Q. Write a note on 'Doctrine of basic structure'.




The constitution of India is one of the most fascinating, and longest written constitution of the world. But it doesn’t mean that it is a perfect document, and requires no change with the passage of time.

Our constitution makers, while framing this document, encountered with a difficulty. Whether our constitution should be rigid as US constitution or it should be as flexible as British constitution. After having so much debate on this issue, they have decided to keep it as rigid as well as flexible, means it is the mixture of the both. At the one side, the constitution empowers to the parliament and state legislatures to amend the constitution in their respective jurisdiction, whereas, on the other hand, to maintain the checks and balances on this power, it empowers the judiciary to examine the validity of that amendment. In very simple language, they have provided us a living organic document  in the form of Constitution of India.


The Doctrine of Basic Structure

In the context of India, The doctrine of basic structure was propounded in the case of Keshvanand Bharti Vs. State of Kerala, (although the idea of this concept was already coined much before this case), which implies that Indian Constitution has certain basic features, which can’t be altered, destroyed or amended at any cost.

This doctrine implies that no doubt that parliament enjoys the amending powers, and there is no restrictions on it, but in the process of amendment, it can’t destroy the basic idea, philosophy and spirit of our original Constitution, i.e. by using the amending powers, it can’t frame a new Constitution itself.

These basic features are nowhere defined in our constitution. Moreover, in the Keshvanand Bharti judgment, the judges also restraint themselves to not to bound the judiciary in the restraints, so they have decided that any feature should termed as basic feature or not, it shall only be decided on case to case basis.


Development of Doctrine of Basic Structure

I.                    Shankari Prasad vs. Union of India, 1951

On the ground that the very 1st constitutional amendment is violates the spirit of part 3 of the Constitution, First Constitution Amendment Act, 1951 was challenged.

Issue: Whether the word Law, also covers the Constitutional amendments or not?

Judgment: The Supreme Court held that the Parliament, under Article 368, has the power to amend any part of the constitution including fundamental rights. The SC disagreed with the contention that constitutional amendments are also comes under the definition of Law, as mentioned in article 13. The Court gave the same ruling in Sajjan Singh Vs State of Rajasthan case in 1965.


II.                 I.C. Golak Nath V. State of Punjab, 1967

The decision of Shankari Prasad vs. UOI and Sajjan Singh case was challenged.

Judgment: The Supreme Court held that the Parliament has no power to amend Part III of the constitution as the fundamental rights are transcendental and immutable. According to the Supreme Court ruling, Article 368 only lays down the procedure to amend the constitution and does not give absolute powers to the parliament to amend any part of the constitution.


III.               Kesavananda Bharti V. State of Kerala, 1973

This is the case, in which ‘doctrine of basic structure’ was evolved. In this case, it was held that the parliament cannot alter or disturb the basic structure of the constitution. It was held that, however, the parliament has unfettered power to amend the constitution but it cannot disturb or emasculate the basic structure or fundamental features of the constitution, as it has only the power of amendment and not of re-writing constitution. It was further held that no hard and fast rule can be laid down regarding the applicability of this doctrine, but held that it will be decided on the case to case basis that which feature will constitute basic structure. Some of the features are listed below:

I.                     Independence of judiciary,

II.                   Separation of powers,

III.                 Sovereign, secular, democratic nature of the constitution,

IV.                Republic,

V.                  Fundamental rights,


Other Cases

In Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain and Minerva Mills v. Union of India, Constitution Benches of the Supreme Court used the basic structure doctrine to strike down the 39th Amendment and parts of the 42nd Amendment respectively, and paved the way for restoration of Indian democracy.



Even though judiciary never gave a solid test to discover what basic structure is, it however, has acted as a brake to the legislative enthusiasm of Parliament, thereby preserving the original ideals envisioned by the constitution-makers and strengthening the democracy.

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Also Read:

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  3. State the provisions related to citizenship of India provided in the Indian Constitution.
  4. Explain the objectives enshrined in the Preamble. Can the Preamble be amended?
  5. Describe special features of the Indian Constitution.

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