Published on: January 25, 2023

Basic structure doctrine

Basic structure doctrine

Why in news? The Chief Justice of India compared the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution to the North Star, in response to Vice president remarks over Keshavanda Bharati case.


  • The basic structure of the Constitution is its living spirit, holding up the body of its text.
  • It is the “soul” of the Constitution
  • This doctrine is not defined by constitution it took over shape through various judgments

Basic structure from Kesavananda Bharati case

  • The Kesavananda Bharati judgment held that Parliament cannot use its constituent power to alter the basic structure or the essential features of the Constitution.
  • This case explained Constitutional system the basic institutional pattern remains even though the different component parts may undergo significant alterations.
  • Granville Austin’s said that the basic structure doctrine “is fairly said to have become the bedrock of constitutional interpretation in India”.

Components of basic structure

  • Different judges on the Kesavananda Bharati Bench gave different examples of about constitution of the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution
  • It includes supremacy, the federal and secular character of the Constitution, separation of powers among the legislature, executive and judiciary, dignity of the individual, unity and integrity of the nation,
  • Sovereignty of India, democratic character of our policy, welfare state and egalitarian society, liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship and equality of status and opportunity among other essential features.

Background of Case

  • The government, smarting Golaknath Nath verdict that upheld the power of judicial review of constitutional amendments, introduced several Constitutional Amendments
  • Parliament reacted to the SC judgment in Golaknath case by enacting 24th and 25th Amendment act

Parliament reaction

  • The 24th Constitutional Amendment changed Article 13, a provision which mandated that no ‘law’ could take away or abridge fundamental rights.
  • The Golak Nath judgment had interpreted the term ‘law’ in Article 13(2) to include ‘constitutional amendments’
  • The Parliament through the 24th Amendment said a constitutional amendment cannot be rendered void merely because it infringed fundamental rights.
  • It also modified Article 368, a provision which dealt with constitutional amendments, to enable the Parliament to add, vary or repeal any Article of the Constitution.

What is 25th Amendment act ?

  • The 25th Constitutional Amendment introduced Article 31C into the Constitution to implement the DPSPS under Article 39 (b) and (c) for distribution of material resources of the community and to prevent concentration of wealth.
  • The government’s aim was to facilitate nationalisation of industries and socialist measures.
  • The Amendment mandated that any law enacted with this objective cannot be “deemed” void on the ground that it was inconsistent with fundamental rights.
  • The latter half of Article 31C added that such a law would be outside judicial review and , even a petition cannot be filed in court challenging such a law.
  • In short, the Amendment gave Directive Principles primacy over fundamental rights and judicial review of the apex court.

What are the implications of judgment ?

  • In the Indira Gandhi versus Raj Narain case, removed the 39th Constitutional Amendment passed during the Emergency period which put the elections of the President, Vice President, Prime Minister and Lok Sabha Speaker beyond judicial review.
  • In 1980, the court once again used the basic structure formula, in the Minerva Mills challenge to the 42nd Amendment, to uphold judicial review of constitutional amendments and to protect fundamental rights.
  • The courts have clarified the basic structure, including that of the “primacy to the opinion of the Chief Justice of India in judicial appointments and transfers in independence of the judiciary as a part of the basic structure of the Constitution.