Kesavananda-Case and its legacy

Kesavananda – Case and its legacy
News: The seminal ruling in Kesavananda Bharati, in which the Supreme Court laid down the “basic structure” doctrine on the limits of Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution, completed 50 years on 24th April, 2023.

What was the Kesavananda Bharti case?
Key point of contention – The extent of Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution.

What led to the Kesavananda Bharti case?
 In I C Golaknath & Ors vs State Of Punjab & Anrs (Feb 27, 1967), the Supreme Court reversed its earlier verdicts and ruled that Parliament cannot amend the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
 Parliament responded by amending the Constitution to give itself the power to amend any part of the Constitution — and passed a law that it cannot be reviewed by the courts. This scope of the power to amend — especially when the right to property (which was a fundamental right at the time) was impacted by the land ceiling laws — was the central challenge in the Kesavananda case.
 In its majority ruling, the court held that fundamental rights cannot be taken away by amending them. It said that Parliament had vast powers to amend the Constitution, and upheld the land ceiling laws — but it drew the line by observing that certain parts are so inherent and intrinsic to the Constitution that even Parliament cannot touch it. The court ruled that in spirit, the amendment would not violate the “basic structure” of the Constitution.

Why has the Basic Structure doctrine been criticized?
 Diluting the principles of Separation of Powers
 Undermining the sovereignty of Parliament
 Vague and subjective form of Judicial review

How has the Supreme court invoked the Basic structure doctrine over the years?
 While the SC has invoked the doctrine sparingly, it has mostly struck down amendments where judicial powers have been curtailed.
 Since the Kesavananda Bharati judgment, the Constitution has been amended more than 60 times. In these five decades, the Supreme Court has tested constitutional amendments against the doctrine of basic structure in at least 16 cases.

Note - We will discuss some of the cases where the Doctrine was invoked and the amendments have been either fully, partially been struck down by the Supreme court. (They are important from both Prelims and mains perspective)

Case                                    Which amendment/clause were Supreme Court’s ruling struck down?
National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC)The Constitution (Ninety-ninth Amendment) Act, 2014It threatened “judicial independence”, which the court ruled was a basic feature of the Constitution.
Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru and Ors vs State of Kerala and Anr (1973)Struck down a portion of 25th Amendment (1972)Upheld the land ceiling laws but struck down portion of amendment which said if any law is passed to give effect to the Directive Principles” it cannot “be deemed to be void on the ground that it takes away or abridges any of the rights contained in Article 14, 19 or 31”.
Kihoto Hollohan vs Zachillhu And Others (1992)The Supreme Court upheld The Constitution (Fifty-second Amendment) Act that introduced the Tenth Schedule or the socalled “anti-defection law” in the ConstitutionThe only portion of the amendment that was struck down was the one that stated that the decisions of the Speaker relating to disqualification cannot be judicially reviewed.
Indira Gandhi v Raj Narain (1975)It struck down The Constitution (Thirty-ninth Amendment) Act, 1975,It was struck down as it barred the Supreme Court from hearing a challenge to the election of President, Prime Minister, VicePresident, and Speaker of Lok Sabha.
Minerva Mills Ltd vs Union Of India (1980)It struck down a clause inserted in Article 368There shall be no limitation whatever on the constituent power of Parliament to amend by way of addition, variation or repeal the provisions of this Constitution. (The SC struck down the clause which stated this)
L Chandra Kumar v Union of India (1997)The SC struck down a portion of the 42nd AmendmentThe Supreme court ruled that the Administrative tribunals were no longer excluded from Judicial review by High courts.

Which Constitutional amendment was struck down on procedural ground and not on grounds of Basic
structure doctrine?
 Case - Union of India vs Rajendra N Shah, 2021
 The court struck down a portion of The Constitution (Ninety-seventh Amendment) Act, 2011
 The amendment changed the legal regime for cooperative societies, and the court ruled that cooperative societies within a state, as opposed to inter-state, would fall under the State List, which means that a constitutional amendment relating to it must be ratified by half the states as prescribed in the Constitution.

Few Facts about Kesavananda Bharti case:
 CJI of India during the ruling – Justice S M Sikri
 The 68-day hearing is perhaps the longest in the history of the Supreme Court.
 13 judge bench – Largest so far
 Kesavananda Bharati had been the head seer of the Edneer Mutt in Kerala’s Kasaragod district since 1961.

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