The judiciary is the defender of the rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. The fundamental rights that citizens are guaranteed were included in the Constitution when it was ratified. There were various existing laws at the time the Constitution was created, some of which were in direct conflict with fundamental rights, so the Supreme Court devised specific principles/doctrines to assess the legitimacy of these laws, one of which was the Doctrine of Eclipse.
Doctrine of Eclipse:
The Doctrine of Eclipse relates to Article 13(1) that deals with pre-constitutional laws which states that “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 Part III, shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, be void.”[i]
This is a theological principle that emphasizes the concept of prospective fundamental rights. If the Legislature made a law that is incompatible with Part III of the Constitution, such law is declared invalid and ineffective to the degree that it is eclipsed by the Fundamental Rights. The laws are obscured by the applicable fundamental rights, and the Eclipse is said to be thrown on it. The discrepancy of the eclipsed law may only be resolved by modifying the associated fundamental right. After that, the shadowing is lifted, and the law becomes legal and effective once more.
In brief, a law that infringes on fundamental rights remains dormant to the extent of infringement and it is not null or void ab initio.
- Keshavan Madhav Menon v. State of Bombay case[ii]–
The retrospective and prospective nature of Article 13(1), as well as the interpretation of the word ‘void’ in Article 13(1), have both been contested in relation to this case. The central issue was whether the Act’s provisions were in violation of Article 19 (1) (a). The relevant regulations were found to be in violation of Article 19 (1) (a) and therefore ‘invalid’ to the extent of their inconsistency, according to the Court. The Court went on to say that fundamental rights are presumptively prospective in nature, and that the term ‘invalid’ did not imply that the law or provision had been repealed.
- Bhikaji Narain Dhakras v. State of Madhya Pradesh[iii]–
This is the case where the doctrine’s origins can be traced. The C. P. and Berar Motor Vehicles Amendment Act of 1947 was challenged because it violated Article 19(1)(g) of Part III, which allowed the state government to regulate and take over all motor transportation enterprises. Since this Amendment Act was a pre-constitutional law, the Doctrine of Eclipse applied, rendering the contents of this legislative Act unenforceable. The first Constitutional Amendment Act was passed soon after, in 1951, overriding the Eclipse and making the legislation applicable to both citizens and non-citizens. The Supreme Court stated, “The impact of the adjustment was to eliminate the shade and to make the challenged Act free of any blemish or flaw.” According to the Court, it will likewise be enforced against non-citizens.
Applicability of Doctrine to Post- Constitutional laws:
The Supreme Court ruled in Deep Chand v. State of Uttar Pradesh[iv] that any post-constitutional law enacted under Article 13(2) that violates a fundamental right is null, void ab initio and is a still-born law.
In State of Gujarat v. Ambica Mills[v], the Supreme Court reversed its position in Deep Chand and Mahendra lal Jain, holding that a post-constitutional law that violates fundamental rights is not null and void in all situations and for all reasons.
It can be deduced that the doctrine does not apply to post-constitutional legislation since they are unconstitutional at the outset and hence cannot be supported by subsequent amendments. However, there are several exceptions; non-citizens cannot benefit from the voidness because the violation does not have any impact on them.
The Doctrine of Eclipse is a subtle rule of law concept that has kept pre-constitutional legislation from being completely overturned. It is worth noting that the doctrine’s applicability to post-constitutional legislation is still a bit hazy. This concept, on the other hand, has succeeded in uniting pre-constitutional and post-constitutional viewpoints on a number of laws, ensuring the triumph of constitutionalism in every sense of the word.
- LexLife India, Constitutional Law: Doctrine of Eclipse, LexLife India, https://lexlife.in/2020/05/10/constitutional-law-doctrine-of-eclipse/
- Patil Amruta, Doctrine of Eclipse – Indian Polity, Prepp, https://prepp.in/news/e-492-doctrine-of-eclipse-indian-polity-notes
- Tusharika Singh, Doctrine of Eclipse, Legal Service India, https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-4535-doctrine-of-eclipse.html#:~:text=The%20doctrine%20of%20eclipse%20does,It%20is%20void%20ab%20intio.
- Anonymous, Doctrine of Eclipse, Byjus, https://byjus.com/free-ias-prep/doctrine-of-eclipse/#:~:text=The%20Doctrine%20of%20Eclipse%20states,be%20removed%20by%20constitutional%20amendment.
[i] Article 13 of Indian Constitution.
[ii] Keshavan Madhav Menon v. State of Bombay, 1951 AIR 128.
[iii] Bhikaji Narain Dhakras v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 1955 AIR 781.
[iv] Deep Chand v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1980 SC 633.
[v] State of Gujarat v. Shri Ambica Mills Ltd., 1974 AIR 1300.
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