Monday, 24 January 2022

Keshvananda Bharti vs State of Kerala and Basic Srtucture of Doctrine - By Isha

Keshvananda Bharti Vs. The state of Kerala and The Basic Structure Doctrine – By Isha


Keshvananda Bharti is a landmark and the most renowned case in the history of our country. The decision which was given in this case was very thoughtful and unique. It introduced the basic structure doctrine of the constitution. This case was heard for 68 days which made it the longest-running in the history of India and had a bench of 13 serving judges. The judgment was of more than 700 pages which provided the solution for both the Parliament’s right to amend laws and citizens’ right to their fundamental rights.

Facts of the case

  • Keshavanand Bharti was the founder and Chief of ' Edneer Mutt’ which is a religious sect in Kasargod district of Kerala. Keshvananda Bharti had some part of the land which was owned by him in his name. The state government of Kerala introduced the Land Reforms Amendment Act, 1969 which entitled the government to acquire some part of his land.

  • These reforms laid down restrictions on the property right.

  • On 21st March, Keshavananda Bharti challenged these reforms and filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court of India under Article 32 of the constitution.

  • He moved the Supreme Court for enforcement of his fundamental right guaranteed under Article 14 ( right to equality), Article 19(1)(f) ( freedom to acquire property), Article 25 ( right to practice and propagate religion), Article 26 ( Right to manage religious affairs) and Article 31 ( Compulsory acquisition of property). While the petition was still under consideration by the court, the government passed another act i.e. Kerala Land Reforms ( Amendment) Act, 1971.

  • After the Landmark judgment of Golaknath v. State of Punjab (1967) which imposed restrictions on amending powers of Parliament, the parliament passed a series of amendments to overrule the decision in the Golaknath case.

  • In 1971, the 24th Amendment was passed. In 1972, 25th and 29th Amendment was passed subsequently

What were these Amendments Act

  1. 24th Amendment

It states that Parliament has the power to amend any provision of the Constitution.

  1. 25th Amendment

  • It states that the right to property can be curtailed.

  • The government for public use can acquire the private property and the compensation which is to be given in this regard would be decided by the Parliament and not the Courts.

  1. 29th Amendment

  • It moved the Land Reforms Act under the 9th schedule.

  • It means all the laws which are under this schedule are not questionable and there cannot be any judicial review for the same.

Major issues before the court

  • Whether the 24th Constitutional (Amendment), Act 1971 is constitutionally valid or not?

  • Whether the 25th Constitutional (Amendment), Act 1972 is constitutionally valid or not?

  • Whether the Parliament has unlimited powers to amend the Constitution?

  • And does preamble form part of the constitution?

Contentions by the parties

  1. Petitioner’s contentions

  • The petitioner Keshavananda Bharti argued that the power which is given to the Parliament under Section 368 to amend the constitution is not unlimited or absolute rather it is limited to a certain extent.

  • The second contention was that the fundamental Rights are to protect citizens’ freedom and it cannot be curtailed by the parliament.

  • The petitioner pleaded for the protection of his property under Article(19(1)(f) of the Indian Constitution.

  • It was also argued that the 24th and 25th Constitutional Amendments violated their Fundamental Right under Article(19)(1)(f).

  1. Respondent’s Contentions

  • The respondent was the State. It argued that Parliament has unlimited and absolute powers to amend the constitution. According to the respondent, every state has the responsibility to make socio and economic conditions better and if restrictions are imposed on the Parliament they would not be able to fulfill the need of the society.

  •  It also stated that Parliament has the right to put restrictions on some Fundamental Rights like the right to freedom of speech and expression, the right to form an association, right to freedom of religion.


  • It was held by the apex court with a majority of 7:6 that Parliament can amend any provision of the Constitution to fulfill its socio-economic obligations to the extent that such Amendment does not change the basic structure doctrine of the Indian Constitution.

  • It overruled the decision made in the Golaknath case.

  • It also upheld that the 24th Constitutional Amendment is valid but the 1st and 2nd part of the 25th Constitutional Amendment is ultra vires.

The doctrine of Basic Structure

According to this doctrine, parliament has the power to amend any provision of the Constitution provided that it doesn’t change its basic structure without which it will lose its spirit and its very essence. There was not an exhaustive list that will form the basic structure but it was left to the interpretation of the court and an indicative list was provided but it was not final as more features could be added in this in the future. The list is as follows:

  • Supremacy of the Constitution

  • Rule of law

  • Separation of powers

  • Judicial review

  • Federalism

  • Secularism

  • Independence of judiciary

  • The Sovereign, Democratic, Republican structure

  • Freedom and dignity of the individual

Critical analysis


This judgment is historical and significant in the sense that it was given after analyzing the various aspects and was based on sound reasoning. The Bench feared that if the Parliament would be given unlimited powers to amend the Constitution then this can lead to the misuse of powers. So this judgment on the one hand gives powers to the Parliament and on the other hand, restricts the same by stating that it should not affect the basic structure of the Constitution. 

The petitioner Keshavananda Bharti didn’t get any reliefs and the Amendments in the Kerala Land Reforms Act were also upheld by the Supreme Court.

But the efforts of Keshavananda Bharti and Nani Palkhiwala helped India to continue to be the world’s largest democracy and the efforts of the founding fathers of Constitution did not go in vain.


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