The doctrine of basic structure is not defined in the constitution of India. The term has evolved as a result of various judicial decisions by the years. The Basic Structure Doctrine of Constitution of India states that the parliament can neither destroy nor alter the basic structure of the Indian constitution. The doctrine is applicable only to the constitutional amendments.
The basic features of the Constitution are:
- Supremacy of the constitution.
- Republican and democratic form of government.
- Secular character of the constitution.
- Federal character of the constitution.
- Separation of power.
- Unity and Sovereignty of India.
- Individual freedom.
Within their respective jurisdictions, the Parliament and the state legislatures are entitled to make suitable laws for the sake of people. The Bills regarding amendment of Constitution can only be passed by the Parliament itself. But the power is absolute and limited to some aspect. The Supreme Court of India holds the power to declare any law which it considers inconsistent with the Constitution invalid. In other words if any bill is passed by the Parliament which does not follows the ideals of the Constitution will be held invalid and void by the Supreme court. This doctrine has been laid by the Supreme Court to ensure and preserve the will of the Constitution and the ideology behind it. Hence, the Parliament cannot destroy or alter the basic structure of the Constitution.
Evolution of the Basic Structure Doctrine:
The term Basic structure Doctrine has evolved through various decisions of the Supreme Court on the powers of parliament and judiciary. There was a dilemma between Article 13 and Article 368, the question raised was which of the Article had an overriding effect on the other.
Shankari Prasad vs. Union of India (1951)
In this case, the First amendment was challenged on the ground that it is in violation to the Part-III of the constitution. Therefore, it was suggested that it should be considered invalid and void. The Supreme Court held that the Article 368 of the Constitution states, ‘the Parliament has the power to amend any part of the constitution including fundamental rights.’
In Sajjan Singh Vs State of Rajasthan case in 1965 the Court gave the same ruling.
Golak Nath vs State of Punjab
In this case in 1967, the Supreme Court held that the Parliament is not empowered to amend Part III of the constitution as the fundamental rights are immutable. The Supreme Court overruled its earlier decision. According to the Supreme Court ruling, Article 368 lays down the procedure to amend the constitution, that does not give absolute powers to the parliament and to amend any part of the constitution.
The 24th Constitution Amendment Act
In 1971, the Parliament passed the 24th Constitution amendment act. The act gave absolute power to the parliament, in order to make any changes in the constitution and also the fundamental rights. It also made it obligatory for the President to give his assent on all the Constitution Amendment bills sent to him. This move was executed evidently in the favor of Smt. Indira Gandhi and her government.
Kesavananda Bharti vs. State of Kerala
In this case, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the 24th Constitution Amendment Act and reviewed its decision in the Golaknath case. The Supreme Court held that the Parliament has power to amend any provision of the constitution but the basic structure of the constitution is to be maintained as it is. But the Apex Court has not provided any clear definition for the term basic structure. It held that the “basic structure of the Constitution could not be abrogated even by a constitutional amendment”.
Attempts to bury the Basic Structure Doctrine: Many politicians, experts and ministers were against the basic structure defined by the earlier cases. This led to challenges against the verdict of the court. In 1975, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the concept of Basic Structure Doctrine. This happened when the victory of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the elections was upheld by the Allahabad High Court on the grounds of electoral malpractice. Justice Krishna Iyer granted a stay allowing Indira Gandhi to work as the Prime Minister on the condition that she would not draw salary and speak or vote until the case was decided. But, while the court was hearing the case, the parliament passed the Thirty- ninth amendment o the constitution. This amendment removed the authority of the Supreme Court to handle cases with regard to elections of President, Prime Minister and the speaker of Lok Sabha. Instead a body will be constituted for resolving such disputes. The aim of the bill was evidently to benefit Smt. Indira Gandhi. Some amendments were also made to the Representation of Peoples Acts of 1951 and 1974 and placed in the Ninth Schedule along with
the Election Laws Amendment Act, 1975. The mala fide intention of the government to save the face of Indira Gandhi in case the Court passed a verdict against them was proved by the hurry in which the Thirty-ninth amendment was passed. The bill was introduced on 7th of August, passed by the Lok Sabha the same day, and Rajya Sabha the next day, the President passed it giving his assent 2 days later and it was gazetted on 10th August. The counsel for the opposing party challenging Indira Gandhi argued that the amendment violated the basic structure of Constitution and hence should be held unconstitutional. It affected the power of judicial review and the basic features including conducting of free and fair elections. They also argued that the Parliament is not empowered to decide if the election were valid or not stating the incompetency to use its constituent power to hold an election that was declared void by the High court. The court upheld the amended laws, striking down the law which restricted the power of judiciary to adjudicate the situation. The judges grudgingly accepted the Parliaments power to pass overriding laws.
Within three days of the decision of the election case, C.J. Ray convened to review the Keshavanandan Bharti case verdict with regard to a number of land ceiling petitions. The opposing party’s counsel argued that it was an unnecessary move. The bench dissolved soon after it and people doubted the government’s indirect involvement in the issue. The National emergency was declared in 1975. Soon after the Congress party constituted a committee with Sardar Swaran Singh its chairman to review the question of amending the Constitution. Through the 42nd amendment several changes were incorporated which also included that any amendments by the Parliament in the past or in future in the constitution cannot be questioned by the court.
Minerva Mills and the Waman Rao cases
In this case the owners of Minerva mills challenged the 42nd amendment in the Supreme Court. Mr. N.A. Palkhivala from the side of petitioners decided not to challenge the government’s action instead he framed the challenge to Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution. He argued that the section 55 of the amendment provided unlimited power to the Parliament. He added that Article 31 C violated the Preamble and the basic structure doctrine, hence should be declared unconstitutional. It also took away the power of judicial review.
The majority judgment (4:1) held the amendment to Article 31C unconstitutional.’ It destroyed the harmony and balance between fundamental rights and directive principles which is an essential or basic feature of the Constitution.’ In another case relating to a similar dispute involving agricultural property the apex court, held that all constitutional amendments made after the date of the Kesavananda Bharati are subject to judicial review as the same procedure as prior to the 42nd amendment.
 AIR. 1951 SC 458
 AIR 1954 Raj 301
 1967 AIR 1643, 1967 SCR (2) 762
 1973 4 SCC 225
 1980 AIR 1789