The question whether Fundamental Rights can be amended by the Parliament under Article 368 came for consideration of the Supreme Court within a year of the Constitution coming into force. In the Shankari Prasad case (1951), the constitutional validity of the First Amendment Act (1951), which curtailed the right to property, was challenged. The Supreme Court ruled that the power of the Parliament to amend the Constitution under Article 368 also includes the power to amend Fundamental Rights.
But in the Golak Nath case (1967), the Supreme Court reversed its earlier stand. In that case, the constitutional validity of the Seventeenth Amendment Act (1964), which inserted certain state acts in the Ninth Schedule, was challenged. The Supreme Court ruled that the Fundamental Rights are given a ‘transcendental and immutable’ position and hence, the Parliament cannot abridge or take away any of these rights. A constitutional amendment act is also a law within the meaning of Article 13 and hence, would be void for violating any of the Fundamental Rights.
However, in the Kesavananda Bharati case (1973), the Supreme Court overruled its judgement in the Golak Nath case (1967). It upheld the validity of the 24th Amendment Act (1971) and stated that Parliament is empowered to abridge or take away any of the Fundamental Rights. At the same time, it laid down a new doctrine of the ‘basic structure’ (or ‘basic features’) of the Constitution. It ruled that the constituent power of Parliament under Article 368 does not enable it to alter the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution. This means that the Parliament cannot abridge or take away a Fundamental Right that forms a part of the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution.
From the various judgements, the following have emerged as ‘basic features’ of the Constitution or elements / components / ingredients of the ‘basic structure’ of the constitution:
- Supremacy of the Constitution
- Sovereign, democratic and republican nature of the Indian polity
- Secular character of the Constitution
- Separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary
- Federal character of the Constitution
- Unity and integrity of the nation
- Welfare state (socio-economic justice)
- Judicial review