DOCTRINE OF ECLIPSE
BY NUPUR GARG
The Doctrine of Eclipse states that any law which is inconsistent with fundamental rights is not invalid. It is not totally dead but overshadowed by the fundamental right. The inconsistency (conflict) can be removed by constitutional amendment.
The Judiciary is the guardian of the rights provided for in the Constitution of India. It is the job of the judiciary to restrain the actions of the Legislature and the Executive where they are infringing upon these rights. When the Constitution was adopted on January 26, 1950, with it came, the fundamental rights that are guaranteed to the citizens.
There were several existing laws at the time when the Constitution was adopted, some of which were in direct conflict with fundamental rights, so in order to determine the validity of these laws the Supreme Court came up with certain principles/doctrines, one of which was the Doctrine of Eclipse.
This doctrine emanates directly from Article 13(1) of the Constitution that is a part of the fundamental rights, which states, “all laws in force in the territory of India immediately before the commencement of this Constitution in so far as they are inconsistent with the provisions of this Part, i.e. Part III, shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, be void.”
The doctrine of eclipse envisages fundamental rights as prospective in nature.
It states that a pre-constitutional law inconsistent with the fundamental rights is not nullity or void ab initio but only remains unenforceable, i.e., remains in a dormant state.
They exist for all past transactions, i.e., for rights and liabilities that were acquired before the Constitution came into being.
These laws also remain applicable to individuals who have not been given fundamental rights, for example, non-citizens.
Therefore, the impugned law remains hidden behind the fundamental rights and can become operative again if and when the fundamental right it is inconsistent with is amended.
ELEMENTS OF DOCTRINE OF ECLIPSE
It should be pre-constitutional law
Must be in conflict with fundamental right
the law doesn’t become a dead letter but only inoperative
if there is an amendment to the Fundamental Right in future it will automatically make the impugned law operative.
The significant features and characteristics of the Doctrine are as follows:
Applicability to Pre-Constitutional Laws
For the Doctrine to apply, the law must be valid at its inception and thus, can be invoked only in the cases of pre-constitutional laws that have become operational with the adoption of the Indian Constitution on 26th January 1950.
Non-Applicability to Post Constitutional Laws
They cannot apply to post-constitutional laws because they are invalid at their inception and thus, cannot be validated by any subsequent amendment. But there are certain exceptions to the same; non-citizens cannot take advantage of the voidness, as the violation does not affect them.
Conflict with the fundamental rights
The past law is supposed to be violating a fundamental right, only then can it be overshadowed and be termed as inoperative.
The Doctrine is based on the principle that the law which violates fundamental right is not nullity or void ab initio but only becomes defective and unenforceable. The law is overshadowed and hidden by the fundamental right that it violates. So, the law is not dead but is only sleeping.
Fundamental Right and Amendment
If there is an amendment to the relevant FR in future, it will automatically make the impugned law operative.
Thus the doctrine of eclipse provides for the validation of pre- constitution laws which violates the fundamental rights provided under Part III of the Indian Constitution on the premise that such laws are not null and void ab initio but remains unforceable and in moribund condition only to the extent of such inconsistency with the fundamental rights. If any subsequent amendment made by the Parliament to the constitution which removes the inconsistency or the conflict of the existing law with the fundamental rights, then the eclipse disappears and that particular law becomes active again.