Basic Structure Doctrine – UPSC GS2

Understanding the Basic Structure doctrine

  • Basic Structure and essential features doctrine was expounded in the Kesavananda Bharati case.
  • In the case, the validity of the 29th amendment which immunized, in the Ninth Schedule, Kerala’s takeover of the religious mutt’s property was challenged.
  • Basic structure is the power of judicial review and essential features are what the Court identifies as such in the exercise of that power.
  • Justice Bhagwati remarkably enunciated as an essential feature the “harmony” between fundamental rights and directive principles.
  • The crucial message though is that the apex court has, in the rarest of rare cases, the constituent power to pronounce a constitutional amendment invalid.
  • The basic structure concept implies that the Parliament’s power to amend Constitution (Article 368) is not  unfettered. So any law or amendment made is subject to the judicial review and the judiciary has the power to struck it down if found ultra vires. So the Basic Structure reflects the understanding of the thought and wisdom of our founding fathers and seeks to curb any autocracy on the part of the State. It also bolsters the idea that Judiciary is indeed the last resort of a citizen. This judgement can be seen as a precursor to judicial activism.

Limits on the powers of Supreme Court

  • The Court is bound by the “golden triangle” of rights created by Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution.
  • Court must derive the “spirit” of the Constitution by reference to the provisions of the Constitution.
  • Since 1973, the evidence shows the Apex Court has shown utmost democratic responsibility and rectitude in interpreting the doctrine of BSEF.
From the various judgements, the following have emerged as ‘basic features’ of the Constitution:
  • Supremacy of the Constitution
  • Sovereign, democratic and republican nature of the Indian polity
  • Secular character of the Constitution
  • Separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary
  • Federal character of the Constitution
  • Unity and integrity of the nation
  • Welfare state (socio-economic justice)
  • Judicial review
  • Freedom and dignity of the individual
  • Parliamentary system
  • Rule of law
  • Harmony and balance between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles
  • Principle of equality
  • Free and fair elections
  • Independence of Judiciary
  • Limited power of Parliament to amend the Constitution
  • Effective access to justice
  • Principle of reasonableness
  • Powers of the Supreme Court under Articles 32, 136, 141 and 142
Related Questions:
  1. Write a brief note on the basic features of the Indian constitution. If you are asked to alter or replace any of these basic features, what would they be? Justify. (200 Words)
  2. Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution is limited power and it cannot be enlarged into absolute power”. In light of this statement explain whether parliament under article 368 of the constitution can destroy the Basic Structure of the Constitution by expanding its amending power?