Full case name: I.C. Golaknath and Ors. v. State of Punjab1
Bench: K. Subba Rao, C.J., C.A. Vaidialingam, G.K. Mitter, J.C. Shah, J.M. Shelat, K.N. Wanchoo, M. Hidayatullah, R.S. Bachawat, S.M. Sikri, Vashishtha Bharhava and V. Ramaswami, JJ
The question whether fundamental rights, granted under Part III of the Constitution, can be amended or not was first considered by the Supreme Court in the case ‘Sri Sankari Prasad Singh Deo v. Union of India and State of Bihar’2, where the constitutionality of First Constitutional Amendment Act, 1951 was challenged. This was followed by the case ‘Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan’3, where the constitutionality of Seventeenth Constitutional Amendment Act, 1964 was challenged. In the case ‘I.C. Golaknath & Ors. Vs. State of Punjab & Anrs.’, a bench of 6:5 decided that the Parliament has no power or authority to curtail or amend the Fundamental Rights.
Issue in I.C. Golaknath and Ors. v. State of Punjab Case
Three writ petitions raise questions on the validity of Seventeenth Constitutional Amendment Act. 1964.
Facts of the I.C. Golaknath and Ors. v. State of Punjab Case
The Financial Commissioner of the State of Punjab held that area of 418 standard acres and 9/14 units of Mr. Golaknath’s land was surplus and was to be distributed equally among its tenants. Henry Golaknath’s son, daughter and grand-daughters filed a writ petition in Supreme Court claiming that provisions of Punjab Security of Land Tenures Act X of 1953, read with Section 10-B are violative of rights under clauses (f) and (g) of Article 19 and Article 14 of the constitution.
In addition to this, different writ petitions were filed claiming that Mysore Land Reforms Act which was amended by Act 14 of 1965, had fixed ceilings on land holdings and had conferred ownership of surplus land to tenants, infringed Articles 14, 19 and 31 of the constitution of India and, hence, are unconstitutional and void.
The States of Punjab and Mysore contented that both of the Acts were valid as Seventeenth Constitutional Amendment Act, 1964 had amended Article 31A of the constitution and had placed the discussed Acts in the Schedule Ninth of the constitution.
Important Amendments, Articles and Schedules relevant to the case
1. 1st Amendment, 19514
- It inserted Articles 31A and 31B.
- It inserted the 9th Schedule to protect land reforms from the purview of judicial review.
- It had set the precedent of amending the constitution in order to overcome judicial pronouncements.
- It had placed reasonable restrictions on fundamental rights.
2. Article 31
All the laws contained in the 9th schedule of the constitution cannot be challenged in the courts on the ground that they violated Fundamental Rights.
3. 7th Amendment, 19565
- It reflected the changes brought in by the Reorganisation Scheme.
- It amended Part 8 and Schedules 1, 2, 4 & 7 of the Constitution.
- It inserted Article 258A assuring that the Governor of the State may entrust any state functions to the central government.
4. Article 136
Article 13 of the constitution makes all laws which are in force before the commencement of the constitution and are inconsistent with Part III, i.e., Fundamental Rights, void. It states that Parliament cannot make any law which abridges the Fundamental Rights. Furthermore, it provides for the provision of judicial review of all the legislations in India.
5. 24th Amendment, 19717
- It restored the unrestricted power of parliament to amend any part of the Constitution.
- It made compulsory for the President to give an assent to a constitutional Amendment Bill.
- It inserts Article13(4) in such a way that it becomes inapplicable to any amendment made under Article 368 of the constitution.
Petitioner’s Arguments in I.C. Golaknath and Ors. v. State of Punjab Case
- The Constitution is permanent in nature and, therefore, it cannot be amended in a way which injures, maims or destroys its character.
- The fundamental rights are a part of the basic structure of the constitution and, therefore, power can be exercised only to preserve and not to destroy these rights.
- Under Article 368 of the Constitution, the word “amend” has a limited meaning, i.e., Article 368 only provides for the modification of the Articles of the Constitution and not a destruction of them.
- The debates in the Constituent Assembly, especially by Dr. Ambedkar, reveal clearly it was never the intention of the Constituent Members to enable the Parliament to repeal the Fundamental Rights of the citizens.
- Part III of the Constitution, which contains Fundamental Rights, is broad enough to encompass all the reasonable requirements required for different scenarios.
- The definition of “law” in Article 13(2) of the Constitution includes every branch of law, statutory, constitutional, etc., and therefore, states that if anything passed by any branch of the democracy takes away or abridges the fundamental rights of the citizens , then it would be void.
Respondent’s Arguments in I.C. Golaknath and Ors. v. State of Punjab Case
- A Constitutional amendment is made in exercise of the sovereign power and not the legislative power of the Parliament and is, therefore, constitutional.
- The doctrine of implied power has been famously rejected by the American Courts and Jurists. Therefore, Article 368 of the constitution is clear and unequivocal.
- The object of amending a clause in the constitution is to enable the parliament to amend the constitution according to the will of the people and changing circumstances of the country.
- The concept of a basic and non-basic features of the constitution is not there. Everything in the constitution is basic and can be amended for the growth and progress of the country.
- It cannot be relied upon the debates of the Constituent Assembly to construe Article 368 of the constitution as valid or invalid.
- Most of the amendments are made out of political necessity and hence, are out of scope of judicial jurisdiction.
- In order to enforce Directive Principles of the State, the Constitution has been amended again and again, therefore, any reversal of the previous decisions would introduce disturbance in the country.
Judgement of I.C. Golaknath and Ors. v. State of Punjab Case
The Supreme Court Bench Comprising of K. Subba Rao, C.J., C.A. Vaidialingam, G.K. Mitter, J.C. Shah, J.M. Shelat, K.N. Wanchoo, M. Hidayatullah, R.S. Bachawat, S.M. Sikri, Vashishtha Bharhava and V. Ramaswami, JJ, arrived at a 6:5 decision holding that Parliament cannot amend the Fundamental Rights of the citizens mentioned in Part III of the Indian Constitution. The majoritarian bench remained of the opinion that since the 1950’s there have been several instances where the parliament missed the powers conferred by Article 368 and infringed the Fundamental Rights of the people. The court felt that if not stopped, the autocratic actions of the Parliament will know no bounds. The majority held that the definition under Article 13(3) is not exhaustive, rather it is inclusive. Furthermore, it overruled the decision held by case ‘Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan’ and case ‘Sri Sankari Prasad Singh Deo v. Union of India and State of Bihar’. While the minority bench held that Parliament has the power to amend the constitution in its entirety, i.e., including fundamental rights. The bench believed that if Parliament is not granted with the power to amend the constitution then it would become rigid and static.
The judgement also came up with the Doctrine of Prospective Overruling. According to one of the Respondent’s arguments, the constitution has been amended from time to time for enforcement of Directive Principles of State Policy. If we annul the provisions then all of the amendments will be rendered void, hence resulting in an unbalanced state. Here, the judiciary held that if a court came up with decision ‘X’ in the case ‘A v. B’ and later the court disagrees with the decision ‘X’, then the result of the case will remain the same but the ruling or the Ratio Decidendi will be changed.
Aftermath of I.C. Golaknath and Ors. v. State of Punjab Case
After a few months of the Judgement being held, a private member bill was introduced in the Parliament to overrule the case but the bill could never reach the floor. However, in 1971, party led by Indira Gandhi won the elections. Subsequently, the government passed the 24th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1971, which directly overruled the case.
Conclusion of I.C. Golaknath and Ors. v. State of Punjab Case
I.C. Golaknath & Ors. Vs. State of Punjab & Anrs. had both sides of the coin. On one side, it limited the autocratic nature of the Parliament. Parliament could not abridge something as natural and fundamental as Fundamental Rights to suit it’s legislative and executive needs. It reinstated a sense of democracy. However, on the side, it did made the Constitution more rigid, hence, limiting and to some extent, its dynamic nature. Furthermore, judicial system protected only a part of the constitution when it had the opportunity to protect all the basic features of the constitution.
1. 1967 AIR 1643, 1967 SCR (2) 762
2. 1951 AIR 458, 1952 SCR 89
3. 1965 AIR 845, 1965 SCR (1) 933
4. GKToday. (2019). Constitution First Amendment Act, 1951. [online] Available at: https://www.gktoday.in/gk/constitution-first-amendment-act-1951/ [Accessed 1 Dec. 2019].
5. GKToday. (2019). Constitution 7th Amendment Act, 1956. [online] Available at: https://www.gktoday.in/gk/constitution-7th-amendment-act-1956/ [Accessed 1 Dec. 2019].
6. GKToday. (2019). Article 13 and conformity to all laws with Fundamental Rights. [online] Available at: https://www.gktoday.in/gk/article-13-and-conformity-to-all-laws-with-fundamental-rights/ [Accessed 1 Dec. 2019].7. GKToday. (2019). Constitution 24th Amendment Act, 1971. [online] Available at: https://www.gktoday.in/gk/constitution-24th-amendment-act-1971/ [Accessed 1 Dec. 2019].
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