Title : Minerva Mills v Union Of India
Equivalent Citations : 1980 AIR 1789, 1981 SCR (1) 206
Bench : Y.V.Chandrachud( Cj), P.N. Bhagwati, A.C Gupta, N.L. Untwalia, P.S. Kailsam
Petitioner : Minerva Mills Ltd. & Ors.
Respondent : Union Of India & Ors.
Date of judgement : 31 July 1980
Facts of the case
On August 20, 1970, the Central Government appointed a committee under section 15 of the Industrial (Development and regulations) Act, 1951 to investigate into the affairs of the Minerva Mills as it was apprehended that the industry was likely to suffer from a substantial fall in the volume of production. The Committee submitted its final report in January 1971. Based on its report the central government passed an order under section 18A of the act of 1851 authorising the National Textile Corporation Limited to take over the management of the Mills on the ground that its business was being managed which prejudiced public interest. Hence this undertaking was nationalised and taken over by the central government under the Sick Textile Undertaking (Nationalisation) Act, 1974. Thereafter the petitioner challenged the order under the High Court but the petition was dismissed. The petitioner, therefore, filed a Writ Petition in Supreme Court under article 32 of the Constitution of India, 1950. The petition challenged various provisions of the Sick Textile Undertaking act 1974 and also the order of the Central government of the takeover. Apart from this section 4 and 55 of the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976 was also challenged on the basis that it violated the basic structure of the Constitution of India.
- Whether the Amendments introduced by Section 4 and 55 of the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976 damage the basic structure of the Constitution?
- Whether Directive principles of state policy (DPSP) contained in part 4 can have primacy over fundamental rights?
- The Constitution had conferred a very limited amending power on the parliament through Article 368 and the very parliament cannot change this limited power into absolute power.
- The Constitution is founded on a nice balance of power among the three wings of the State, namely the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary but the clause 4 of Section 55 of the 42nd amendment act disrupts this balance by giving arbitrary power to the legislature.
- The amendment introduced by section 4 of the 42nd Amendment destroys the harmony between Parts III and IV of the Constitution by making the fundamental rights conferred by Part III subservient to the directive principles of State Policy set out in Part IV of the Constitution.
- Although the state is obligated under the Constitution to refer to directive principles of state policy while making laws but it can only be achieved through permissible means which are set out in Part 3 of the Constitution. In other words, the parliament cannot abridge the fundamental rights to achieve the DPSP.
- If Article 31C as amended by the 42nd Amendment is allowed to stand, it will confer an unrestricted license on the legislature and the executive, both at the Centre and in the States to destroy democracy and establish an authoritarian regime.
- A harmonious balance must be maintained between part 3 and part 4 of the Constitution of India.
- The attorney general argued that to implement directive principles outlined in the Constitution if some rights are unintentionally abridged, it wouldn’t lead to destroy or damage the basic structure of the Constitution of India.
- Directive principles in itself secure for a welfare state and hence any law made to implement directive principles would surely be in public’s interest and thus justifying the amended article 31C.
- A law which fulfils the directive of Article 38 is incapable of abrogating fundamental freedoms or of damaging the basic structure of the Constitution in as much as that structure itself is founded on the principle of justice, social, economic and political.
- The parliament, to achieve goals mentioned under Part IV, it must be supreme in its sphere and there should not be any sort of limitation upon it. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the country if there is no implied or inherent limitations upon the amending power of Parliament.
- The issue, in this case, is too wide and academic and it has been a settled practice of the court not to indulge with academic questions.
- The writ petition challenging various provisions of the Sick Textile Undertaking (Nationalisation) Act, 1974 was unanimously dismissed by the Supreme Court. The Court observed that the affairs of the company were mismanaged in a manner detrimental to the public interest. The petitioner’s claim that the Nationalisation act was unconstitutional as it damages the basic structure of the Constitution was also rejected by the court. The court held that the Nationalisation act comes under the umbrella of Article 31C(unamended before the 42nd Amendment) and they were not entitled to challenge its validity on the ground of violation of provisions of Article 14 and Article 19 of the Constitution.
- By a majority of 4:1, the Supreme Court held section 4 of the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976 as unconstitutional while Justice P.N. Bhagwati giving the dissenting opinion. Section 55 of the Constitution (42nd amendment) Act was also held to be unconstitutional unanimously by the bench.
The rationale behind the judgement
Section 55 of the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976 inserted clauses 4 and 5 in the existing article 368 of the Constitution. According to clause 4, “No amendment of this Constitution (including the provisions of Part III) made or purporting to have been made under this article (whether before or after the commencement of section 55 of the Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976) shall be called in question in any court on any ground”. Clause 5 of the article read as, “For the removal of doubts, it is hereby declared that there 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 under this article”.
The Court observed that amending the Constitution of India by Parliament is one of the basic features of the Indian Constitution but this power is limited in such a way that the basic structure of the Constitution is not endangered (also held in the landmark judgement of Keshavnanda Bharti case). But these above-mentioned provisions certainly grants an unlimited power in the hands of the Parliament. In the words of majority:‘Parliament cannot, under Article 368, expand its amending power to acquire for itself the right to repeal or abrogate the Constitution or to destroy its basic and essential features. The donee of a limited power cannot by the exercise of that power convert the limited power into an unlimited one’. Thus the clause 5 of Section 55 was unanimously held to be unconstitutional.
The clause 4 which took away the power of the judiciary to review any constitutional amendments was also held to be unconstitutional as it made the entire part 3 of the Constitution as unenforceable and thereby enlarging the power of the Government. It made the most important right that is the right to Constitutional remedies Article 32 of the Constitution is null and void. The court also observed, ‘If a constitutional amendment cannot be pronounced to be invalid even if it destroys the basic structure of the Constitution, a law passed in pursuance of such an amendment will be beyond the pale of judicial review because it will receive the protection of the constitutional amendment which the courts will be powerless to strike down.
Article 13 of the Constitution will then become a dead letter because even ordinary laws will escape the scrutiny of the courts on the ground that they are passed on the strength of a constitutional amendment which is not open to challenge’. Clause 4 was seen as a way to achieve clause 5 and hence endangering the entire concept of democracy.
The other amendment made by the section 4 of the 42nd amendment act, 1976 in the article 31C allowed the parliament to give precedence to all the directive principles outlined in part 4 over the fundamental rights guaranteed in part 3 of the Constitution. This change was held as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court observed that the Indian Constitution has maintained a balance between the fundamental freedoms and the DPSP, therefore, giving absolute primacy to one, would disturb the harmony and balance sought by the founding fathers of our Constitution. This harmony and balance is a basic structure of the Constitution and thus the section 4 stands in violation of the identity of the Indian Constitution.
This case establishes that the amending power of the Parliament is limited. It can amend the Constitution but the amendment cannot destroy the basic structure and the identity of the Constitution of India. Through this case, the Supreme Court held that the judicial review is one of the most important functions of the judiciary and every constitutional amendment are subject to judicial review.
Thus any law which is likely to transgress the basic structure shall be struck by the Supreme Court. Through this case, the apex court also established that the DPSP and the fundamental rights are supplemental to each other and the balance formed by the Constitution between the two is one of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution. Thus the parliament is wrong in giving primacy to one over another and the provisions of Part IV must be achieved but without abrogation of Fundamental Rights and anything which shakes this balance violates the essential balance of the Constitution.
This blog is written by Alok Dubey, Asian Law College.
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