The Basic Structure Doctrine: Safeguarding Constitutional Integrity

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Basic Structure Doctrine

As per the provisions of the Indian Constitution, both the Parliament and State Legislatures possess the authority to enact laws within their respective domains. The exclusive preference to amend the Constitution lies with the Parliament, and it is not extended to the state legislative assemblies. Nevertheless, the Parliament’s authority in this regard is not without limits. The Supreme Court holds the jurisdiction to nullify any law deemed unconstitutional. The Basic Structure Doctrine of the Indian Constitution further stipulates that any amendment seeking to alter its fundamental framework is deemed invalid.

What is the Basic Structure Doctrine? 

The Basic Structure Doctrine was propounded by the Indian Judiciary in the Keshavananda Bharti case verdict on the 24th of April, 1973. It is a judicial principle that states that the constituent power of parliament is subject to inherent limitations. Additionally, the Parliament could not use its amending powers under Article 368 to ‘emasculate’,‘damage,‘abrogate’, ‘destroy’, ‘change’ or ‘alter’ the ‘basic structure’ or framework of our Constitution. Even though the word “Basic Structure” is not found in the Constitution of India, it is surely a Judicial Innovation. Moreover, the court has not explicitly defined what the Basic Structure consists as well as comprises of. What we know is that it is a living and dynamic concept. 

To this date, the Supreme Court judgments across numerous cases have cited the following as the Basic Structure:

Also Read: Sources of the Indian Constitution

How has the Basic Structure Doctrine Evolved?

The Basic Structure Doctrine has evolved through the following cases throughout the years:

Basic Structure CaseYearBasic Description of the Case
Shankari Prasad Case1951The First Amendment Act of 1951, which curtailed the Right to Property was challenged. 
Sajjan Singh Case1965The Parliament amending Any part of the Consitution was challenged.   
Golak Nath Case1967The Seventeenth Amendment Act of 1964, which recommended to insertion of certain State Acts in the Ninth Schedule, was later challenged. 
Keshavananda Bharati Case 1973The Parliament under Article 368 has the power to change Fundamental Rights, which was challenged. 
Indira Gandhi VS Raj Narain Case 1975The 39th Amendment Act was passed by the Government of India during the Emergency
Minerva Mills Case 1980The two changes in the 42nd Amendment Act of 1976 were struck off.
Waman Rao Case1981Validity of Article 31A and Article 31B.
Indra Sawhney Case1992Examination of Article 16(4).
S.R. Bommai Case1994The misuse of Article 356 which involves the use of the President’s Rule in States. 

Also Read: Important Articles of the Indian Constitution

What is the Importance of the Basic Structure Doctrine?

The Importance of The Basic Structure Doctrine is as follows:

  1. Upholds Democracy: The values and ideas of our founding fathers are preserved in both spirit and letter. 
  2. Upholds Constitutionalism: Since it is dynamic, it prevents the threat of regression.
  3. Upholds the Role of the Judiciary: It holds the Judiciary as the Final Interpreter of our Constitution.
  4. Ensures Checks and Balances: It does so by limiting the power of the Parliament.
  5. Safety Valve Against Authoritarianism and Majoritarianism: Upendra Baxi noted that the Basic Structure Doctrine was useful to apply the brakes when the engine of Amending power threatened to overrun our Constitution.  

What is the Criticism faced by the Basic Structure Doctrine?

However, the Basic Structure Doctrine does face some Criticism due to the following reasons:

  • Not a Part of Our Constitution: The Founding Fathers did not make such a provision. 
  • No Separation of Power: The Judiciary is interfering with the field of Legislation.
  • Tyranny of the Unelected: The Judiciary has given itself unprecedented power.
  • Ultimate Legal Sovereignty Resides in the People: Thus, if Amendments helped our Constitution survive, they must include changes in the allegedly essential part of the Constitution.
  • Lack of Clarity in Judgement:
    • Upendra Baxi noted that even a limited analysis of what the Court decided is as delicate and difficult as that directed to the unravelling of the significance of the smile of the Mona Lisa. 
    • Granville Austin notes that there are numerous discrepancies between the points contained in the summary signed by the judges and the opinions expressed by them in their separate judgements. 

Also Read: Important Amendments of the Indian Constitution

However, the Basic Structure Doctrine has helped the Constitution of India save its Democracy. The proof is in the success that the Judiciary has been using it increasingly.  


Is the Basic Structure Doctrine a myth?

No, the Basic Structure Doctrine is not a myth. It is used by our Judiciary increasingly and the cases are proof of it. Especially when it comes to: Rule of Law, Judicial Review, Federalism [S.R. Bommai], Secularism, Fundamental Rights, Article 32, A balance between FR and DPSP [Minerva Mills Case] .

Who gave the Basic Structure Doctrine?

The term ‘Basic Structure’ was initially coined by M.K. Nambiar and fellow counsels during their presentation on behalf of the petitioners in the Golaknath case. However, it was not until the year 1973 (Keshavananda Bharati Case) that this concept officially appeared in the written judgment of the Supreme Court.

Is the Preamble part of the Basic Structure?

The preamble constitutes an integral component of the Constitution’s fundamental structure, and any amendments to it are permissible only if they do not alter the foundational framework.

What is the first case of the Basic Structure Doctrine?

The first case of the Basic Structure Doctrine was the Keshavananda Bharati Case in 1973 which was between the State of Kerela VS Keshavananda Bharati. 

What is the Purpose of the Basic Structure Doctrine?

The purpose of the Basic Structure Doctrine is to uphold the essence of Indian democracy and safeguard the rights and freedoms of individuals. The Basic Structure Doctrine is rooted in the Indian Constitution and serves as a safeguard to maintain the integrity of the constitutional framework. Moreover, the prominence of this doctrine emerged prominently during the Kesavananda Bharati case.

Lastly, we hope you liked our blog and gained an insight into the Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution. Moreover, you may even read more blogs and empower yourself with knowledge regarding Civics and Polity! 

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