Basic Structure (Doctrine) of the Constitution

The basic structure (or doctrine) of the Constitution of India applies only to constitutional amendments, which states that the Parliament cannot destroy or alter the basic features of the Indian Constitution. These features includes (1) Supremacy of the constitution. (2) Republican and democratic form of govt. (3) Secular character of constitution. (4) Separation of power. (5) Federal character of constitution.
Updated: Sep 29, 2015 10:43 IST

Basic structure (doctrine) of the Constitution

The constitution empowers the Parliament and the State Legislatures to make laws within their respective jurisdiction. Bills to amend the constitution can only be introduced in the Parliament, but this power is not absolute. If the Supreme Court finds any law made by the Parliament inconsistent with the constitution, it has the power to declare that law to be invalid. Thus, to preserve the ideals and philosophy of the original constitution, the Supreme Court has laid down the basic structure doctrine. According to the doctrine, the Parliament cannot destroy or alter the basic structure of the doctrine.

Evolution of the Basic Structure

The word "Basic Structure" is not mentioned in the constitution of India. The concept developed gradually with the interference of the judiciary from time to time to protect the basic rights of the people and the ideals and the philosophy of the constitution.

• The First Constitution Amendment Act, 1951 was challenged in the Shankari Prasad vs. Union of India case. The amendment was challenged on the ground that it violates the Part-III of the constitution and therefore, should be considered invalid. The Supreme Court held that the Parliament, under Article 368, has the power to amend any part of the constitution including fundamental rights. The Court gave the same ruling in Sajjan Singh Vs State of Rajasthan case in 1965.

• In Golak Nath vs State of Punjab case in 1967, the Supreme Court overruled its earlier decision. The Supreme Court held that the Parliament has no power to amend Part III of the constitution as the fundamental rights are transcendental and immutable. According to the Supreme Court ruling, Article 368 only lays down the procedure to amend the constitution and does not give absolute powers to the parliament to amend any part of the constitution.

• The Parliament, in 1971, passed the 24th Constitution Amendment Act. The act gave the absolute power to the parliament to make any changes in the constitution including the fundamental rights. It also made it obligatory for the President to give his assent on all the Constitution Amendment bills sent to him.

In 1973, in Kesavananda Bharti vs. State of Kerala case, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the 24th Constitution Amendment Act by reviewing its decision in Golaknath case. The Supreme Court held that the Parliament has power to amend any provision of the constitution, but doing so, the basic structure of the constitution is to be maintained. But the Apex Court did not any clear definition of the basic structure. It held that the "basic structure of the Constitution could not be abrogated even by a constitutional amendment". In the judgement, some of the basic features of the Constitution, which were listed by the judges.

The basic features of the Constitution are as follows:

  1. Supremacy of the constitution
  2. Republican and democratic form of government
  3. Secular character of the constitution
  4. Federal character of the constitution
  5. Separation of power
  6. Unity and Sovereignty of India
  7. Individual freedom

Important Supreme Court Decisions

Case Decision by the Supreme Court
Shankari Prasad Vs. Union of India, 1951 The Parliament, under Article 368, has power to amend any part of the constitution
Sajjan Singh Vs. State of Rajasthan, 1965 The Parliament, under Article 368, has power to amend any part of the constitution
Golak Nath Vs. State of Punjab, 1967 The Parliament is not powered to amend the Part III (Fundamental Rights) of the constitution  
Kesavananda Bharti Vs. State of Kerala,1971 The Parliament can amend any provision, but can't dilute the basic structure
Indira Gandhi Vs. Raj Narain, 1975 The Supreme Court reaffirmed its concept of basic structure
Minerva Mills Vs. Union of India, 1980 The concept of basic structure was further developed by adding 'judicial review' and the 'balance between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles' to the basic features
Kihoto hollohan Vs. Zachillhu, 1992 'Free and fair elections' was added to the basic features
Indira Sawhney Vs. Union of India, 1992 'Rule of law, was added to the basic features
S.R Bommai vs Union of India, 1994 Federal structure, unity and integrity of India, secularism, socialism, social justice and judicial review were reiterated as basic features


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