Keshavananda Bharati is a landmark judgement whose decision was taken by the Supreme Court which outlined the basic structure doctrine of the Constitution of India. The decision which was given by the bench in this case was very unique and thoughtful. The Kesavananda Bharati case was popularly known as fundamental rights case and also the serious conflict between the Judiciary and the Government. It was a 700 pages judgement which included a solution for both rights of the Parliament to amend laws and the rights of the citizens to protect their Fundamental Rights. The Bench came up with the Doctrine of Basic Structure to protect the interests of both citizens of India and the Parliament. Through this solution, the bench solved the questions which were left unanswered in the case of Golaknath. The case of Golaknath v State of Punjab was overruled by the decision of Keshavananda Bharati case by putting a restriction on the rights of the Parliament to amend the Constitution. The Doctrine of Basic Structure was introduced to ensure that the amendments do not take away the rights of the citizens which were guaranteed to them by the Fundamental Rights. The fundamental question dealt in Kesavananda Bharati v State of Kerala is whether the power to amend the constitution is an unlimited, or there is identifiable parameters regarding powers to amend the constitution.


Petitioner- Keshavananda Bharati & Others.

Respondent- State of Kerala

Bench- S.M. Sikri, K.S. Hegde, A.K. Mukherjea, J.M. Shelat, A.N. Grover, P. Jaganmohan Reddy, H.R. Khanna, A.N. Ray, K.K. Mathew, M.H. Beg, S.N. Dwivedi, & Y.V. Chandrachud.


It is important to know the background of the case before heading towards the facts and the judgement. The following is the case background-

  • The Bihar Land Reforms Act, 1950 which was in Contravention of then Fundamental Right to Property (Article 31), was hit by 13(3) as it was Infringing Article 31 (Part III, Fundamental Rights). The Act was tested in High Court which held the demonstration to be Unconstitutional for being violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.
  • Consequently keeping in mind the end goal i.e., to ensure and Validate Zamindari Abolition laws, the Government made the First Amendment of the Constitution of India which resulted in a few improvements in the Fundamental Rights of the Constitution. Article 31-A and 31 B was also included. Ninth Schedule was embedded in order to ensure any Legislation embedded inside the Schedule, from Judicial audit.
  • Henceforth the development of the case Kesavananda Bharati was set apart by a progression of Cases and choices that set the phase for the case itself. At the center of every one of these cases was the essential inquiry: Was Parliament’s energy to Amend the Constitution boundless, since it spoken to the will of the general population and its Majority, or was that Power delineated when it went to certain Fundamental Rights of the general population?


  • Keshvananda Bharati was the chief of Edneer Mutt which is a religious sect in Kasaragod district of Kerala. He had certain pieces of land in the sect which were owned by him in his name.  The state government of Kerala introduced the Land Reforms Amendment Act, 1969. According to the act, the government was entitled to acquire some of the sect’s land of which Keshvananda Bharti was the chief. 
  • On 21st March 1970, Keshvananda Bharti moved to the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution in order to enforce of his rights which were guaranteed 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), Article 31 (Compulsory Acquisition of Property). When the petition was still under consideration by the court, the Kerala Government introduced another act which was Kerala Land Reforms (Amendment) Act, 1971.
  • After the landmark case of Golaknath v. State of Punjab, the Parliament passed a series of Amendments in order to overrule the judgment of the Golaknath case. In 1971, the 24th Amendment was passed, in 1972, 25th, 26th and 29th Amendment were sanctioned subsequently by Indira Gandhi’s legislature through Parliament to get over the judgments of the Preeminent Court in R.C. Cooper (1970), Madhavrao Scindia (1970) and Golak Nath.
  • The first amendment had struck down bank nationalization, the second had abrogated the nullification of privy satchels of previous rulers and the third had held that the revising force couldn’t touch Principal Rights.
  • Every one of these corrections was under test in Kesavananda Bharati case. Since Golak Nath was chosen by eleven judges, a bigger seat was required to test its rightness. Thus 13 judges were to sit on the Kesavananda Bharati case.
  • Despite the fact that the hearings expended five months, the result would significantly influence India’s popularity based procedures.


The Supreme Court of India has reviewed the decision in Golaknath v. State of Punjab, and considered the validity of the 24th, 25th, 26th and 29th amendments. The case of Keshavananda Bharati was heard by the largest ever constitutional bench of 13 Judges. The Bench gave eleven separate Judgments which were agreed on same point and disagreed on others. These eleven separate Judgements are summarized but there are a series of cases which were reviewed by the Judges of the Supreme Court under the Keshavananda Bharati case and they are as follows

  • Shankari Prasad v. Union of India (1951)
  • Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan (1965)
  • Golaknath V. State of Punjab (1967)
  • C. Cooper v. Union of India
  • Madhav Rao Scindia v. Union of India


  1. Whether the constitutional amendment as per Art. 368 are applicable to Fundamental Rights or not?
  2. Whether 24th Amendment Act, 1971 Is valid or not?
  3. Whether Section 2(a), 2(b) and Section 3 of the 25th Amendment, 1971 is valid or not?
  4. Whether 29th Amendment Act, 1971 is valid or not?
  5. Whether the Article 31 C of the Constitution is valid or not?
  6. What constituted the “Basic Structure” in the case of Keshavananda Bharati and was there a Ratio?


Petitioners Contentions

The petitioner contended that the Parliament cannot amend the Constitution in a way they want to because they have a limited power to do so. The Parliament cannot exercise its powers of amending the Constitution by changing its Basic Structure as the same was propounded by Justice Mudhokar in the case of Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan. The petitioner pleaded for the protection of his property under Article 19 (1)(f) of the Constitution of India. He argued that the 24th and 25th amendment of the Constitution violated the Fundamental Rights which was provided under Article 19(1)(f) of the Constitution of India.

Respondents contentions

The State here is the Respondent. The State contended that the Supremacy of Parliament is the basic principle of the Indian Legal System and so the Parliament has the power to amend the Constitution unlimitedly. The respondent also contended that in order to fulfill its socio-economic obligations which were guaranteed to the citizens of India under the Preamble, it is important that the Parliament exercises its power to amend the Constitution without any limitations.


Keshavananda Bharati case over ruled the case of Golaknath but it didn’t re-establish the supremacy of the Parliament.  As it is stated, that the fundamental rights of the constitution can be amended by the Parliament, but not all the rights of the constitution. Those fundamental rights which formed the basic structure of the constitution cannot be abridged. In Golaknath case, they gave the priority to the fundamental rights only. Whereas, in Kesavanand Bharati case, it recognizes some other provisions of the constitution also and stated that if, such provisions are form the basic structure then it cannot be amended. It is also stated that under the virtue of Article 368 of the Constitution of India, Parliament cannot rewrite the whole constitution and bring in a new form.

By invalidating the part of Article 31-C in Kesavanand Bharati case, it prevented the State Legislature from exercising the power to virtually amended the constitution. Article 31 C lays down that if a state legislature makes a law which contains a declaration that it is to giving effect to the policy contained in Article 39(B) and Article 39(C) then no court may scrutinize it. This, a state legislature could make a review proof law.

Kesavanand Bharati case is an example of judicial creativity of its first order. It protected our Indian Constitution by passing a 2/3 majority which may encourage by narrow party and personal interest. The basic feature cannot be altered, abolished or abridged.


The ambiguity shows in the doctrine, as well as that of the ratio in Kesavananda Bharati, resulted in various challenges both to and under the doctrine before the Supreme Court. The period following Kesavananda Bharati was one where the doctrine has evolved on a case-to-case basis, resulting in a gradual expansion of the doctrine.

In the case of Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain,  Constitutional amendment to regularize Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s election was struck down by citing the basic features of democracy, rule of law and equality.

 In the case of Minerva Mills v. Union of India, the Parliament of India, through the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976, attempted to Kesavananda Bharati by making Parliamentary power under constitution unlimited. The Court in this case struck down the amendment on the ground that the judicial review of Parliamentary enactments, and the limitation of Parliamentary power to amend the Constitution, was itself a part of the basic structure of the Constitution.

Coelho v State of Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court held that all laws and provisions of the constitution directly or indirectly were related to the fundamental rights, and which are the part of the basic structure. Henceforth, every element of any law which is subjected to be amended must be tested and it should not abridge any of the basic structure of the constitution.

According to the doctrine, the Parliament has an unlimited power to amend the Constitution subject to the sole condition that such amendments must not change the basic structure of the Constitution. The Parliament should not in any manner interfere with the basic features of the Constitution without which our Constitution will be left spiritless and lose its very essence. The basic structure of the Constitution was not mentioned by the bench and was left to the interpretation of the courts. The Courts need to see and interpret if a particular amendment violates the basic structure of our Indian Constitution or not. 

The court found that the word ‘amend’ which was included in Article 368 does not refer to amendments that can change the basic structure of the constitution. If Parliament wants to amend a particular provision of the Constitution then such amendment would need to go through the test of basic structure.

The court found that the word ‘amend’ which was included in Article 368 does not refer to amendments that can change the basic structure of the constitution. If Parliament wants to amend a particular provision of the Constitution then such amendment would need to go through the test of basic structure.

It was also decided that since the Parliament has an unlimited power to amend the Constitution subject to the basic structure then Parliament can also amend Fundamental Rights as far as they are not included in the basic structure of the Constitution. 24th Amendment was upheld by the Bench whereas the 25th Amendment’s 2nd part was struck down. The 25th Amendment’s validation was subjected to two conditions:

  • The court agreed that the word amount and compensation is not equivalent to each other but still the amount which is provided by the Government to the landlords should not be unreasonable. The amount need not be equal to the market value but should be reasonable and closely related to the present market value.
  • The 1st part of the 25th Amendment was upheld but it was subject to the provision that the prohibition of judiciary’s reach will be struck down.


It was held by the apex court by a majority of 7:6 that Parliament can amend any provision of the Constitution to fulfill its socio-economic obligations guaranteed to the citizens under the Preamble subject to the condition that such amendment won’t change the basic structure of the Indian Constitution.

The minority bench wrote different opinions but was still reluctant to give unfettered authority to the Parliament. The landmark case was decided on 24th April 1973.

The majority of the Bench wanted to preserve the Indian Constitution by protecting the basic features of the Constitution. The judgment was given after analyzing the various aspects and was based on sound reasoning. The Bench feared that if the Parliament would be provided with unlimited power to amend our Indian Constitution then the power will be misused and would be changed by the Government according to its own will and preferences. The basic features and the very spirit of the Constitution can be altered by the Government if they have unlimited powers to make amendments. There was a need for a doctrine to preserve the rights of both Parliament and citizens, therefore, the Bench came up with a midway to protect both of their rights through the doctrine of Basic Structure.

The court upheld the 24th Constitutional Amendment entirely but the 1st and 2nd part of the 25th Constitutional Amendment Act was found to be intra vires and ultra vires respectively. It was observed by the court in relation to the powers of the Parliament to amend the Constitution that it was a question that was left unanswered in the case of Golaknath.

The answer to the question was found in the present case and it was deduced by the court that the Parliament has the power to amend the Constitution to the extent that such amendment does not change the basic structure of the Indian Constitution. It was laid down by the court that the Doctrine of Basic Structure is to be followed by the Parliament while amending the provisions of the Constitution.

Even before our Indian Constitution came into force, approximately 30 amendments were already made to it. After the commencement of the Indian Constitution in 1951, around 150 amendments have been passed, whereas, in the United States, only 27 amendments have been passed in 230 years. Despite the huge number of amendments, the spirit, and ideas of the framers of the Indian Constitution have remained intact. Indian Constitution did not lose its identity and spirit because of the decision taken by the Bench in this case.

The landmark case of Keshavananda Bharti provided stability to the Constitution. Though the petitioner lost his case partially, yet the judgment that was given by the Bench, in this case, worked out to be a savior of Indian democracy and saved the Constitution from losing its spirit. 

This article has been written by Oorvi Agarwal,  4th year, BA-LLB student of Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad.

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