What do you understand by basic structure doctrine? Highlight the elements which constitute the basic structure as decided in various judgments.

Q. What do you understand by basic structure doctrine? Highlight the elements which constitute the basic structure as decided in various judgments.

Introduction:

The doctrine of the ‘basic structure’ (or ‘basic features’) of the Constitution rules that the constituent power of Parliament under Article 368 does not enable it to alter the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution. This means that the Parliament cannot abridge or take away the elements that form a part of the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution. The phrase ‘basic structure’ was introduced for the first time by M.K. Nambiar and other counsels while arguing for the petitioners in the Golaknath case (1967)

KESAVANANDA BHARATI V. THE STATE OF KERALA
  1. The Supreme Court recognized Basic Structure concept for the first time in the historic Kesavananda Bharati case in 1973.
  2. The Supreme Court declared that Article 368 did not enable Parliament to alter the basic structure or framework of the Constitution.
  3. The parliament could not use its amending powers under Article368 to ‘damage’, ’emasculate’, ‘destroy’, ‘abrogate’, ‘change’ or ‘alter’ the ‘basic structure’ or framework of the constitution.
  4. This decision is not just a landmark in the evolution of constitutional law, but a turning point in constitutional history.
ELEMENTS OF BASIC STRUCTURE DOCTRINE

The present position is that the Parliament under Article 368 can amend any part of the Constitution including the Fundamental Rights but without affecting the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution. However, the Supreme Court is yet to define or clarify as to what constitutes the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution. There are some basic features of the Indian Constitution that cannot be touched while exercising article 368 by the Parliament. These are:

  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 the judiciary;
  5. Independence of Judiciary
  6. Federal character of the Constitution
  7. Unity and integrity of the nation
  8. Welfare state (socio-economic justice)
  9. Freedom and dignity of the individual
  10. Parliamentary system
  11. Rule of law
  12. Harmony and balance between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles
  13. In Minerva Mills case (1980), it was ruled by the court that a limited amending power itself is a basic feature of the Constitution.
  14. In L. Chandra Kumar case (1997), unequivocally declared “That the power of judicial review over legislative action vested in the High Courts under Article 226 and in the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution is an integral and essential feature of the Constitution, constituting part of its basic structure”.

The fact is that the Constitution of India neither promotes Parliamentary Sovereignty nor Judicial Sovereignty. It promotes for the supremacy of the Constitution i.e. Constitutional Sovereignty. Thus, the doctrine of basic structure helps in protecting the soul of constitution against the tide of ill- fated amendments.

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