50th Anniversary of the Kesavananda Bharati judgment

On April 24, 2023, at the 50 anniversary of the Kesavananda Bharati judgment, the Supreme Court have created a dedicated webpage for the verdict and all the petitions and documents in that case.

About the Case

  • The case was heard by a full court of 13 judges, the largest bench ever, and the judgment was delivered on April 24, 1973.
  • The case was filed by Swami Kesavananda Bharati, the senior plaintiff and head of the Edneer Mutt in Kasaragod district of Kerala, who challenged the Kerala government’s attempts, through two land reform acts, to impose restrictions on the management of the Mutt’s property.
  • The Kesavananda Bharati judgment held that provisions of the Indian Constitution can be amended by Parliament in order to fulfill its socio-economic obligations.
    • However, more importantly, the judgment also held that the basic structure of the Constitution cannot be altered by Parliament no matter what.
Doctrine of Basic Structure

  • The Constitutional Bench in Kesavananda Bharati case ruled by a 7-6 verdict that Parliament could amend any part of the Constitution so long as it did not alter or amend the basic structure or essential features of the Constitution.
  • However, the court did not define the term ‘basic structure, and only listed a few principles federalism, secularism, democracy as being its part.
    1. The basic structure’ doctrine has since been interpreted to include-
    2. The supremacy of the Constitution.
    3. The rule of law,
    4. Independence of the judiciary.
    5. Doctrine of separation of powers,
    6. Sovereign democratic republic,
    7. The parliamentary system of government.
    8. The principle of free and fair elections,
    9. Welfare state, etc.