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The basic structure doctrine is an Indian judicial principle that the Constitution of India has certain basic features that cannot be altered or destroyed through amendments by the parliament.<ref name=hindu-basic-features>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref> Key among these "basic features", are the fundamental rights granted to individuals by the constitution.<ref name=hindu-basic-features/><ref name=ik-257876>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref><ref name=frontline-revisiting>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref> The doctrine thus forms the basis of a limited power of the Supreme Court to review and strike down constitutional amendments enacted by the Parliament which conflict with or seek to alter this "basic structure" of the Constitution. The basic structure doctrine applies only to constitutional amendments. The basic features of the Constitution have not been explicitly defined by the Judiciary, and the claim of any particular feature of the Constitution to be a "basic" feature is determined by the Court in each case that comes before it. The basic structure doctrine does not apply to ordinary Acts of Parliament, which must itself be in conformity with the Constitution.

The Supreme Court's initial position on constitutional amendments was that no part of the Constitution was unamendable and that the Parliament might, by passing a Constitution Amendment Act in compliance with the requirements of article 368, amend any provision of the Constitution, including the Fundamental Rights and article 368. The "basic features" principle was first expounded in 1953, by Justice J.R. Mudholkar in his dissent, in the case of Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan. He wrote, "It is also a matter for consideration whether making a change in a basic feature of the Constitution can be regarded merely as an amendment or would it be, in effect, rewriting a part of the Constitution; and if the latter, would it be within the purview of Article 368?"

In 1967, the Supreme Court reversed its earlier decisions in Golaknath v. State of Punjab. It held that Fundamental Rights included in Part III of the Constitution are given a "transcendental position" and are beyond the reach of Parliament. It also declared any amendment that "takes away or abridges" a Fundamental Right conferred by Part III as unconstitutional. By 1973, the basic structure doctrine triumphed in Justice Hans Raj Khanna's judgment in the landmark decision of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala.<ref name=ik-257876-316>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref> Previously, the Supreme Court had held that the power of Parliament to amend the Constitution was unfettered.<ref name=hindu-basic-features/> However, in this landmark ruling, the Court adjudicated that while Parliament has "wide" powers, it did not have the power to destroy or emasculate the basic elements or fundamental features of the constitution.<ref name=ik-257876-787>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref>

Although Kesavananda was decided by a narrow margin of 7-6, the basic structure doctrine has since gained widespread acceptance and legitimacy due to subsequent cases and judgments. Primary among these was the imposition of a state of emergency by Indira Gandhi in 1975, and her subsequent attempt to suppress her prosecution through the 39th Amendment. When the Kesavananda case was decided, the underlying apprehension of the majority bench that elected representatives could not be trusted to act responsibly was perceived as unprecedented. However, the passage of the 39th Amendment by the Indian National Congress' majority in central and state legislatures, proved that in fact such apprehension was well-founded. In Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain and Minerva Mills v. Union of India, Constitutional Benches of the Supreme Court used the basic structure doctrine to strike down the 39th Amendment and parts of the 42nd Amendment respectively, and paved the way for restoration of Indian democracy.<ref name="frontline-revisiting"/>

The Supreme Court's position on constitutional amendments laid out in its judgements is that Parliament can amend the Constitution but cannot destroy its "basic structure".


Basic structure doctrine sections
Intro  Definition  Background  Kesavananda Bharati case (1973)  The Emergency (1975)  Development  Evolution of the doctrine  Influence  See also  References  

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The basic structure doctrine is an Indian judicial principle that the Constitution of India has certain basic features that cannot be altered or destroyed through amendments by the parliament.<ref name=hindu-basic-features>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref> Key among these "basic features", are the fundamental rights granted to individuals by the constitution.<ref name=hindu-basic-features/><ref name=ik-257876>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref><ref name=frontline-revisiting>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref> The doctrine thus forms the basis of a limited power of the Supreme Court to review and strike down constitutional amendments enacted by the Parliament which conflict with or seek to alter this "basic structure" of the Constitution. The basic structure doctrine applies only to constitutional amendments. The basic features of the Constitution have not been explicitly defined by the Judiciary, and the claim of any particular feature of the Constitution to be a "basic" feature is determined by the Court in each case that comes before it. The basic structure doctrine does not apply to ordinary Acts of Parliament, which must itself be in conformity with the Constitution.

The Supreme Court's initial position on constitutional amendments was that no part of the Constitution was unamendable and that the Parliament might, by passing a Constitution Amendment Act in compliance with the requirements of article 368, amend any provision of the Constitution, including the Fundamental Rights and article 368. The "basic features" principle was first expounded in 1953, by Justice J.R. Mudholkar in his dissent, in the case of Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan. He wrote, "It is also a matter for consideration whether making a change in a basic feature of the Constitution can be regarded merely as an amendment or would it be, in effect, rewriting a part of the Constitution; and if the latter, would it be within the purview of Article 368?"

In 1967, the Supreme Court reversed its earlier decisions in Golaknath v. State of Punjab. It held that Fundamental Rights included in Part III of the Constitution are given a "transcendental position" and are beyond the reach of Parliament. It also declared any amendment that "takes away or abridges" a Fundamental Right conferred by Part III as unconstitutional. By 1973, the basic structure doctrine triumphed in Justice Hans Raj Khanna's judgment in the landmark decision of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala.<ref name=ik-257876-316>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref> Previously, the Supreme Court had held that the power of Parliament to amend the Constitution was unfettered.<ref name=hindu-basic-features/> However, in this landmark ruling, the Court adjudicated that while Parliament has "wide" powers, it did not have the power to destroy or emasculate the basic elements or fundamental features of the constitution.<ref name=ik-257876-787>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref>

Although Kesavananda was decided by a narrow margin of 7-6, the basic structure doctrine has since gained widespread acceptance and legitimacy due to subsequent cases and judgments. Primary among these was the imposition of a state of emergency by Indira Gandhi in 1975, and her subsequent attempt to suppress her prosecution through the 39th Amendment. When the Kesavananda case was decided, the underlying apprehension of the majority bench that elected representatives could not be trusted to act responsibly was perceived as unprecedented. However, the passage of the 39th Amendment by the Indian National Congress' majority in central and state legislatures, proved that in fact such apprehension was well-founded. In Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain and Minerva Mills v. Union of India, Constitutional Benches of the Supreme Court used the basic structure doctrine to strike down the 39th Amendment and parts of the 42nd Amendment respectively, and paved the way for restoration of Indian democracy.<ref name="frontline-revisiting"/>

The Supreme Court's position on constitutional amendments laid out in its judgements is that Parliament can amend the Constitution but cannot destroy its "basic structure".


Basic structure doctrine sections
Intro  Definition  Background  Kesavananda Bharati case (1973)  The Emergency (1975)  Development  Evolution of the doctrine  Influence  See also  References  

PREVIOUS: IntroNEXT: Definition
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