Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru & Ors. vs the State of Kerala & Anr.
Writ Petition (Civil) 135 of 1970
Date of judgment: 24.04.1973
Kesavananda Bharati vs the State of Kerala is one of the landmark cases related to the Indian Constitution and is popularly known as the case of the fundamental rights.
Kesavananda Bharati & Others vs the State of Kerala is the longest case in India, and its proceedings were held for 68 days, and more than 100 cases were cited in the proceedings. Moreover, to know what is right and wrong, the Constitutions of more than 70 countries were compared!
This case law summary tells you about the background, issues, arguments, and the judgement of Kesavananda Bharati & Others vs the State of Kerala.
Background of Kesavananda Bharati & Others vs the State of Kerala
After the independence, all the states were working to improve their state’s social and economic conditions. When the Indian Constitution came into existence, all the citizens came to know about their fundamental rights and realised that equality is also a fundamental right.
At that time, the resources and means of production were available only to limited people, and the state realised that this was not correct. Therefore, in the same way, the state of Kerala started to work upon this issue.
The state government of Kerala brought the Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963, to combat the land laws such as the Zamindari system, land ownership, and tenancy laws to improve the social and economic condition of the state.
Now, this land reform Act restricted the property rights of the citizens. So, while using this Act, the state government acquired the land of Edneer Mutt (a Hindu institution of monks) located in Edneer, Kasaragod district, Kerala, India. Due to this takeover, the earnings of the Mutt diminished, and they started facing problems in managing the work of the Mutt.
Therefore, this acquisition was challenged by the head of Mutt, Shri Kesavananda Bharati, and he filled a writ petition in the Supreme Court challenging and opposing the Land Reform Act of 1963.
He added that these Land Reform Acts violate the fundamental rights given under Article 14, 19(1)(f), 25, 26 of the Indian Constitution. Shri Kesavananda Bharati believed that owning and managing land is a fundamental right of an individual and must be given protection under the Constitution.
Furthermore, at that time, certain other such cases were also there before the court. In those cases, it was seen that the parliament and Supreme Court were struggling due to amendment powers given to the parliament by the Indian Constitution.
Parliament believed that Article 368 of the Indian Constitution gives unlimited power to the parliament to amend the Constitution. Still, Supreme Court does not agree with this statement. In contrast, in the case of Golaknath vs the State of Punjab, the Supreme Court has imposed various restrictions on the amending powers of the parliament with respect to the Indian Constitution.
After that, the parliament came up with the 24th, 25th and 29th Amendment Acts to remove those restrictions.
Issues Raised in the Kesavananda Bharati Case
After understanding the background of the case, let us learn about the issues raised. These were the two major issues raised in the Kesavananda Bharati Case:
- Does the parliament have the power to amend the fundamental rights?
- To what extent does the parliament have the power to amend the fundamental rights?
Arguments in the Kesavananda Bharati Case
These are the major arguments made by the petitioner and the respondent in the Kesavananda Bharati case:
The first contention made by the petitioner was that the power given to the parliament to amend the Constitution under Article 368 is not absolute, and instead, this power is restricted. Therefore, the parliament cannot amend any part of the Constitution by its own wish.
Fundamental rights are enacted to protect the freedom of its citizens, whereas the provisions brought by 24th and 25th Amendment Act impose restrictions on the fundamental rights, which are not correct.
According to the respondents, the parliament has unlimited and absolute power to amend the Constitution, and every state government is responsible for improving its social and economic conditions. Therefore, the powers of parliament shall not be restricted.
The respondent further added that the parliament has the right to impose restrictions on some fundamental rights of its citizens, such as freedom of speech and expression and the right to form an association.
Judgement in the Case of Kesavananda Bharati & Others vs the State of Kerala
In the Kesavananda Bharati case, a bench of 13 judges was constituted, and the judgment was given with the majority of 7:6. The decision given in the case of Golaknath vs the State of Punjab was overruled, which stated that the parliament could not amend the Constitution. Moreover, the 24th Amendment Act, which states that the parliament can amend any constitutional provision was held to be valid.
The Supreme Court also held that the parliament has absolute power to amend the Constitution under Article 368.
Now, while answering the second issue, the court held that the parliament can amend the Constitution but cannot interfere with the basic features of the Indian Constitution. This is known as the Basic Structure Doctrine. Moreover, in Kesavananda Bharati & Others vs the State of Kerala, the 25th and 29th Amendment Act was held valid and stated that if any of the laws added in the 9th Schedule violates the Constitution’s basic features, then such laws can go for judicial review.
Moreover, on 24th April 1973, this judgement introduced the Basic Structure Doctrine, and there is no exhaustive list given for the basic features. Still, this judgment has given the indicative list that these things can be treated as the Constitution’s basic features, and more features can also be added to this list in the coming future.
The things that can be treated as the Constitution’s basic features as per the Kesavananda Bharati are:
- Supremacy of the Constitution
- Unity and sovereignty of India
- Democratic and republican forms of government
- Federal character of the Constitution
- Secular character of the Constitution
- Separation of power
- Individual freedom
Kesavananda Bharati & Others vs the State of Kerala’s judgment is necessary because, in this case, the court has used its creativity and introduced the Basic Structure Doctrine through which they have given powers to the parliament and stated that it cannot interfere with the Constitution’s basic features. Moreover, the Kesavananda Bharati case has safeguarded India’s democracy.