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September 06, 2020

Kesavananda Bharati, Petitioner behind 1973 case on ‘Basic Structure’ of Constitution, passed away

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Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru (79), the chief Pontiff of Jagadguru Sri Sankaracharya Thotakacharya Samsthanam, Edneer Mutt, Kerala, passed away today. His petition challenging the Kerala Land Reforms (Amendment) Act 1969 led to the landmark “basic structure” doctrine judgment. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament cannot alter the fundamental structure of the Constitution.

Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala and The Basic Structure Doctrine : Highlights

If you are an aspirant of UPSC, SSC or a law, then you must remember the name Kesavananda Bharati and the date 24th April 1973. Not only because it is the date of birth of Indian cricket god Sachin Tendulkar, but also the judgement in the remarkable case of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala.

On 21 March 1970 , Keshavananda Bharati (Then he was only 21 years old), moved the top court against the land reforms law passed by the Kerala government, which exempted temple and mutt property but put restrictions over private individual property.

Bharati had contended that the land reforms law by the government was an attempt to impose restrictions on the management of the mutt’s property, which was the only source of income for his ashram.

His petition also challenged three Constitutional amendments — 24, 25 and 29 — passed by the Indira Gandhi government to give Parliament the power to alter fundamental rights. The 24th amendment diluted the fundamental rights; 26th abolished privy purses and recognition granted to the rulers of Indian states; and the 29th amendment included the Kerala Land Reforms (Amendment) Act, 1969, and the Kerala Land Reforms (Amendment) Act, 1971 in the Ninth Schedule to the Constitution to protect the laws under Article 31B.

The petition was heard by a 13-member bench, the largest ever bench in the history of the Supreme Court, for 68 working days from October 31, 1972, to March 23, 1973. No case was heard by a 13-judge bench before or after that. The case also continues to hold the top spot for the longest proceedings ever to have taken place in the top court.

Because of this case, the Supreme Court gave Parliament power to amend any part of Constitution of India. The court further added that such amendment shall not take away the fundamental rights of the citizen which are provided by the Constitution of India. This case is also referred as Fundamental Rights case.This decision may be said to have played a major role in preserving India’s parliamentary democracy.

Stating the importance of the case, former Judge of Madras High Court Justice K Chandru stated "The Kesavananda Bharati case is significant for its ruling that the Constitution can be amended but not the basic structure."

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