme Court, in a historic 7-6 decision, held that while Parliament has broad powers to amend the Constitution, this power does not extend to altering the Constitution's 'basic structure'. The majority view, led by Chief Justice S.M. Sikri, established that certain elements of the Constitution, including the supremacy of the Constitution, the republican and democratic form of government, the secular character of the Constitution, the separation of powers, and the federal character of the Constitution, are inviolable.
This case is significant as it placed an implied limitation on the amending powers of Parliament, ensuring that the fundamental essence of the Constitution cannot be altered. It represents a balance between flexibility and rigidity, allowing for changes in the Constitution while preserving its core principles and values.
The Kesavananda Bharati case has since been a cornerstone in the constitutional law of India and a pivotal decision in maintaining the democratic ethos of the country.