Keshavananda Bharati


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Title – Keshavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru and Others vs State of Kerala and Another Citation(s) – (1973) 4 SCC 225: AIR 1973 SC 1461 Bench – CJI S M Sikri and Justices  K S Hegde, A K Mukherjea, J M Shelat, A N Grover, P Jaganmohan Reddy, H R Khanna, A N Ray, D G Palekar, K K Mathew, M H Beg, S N Dwivedi, and Y V Chandrachud. Delivered on – 24th April 1973



Keshavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru vs the State of Kerala is a landmark verdict delivered by a 13-judge bench of the Supreme Court which set the principle that the ‘Supreme Court is the guardian of the basic structure’ of our Constitution.


The Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963 (amended again in 1969), was enacted to fulfill the socio-economic needs of the Kerala state government. Under this Act, the state government acquired land belonging to the Edneer Mutt in the Kasaragod district in Kerala. Challenging the act, the petitioner Keshavananda Bharati filed a writ petition under Article 32 for the enforcement of rights under Article 25 (Right to practice and propagate religion), Article 26 (Right to manage Religious Affairs), Article 14 (Right to Equality), Article 19(1)(f) (Freedom to acquire property) and Article 31 (Compulsory Acquisition of Property). The Golaknath case had put severe restrictions on the authority of Parliament to amend our Constitution. In the upcoming years, the Supreme Court struck down the Bank Nationalization Act, 1969, in R.C. Cooper vs Union of India. In Madhav Rao Scindia vs Union of India, the Supreme Court struck down the Presidential order that aimed at the abolition of Privy Purses. Following the setbacks, the government of India passed the 24th and 25th Constitutional Amendment Acts to nullify the effects above judgments. The Constitutional (29th Amendment) Act, 1972, placed the Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963, in the ninth schedule of our Constitution. The petitioner challenged the constitutional validity of the 24th, 25th, and 29th Amendment Acts.


The petitioner contended that the ability of our Parliament to amend our constitution is limited and restrictive. They argued that our Constitution gave freedom which had to survive forever and it was drafted to free the nation from the tyranny of the representatives of people. This freedom had been taken away by the insertion of Article 31C through the 25th Amendment. Their argument regarding the restricted power of the Parliament found its genesis in the ‘Basic Feature Principle’ propounded by Justice Mudholkar in his dissenting judgment in the Sajjan Singh case (1964). They pleaded for safeguarding their fundamental right to property under Article 19(1)(f) which was violated by the insertion of the 24th and 25th Constitutional Amendment. The respondent argued that the ability of our Parliament to amend our Constitution is absolute and unlimited which was necessary for the fulfilment of socio-economic obligations guaranteed to the citizens in Preamble. The structure of our Constitution had been erected on the concept of an egalitarian society. If the ability of our Parliament to amend our Constitution is restricted, then the laws made by the State to fulfil its socio-economic obligations will come in direct conflict with the Fundamental Rights provided under Part III. Article 31C lifts the ban placed on State Legislature and Parliament under Article 14, 19 and 31. The respondent went on to say that Parliament could abrogate fundamental rights. It could even replace democracy with a one-party rule.


Honourable Supreme Court held that our Parliament by exercising its constituent power can amend any provision of the Constitution. The following reasons were provided –
  1. The power to amend our Constitution is provided under Article 368.
  2. Neither the Constitution nor an amendment of our Constitution is law within the meaning of Article 13. Law in Article 13 means law passed by the legislature subject to provisions of our Constitution. The Constitution is the supreme law.
  3. An amendment of our Constitution is in the exercise of the constituent power of the legislature.
  4. There are no limitations expressly stated in our Constitution regarding the amendment.
  5. There are no implied and inherent limitations on the capability to amend. Neither the Preamble nor Article 13(2) is a limitation on the capability to amend the articles.
  6. The power is wide and unlimited. The ability to amend includes the power to add, alter, or repeal any provision of our Constitution.
So, the Court held the 24th Amendment to our Constitution as valid. Concerning which extent our Constitution can be amended, the Court propounded the ‘Doctrine of Basic Structure’. It says that though Parliament can amend any provision of our Constitution, it cannot interfere with the features so cardinal to our Constitution without which our Constitution would be spiritless. About the 25th Amendment, the Court held the first part of the amendment valid. However, it declared that the laws enacted to give effect to the Directive Principle of State Policy under Part IV are open to judicial review. The Court held the 29th Amendment valid. However, it said that the laws in the ninth schedule can be challenged in the court of law because they abrogate the basic features of the Constitutional structure.


Keshavananda Bharati ’s case overruled Golaknath’s case judgment concerning the ability to amend our Constitution. All the amendments to our Constitution were subjected to the test of the ‘Basic Structure’ doctrine. The Supreme Court gave an illustrative list of basic elements of our Constitution. The list included –
  1. The supremacy of our Constitution
  2. The sovereignty of India
  3. Republican and Democratic forms of government
  4. The secular character of our Constitution
  5. A free and independent judiciary
  6. Separation of power between the Legislature, the executive and the judiciary
  7. Federal character of our Constitution
  8. The dignity of the individual secured by the various freedoms and basic rights in
Part III and the mandate to build a welfare State contained in Part IV.
  1. The unity and integrity of our nation.
NOTE – At least 20 features have been reported as “basic” or “essential” by our Courts in numerous cases. Those have been assimilated into the basic structure in subsequent years. The claim of any feature of our Constitution as a basic feature would be decided by the Court on a case to case basis.
  1. P Jain, Constitution of India, Justice Jasti Chelameswar and Justice Dama Seshadri Naidu, 8th edition, LexisNexis, Printed by Saurabh Printers Pvt limited (2018).
  2. N SHUKLA, Constitution of India, Mahendra Pal Singh, 13th edition, Easter Book Company, Printed by Gopsons Papers Ltd (2019).
  3. The Constitution of India, by PM Bakshi
  4. The Constitution of India, Ministry of Law and Justice (Legislative Department)
This blog is written by Kushal, KLE Society’s Law College.
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