Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala [1973]

Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala [1973]

By Kamana Divya Sree (DSNLU, Vizag)    




Keshvanand Bharati was the leader of Edneer Mutt, a religious group in the Kasaragod district of Kerala. Keshvananda Bharti had several chunks of land in the congregation that he owned in his possession. The State Government of Kerala enacted the Land Reforms Amendment Act of 1969. As per the act, the authority was entitled to purchase some of the land of the religion, the head of which was Keshvanand Bharti.

On 21 March 1970, Kesavananda Bharti moved to the Supreme Court pursuant to Section 32 of the Indian Constitution for the protection of his rights granted under Article 25 (Right to Exercise and Spread Religion), Article 26 (Right to Pursue Religious Affairs), Article 14.


The plaintiff argued that the Parliament cannot change the Constitution in whatever manner it wishes, as it has little authority to do so. The Parliament cannot assert its power to change the Constitution by altering its Basic Structure, as was suggested by Justice Mudhokar in the case of Sajjan Singh v State of Rajasthan. The applicant appealed for the security of his land in compliance with Article 19(1)(f) of the Indian Constitution.

It was claimed that the 24th and 25th constitutional amendments violated the basic right listed in article 19(1)(f) of the Indian Constitution. Fundamental rights are the rights applicable to the people of India to ensure independence, and if any constitutional convention eliminates that right, the freedom granted to the citizens of India under the Constitution will be stripped away from them.

The State was the respondent. The State claimed that the sovereignty of the Parliament is the fundamental premise of the Indian legal system and therefore the Parliament has unrestricted authority to amend the Constitution. The State also argued that, in order to fulfill its social and economic responsibilities promised to the people of India under the Preamble, it is necessary for the Parliament to exercise its powers to amend the Constitution beyond restriction. 


According to the doctrine, the Parliament has full authority to amend the Constitution on the fully assessed that certain amendments do not modify the Basic Structure of the Constitution. Parliament does not mess in any way with the Basic Structure of the Constitution, without which our Constitution would be left unspiritual and will sacrifice its very meaning. The Basic Structure of the Constitution has not been stated by the bench and has been left to the understanding of the courts. The Courts continue to see and interpret whether or not a specific provision is contradictory to the Basic Structure of our Indian Constitution.

The Kesavananda Bharati decision adopted the Basic Structure Doctrine, which restricted Parliament’s ability to make radical reforms that could influence the core principles protected by the Constitution, such as secularism and federalism. The decision affirmed the authority of the Supreme Court to review the laws of Parliament on a judicial basis. The definition of the division of powers between the three divisions of governanceโ€”legislative, executive and judicialโ€”has evolved.


The landmark judgment was delivered by a slim majority of 7:6 on 24 April 1973, in which the majority ruled that every clause of the Indian Constitution could be changed by Parliament in order to meet its socio-economic responsibilities promised to people as set out in the Preamble, providing that such amendment did not modify the Basic Structure of the Constitution.

The minority, however, is cautious, in their contrary opinion, of granting Parliament unrestricted power of amendment.

The Court ruled that the 24th amendment to the Constitution was completely legitimate. But the second portion of the 25th constitutional amendment was considered to be ultra vires.


The extent to which the Parliament can exercise its power to amend the Constitution?

The court found that the term ‘amendment’ used in Article 368 would not apply to changes which may modify the Basic Structure of the constitution. If Parliament wishes to amend a certain clause of the Constitution, the amendment will have to pass the test of the Basic Structure.

It was also agreed that, because the Parliament has unrestricted powers to amend the Constitution according to the basic structure, the Parliament can however amend the Constitutional Rights in so much as they are not contained in the basic structure of the Constitution.


The majority of the Board wished to maintain the Constitution of India by preserving the Basic Structure of the Constitution. The verdict was issued after the study of the different factors and was focused on rational logic. The Bench claimed that if the Parliament were to have unrestricted authority to amend our Indian Constitution, the power would be misappropriated and modified by the Government in compliance with its own will and desires. The Basic Structure and the very spirit of the Law can be modified by the Government if it has unrestricted authority to amend it. There was a desire for a doctrine to protect the interests of both Parliament and people, and so the Bench came into being.

The ground-breaking case of Keshavananda Bharti provided the Constitution with continuity. While the appellant defeated his case in part, the judgment handed down by the Court, in this case, turned out to be a protector of Indian democracy and rescued the Constitution from losing its essence.

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