Kesavananda Bharati Vs State Of Kerala Sc 1973

Kesavananda Bharati Vs State Of Kerala Sc 1973


No doubt, one of the most heard and landmark cases in India because of many obvious reasons. One of them being this case was heard by the largest bench constituted by the Supreme Court of India, a bench consisting of Thirteen Supreme Court Judges.

BENCH: 13 Judge Bench of Justice YV Chandrachud, Justice SM Sikri, Justice JM Shelat, Justice KS Hegde, Justice AN Grover, Justice AN Ray, Justice PJ Reddy, Justice DG Palekar, Justice Hans Raj Khanna, Justice KK Mathew, Justice MH Beg, Justice SN Dwivedi, Justice BK Mukherjea (Kesavananda Bharati Judgement was the largest bench till date).

Let’s discuss about the case and its summary:




In the judgement of Golaknath vs State of Punjab (1967 AIR 1643), the Supreme Court held the Parliament does not have the power to amend the Part III of the Constitution containing the fundamental rights, as fundamental rights are sacrosanct and indelible.

It was held that any amendment made under Article 368 would be treated as an exception under Article 13. As a result, in order to counteract this effect, the Parliament annexed clause 4 to Article 13 of the Constitution, so that no amendment would have an effect under Article 13.

Following the landmark case of Golaknath v State of Punjab, the Parliament passed a series of amendments to overturn the Golaknath case’s judgement.

The 24th Constitution Amendment Act 1971 affirmed the power of the Parliament to amend any part of the Constitution, including Part III, and made it mandatory for the President to give his assent to a Constitutional Amendment Bill.

Following that, the 25th Constitution Amendment Act 1972 curtailed the right to property enshrined in Article 19(1) and Article 31, empowering the government to acquire private property for public use in exchange for compensation decided by Parliament rather than the courts.

The Parliament included the Kerala Land Reforms Amendment Act 1969, and the Kerala Land Reforms Amendment Act 1971 in the Ninth Schedule to the Constitution.

  1. His Holiness Sripad Galvaru Kesavananda Bharati, the lead petitioner in this case, was the leader of the Edneer Mutt, a religious sect in Kerala’s Kasaragod district. Kesavananda Bharti had some plots of land in the sect that he owned in his name.
  2. The Kerala State government enacted the Land Reforms Amendment Act in 1969, which conferred upon the government the right to acquire some of the land owned by Edneer Mutt, of which Keshav Nand Bharti was the leader.
  3. On March 21, 1970, Kesavananda Bharati filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution to enforce his rights guaranteed by Article 25 which confers the right to practise and propagate religion), Article 26 which guarantees the right to administer religious affairs, Article 14 provides right to equality, Article 19(1)(f) provides freedom to acquire property, and Article 31 which provides for Compulsory Acquisition of Property.
  4. While the petition was still being heard by the court, the Kerala government passed another act, i.e., the Kerala Land Reforms Amendment Act 1971.
  1. Whether the 24th Constitutional Amendment Act 1971 is constitutionally valid?
  2. Whether the 25th Constitutional Amendment Act 1972 is constitutionally valid?
  3. What is the extent to which the Parliament can exercise its power to amend the Constitution?

Kesavananda Bharati’s Contentions (Petitioner) –

  1. The petitioner argued in Kesavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala that because Parliament has limited power to amend the Constitution, it cannot do so in an arbitrary and unrestrained way.
  2. The petitioner referred to the statement given by Justice Mudholkar in the case of Sajjan Singh v State of Rajasthan (1964) wherein it was said that the Parliament cannot exercise its power to amend the constitution by modifying its basic structure.
  3. The petitioner sought protection and rights of his property under Article 19(1)(f) of the Indian Constitution. It was contended by the petitioner that the 24th and 25th Constitutional Amendments violated the fundamental right guaranteed by Article 19(1)(f) of the Indian Constitution.
  • State of Kerala’s Contentions (Respondent) :

The State of Kerala contended that the parliament’s power to amend the Constitution is absolute and unlimited, and unfettered. This argument was based on a fundamental principle of the Indian legal system, namely the supremacy of Parliament.

Re Berubari Union Case 1960 was also on this point.

Furthermore, the state argued that in order to fulfil the socio-economic obligations guaranteed to people by the union in the Preamble; it is essential that the Parliament’s authority be unrestricted.

  1. (The majority view in Kesavananda Bharati Case) Chief Justice SM Sikri and Justice, JM Shelat, Justice KS Hegde, Justice AN Grover, Justice Jaganmohan Reddy, Justice Hans Raj Khanna, Justice BK Mukherjea: The power to amend does not include the power to change the basic structure of the Constitution to the point of altering its identity. This proposition will be used to determine the legitimacy of a constitutional amendment.
  2. (The majority view) Justice YV Chandrachud, Justice AN Ray, Justice DG Palekar, Justice KK Mathew, Justice MH Beg, Justice SN Dwivedi: the power of amendment under Article 368 is plenary, with no implicit or inherent limits, and includes the ability to introduce, change, or repeal various articles of the Constitution, except those relating to fundamental rights.
  3. Although agreeing with this viewpoint, Justice Khanna had noted that the power does not apply to changing the basic structure or framework of the Constitution.
  4. Justice Ray and Justice Mathew agreed with the view of plenary rights, but they believe that there cannot be a complete repeal of the Constitution, resulting in a constitutional void. According to them, any reform should leave a government mechanism in place for the development, interpretation, and enforcement of laws.
  • Judgment:

It was held by the apex court by a majority of 7:6 that Parliament can amend any provision of the Constitution to fulfill its socio-economic obligations guaranteed to the citizens under the Preamble subject to the condition that such amendment won’t change the basic structure of the Indian Constitution.

The majority decision was delivered by S.M. Sikri CJI, K.S. Hegde, B.K. Mukherjea, J.M. Shelat, A.N. Grover, P. J. Reddy JJ. & Khanna J. Whereas, the minority opinions were written by A.N. Ray, D.G. Palekar, K.K. Mathew, M.H. Beg, S.N. Dwivedi & Y.V. Chandrachud J. The minority bench wrote different opinions but was still reluctant to give unfettered authority to the Parliament. The landmark case was decided on 24th April 1973.

The court upheld the 24th Constitutional Amendment entirely but the 1st and 2nd part of the 25th Constitutional Amendment Act was found to be intra vires and ultra vires respectively. It was observed by the court in relation to the powers of the Parliament to amend the Constitution that it was a question that was left unanswered in the case of Golaknath.

The answer to the question was found in the present case and it was deduced by the court that the Parliament has the power to amend the Constitution to the extent that such amendment does not change the basic structure of the Indian Constitution. It was laid down by the court that the Doctrine of Basic Structure is to be followed by the Parliament while amending the provisions of the Constitution.

  • The Doctrine of Basic Structure:

According to the doctrine, the Parliament has an unlimited power to amend the Constitution subject to the sole condition that such amendments must not change the basic structure of the Constitution. The Parliament should not in any manner interfere with the basic features of the Constitution without which our Constitution will be left spiritless and lose its very essence. The basic structure of the Constitution was not mentioned by the bench and was left to the interpretation of the courts. The Courts need to see and interpret if a particular amendment violates the basic structure of our Indian Constitution or not. 

The court found that as contended by the respondents actually there is a difference between ordinary law and an amendment. Kesavananda Bharati’s case to some extent overruled Golaknath’s case. The court, in this case, answered the question which was left unanswered in Golaknath’s case in relation to the power of Parliament to amend provisions of the Constitution. 

The court found that the word ‘amend’ which was included in Article 368 does not refer to amendments that can change the basic structure of the constitution. If Parliament wants to amend a particular provision of the Constitution then such amendment would need to go through the test of basic structure.

It was also decided that since the Parliament has an unlimited power to amend the Constitution subject to the basic structure then Parliament can also amend Fundamental Rights as far as they are not included in the basic structure of the Constitution. The 24th Amendment was upheld by the Bench whereas the 25th Amendment’s 2nd part was struck down. The 25th Amendment’s validation was subjected to two conditions:

  • The court agreed that the word amount and compensation is not equivalent to each other but still the amount which is provided by the Government to the landlords should not be unreasonable. The amount need not be equal to the market value but should be reasonable and closely related to the present market value.
  • The 1st part of the 25th Amendment was upheld but it was subject to the provision that the prohibition of judiciary’s reach will be struck down.
  • Critical Analysis of the Judgement:

The majority of the Bench wanted to preserve the Indian Constitution by protecting the basic features of the Constitution. The judgment was given after analyzing the various aspects and was based on sound reasoning. The Bench feared that if the Parliament would be provided with unlimited power to amend our Indian Constitution then the power would be misused and would be changed by the Government according to its own will and preferences. The basic features and the very spirit of the Constitution can be altered by the Government if they have unlimited powers to make amendments. There was a need for a doctrine to preserve the rights of both Parliament and citizens, therefore, the Bench came up with a way to protect both of their rights through the doctrine of Basic Structure.

Even before our Indian Constitution came into force, approximately 30 amendments were already made to it. After the commencement of the Indian Constitution in 1951, around 150 amendments have been passed, whereas, in the United States, only 27 amendments have been passed in 230 years. Despite the huge number of amendments, the spirit, and ideas of the framers of the Indian Constitution have remained intact. The Indian Constitution did not lose its identity and spirit because of the decision taken by the Bench in this case.

The landmark case of Kesavananda Bharati provided stability to the Constitution. Though the petitioner lost his case partially, yet the judgment that was given by the Bench, in this case, worked out to be a savior of Indian democracy and saved the Constitution from losing its spirit. 


Esteemed jurist and illustrious advocate Nani Palkhivala and the seven judges on the majority bench in Kesavananda Bharati Case believed that by issuing this decision, they had protected Indian democracy, for which our revered ancestors had fought so valiantly.

The most significant result of the freedom struggle was democracy, which gave ordinary citizens who were most oppressed the power and rights. If the bench had ruled differently, the rights and authority for which our esteemed freedom fighters battled so valiantly would have withered away.

Thus, this momentous judgement upheld the constitutional values, strengthened the foundation of the Constitution and restored the confidence of the common people in the judiciary and in a democracy.

The Kesavananda Bharati decision forms the most powerful and binding precedent in the history of the Indian Constitution. The basic structure doctrine is used to determine the constitutional validity of any amendment or act of the Parliament.

According to former Chief Justice of India Sarv Mittra Sikri, the following elements constitute the basic structure of the Constitution or fundamental features of the Constitution, or what was laid down as the Basic Structure Doctrine:

  1. Supremacy of the Constitution
  2. Republican and democratic form of government
  3. Secular character of the Constitution
  4. Separation of powers between the legislature, executive, and judiciary
  5. Federal character of the Constitution.

In simple words, the Basic Structure Doctrine is a rule that states that certain provisions of the Constitution that are so fundamental to the values, objectives and sole of the Constitution cannot be amended under any circumstances.

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