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GOLAKNATH CASE: CHALLENGING LEGISLATIVE POWERS IN AMENDING FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS

INTRODUCTION

The I.C. Golaknath & Ors. v. State of Punjab[1] decision is regarded as a milestone case. In this case, a broad spectrum of points was brought up. That the fundamental rights in Part III of the Indian Constitution can be changed was the key issue argued in this case. The person who brought the lawsuit stated that because the parliament lacks authority, basic rights cannot be modified. Respondents argued that our constitution was never intended to be inflexible, whereas petitioners claimed that the parliament lacks the authority to change basic rights. The court concluded that parliament lacks the power to alter fundamental rights. The 1973 decision in the matter of Kesavananda Bharati v. Union of India[2] was overturned. The court ruled that while the Parliament can alter the Constitution, it cannot alter the fundamental structure of the Constitution.

FACTS OF THE CASE

The Golaknath family had 500 acres of land in the Jalandhar region of Punjab. According to the Punjab Security and Land Tenures Act, the government decided that each brother could maintain 30 acres of land, with some acres going to tenants and the remaining ones regarded as surplus. As a result of the Golaknath family’s legal conflict, the matter was ultimately sent to the Supreme Court in 1965. The family brought a lawsuit under Article 32 of the Constitution[3] to challenge the Punjab Act of 1953, which they said violated their constitutional rights to equality under Article 14[4] the ability to purchase and own property, and the freedom to engage in any profession under Article 19(f)[5] and (g)[6]. They demanded that the seventeenth amendment, which placed the Punjab Act in the ninth schedule and proclaimed it to be “beyond the powers,” be ruled unconstitutional. As a result of the court’s ruling in the case, the doctrine of basic structure has become a topic of legal dispute.

ISSUE OF THE CASE

  1. Whether an amendment qualifies as a law under Article 13(2).[7]
  2. Whether or not the fundamental rights can be changed?

ANALYSIS

Fundamental rights are basic rights of humans that are guaranteed to all Indian citizens by the Indian Constitution. Petitioner claimed that the parliament could not amend or repeal Part III of the constitution’s fundamental rights. These are the constitution’s basic rights; without them, the country would be like a body without a soul. The Indian constitution outlines a method for modifying the constitution in Article 368,[8] but it does not give the parliament the power to do so. The petitioner also stated that the term “amendment” implies that changes are made in conformity with changing circumstances and basic structure, rather than being a completely new notion.

According to the respondent, the amendment is the result of the exercise of sovereign authority rather than the legislative powers utilized by parliament to pass new laws. He added that all provisions are equal and significant and that there is no such thing as a fundamental or non-basic structure. Our founding fathers provided a mechanism for change because they did not want the Constitution to be inflexible. This primarily serves to allow the Constitution to change to reflect shifting social mores and political climates. It ought to guarantee the smooth operation of the nation. The respondent claimed that the constitution would become restrictive if the amendment did not include any provisions.

JUDGEMENT

Former Chief Justice Subba Rao, Justice K.N. Wanchoo, Justice M. Hidayatullah, Justice J.C. Shah, Justice S.M. Sikri, Justice R.S. Bachawat, Justice V. Ramaswami, Justice J.M. Shelat, Justice Vihishtha Bhargava, Justice G.K. Mitter, and Justice C.A. Vaidiyalingam are the judges who sat on one of the largest constitutional benches.

The Petitioners won the majority of the votes. Sajjan Singh v State of Rajasthan [9]and Shankari Prasad v Union of India[10] were overruled by the majority. They did so because they were sceptical of these decisions becoming precedents, and they were concerned that if continual modifications continued, fundamental rights would be undermined and weakened. They used the doctrine of Prospective Overruling to overrule these decisions.

The SC had already supported the Parliament’s amending power before the Golaknath v. State of Punjab decision. However, Golaknath’s case can be seen as a landmark judgement concerning the procedure. The SC has ruled that fundamental rights cannot be changed by the Parliament. The majority considered the Article 368 of the Constitution[11] a marginal note, claiming it merely specifies a mechanism for amendment and that, as a result, Article 368 cannot be interpreted as conferring absolute power on the parliament to modify it.

The more strength claimed that the amendment power of Parliament was provided under Article 248 of the Constitution,[12] which also provided the legislature with residuary powers. Furthermore, the majority decided that the definition in Article 13’s[13] is inclusive rather than exhaustive.

Furthermore, the court ruled that fundamental rights are not exempt from change, allowing parliament to modify any portion of the Indian Constitution. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court overruled the lower court’s decision. Fundamental rights were upheld in Golaknath’s case, and the court found that parliament lacked the power to change the Fundamental Rights established in Part III of the Indian Constitution. Even though it is the responsibility of parliament to uphold the directive principles of state policy, the Apex Court held that it cannot do so by amending Fundamental Rights.

OBITER DICTA

Although the Supreme Court ruled that constitutional changes that violated Article 13[14] requirements were null and unconstitutional, the old norm was used in this case. The Punjab Security and Land Tenures Act is still in effect. According to the idea of prospective overruling, the court is required to proclaim a “new and better” rule in place of an outdated, unscientific, or rejected rule. The doctrine also specifies that the new rule will not affect any previous court decisions. This is precisely why, despite the ruling, the 1953 Act was upheld.

If the decision in the Sajjan Singh case becomes the sole rule, the greater portion of the bench believes, the fundamental rights adopted by our founding members of the constituent assembly would be amended through a series of amendments in the not-too-distant future.

In light of the dilemma of such a hasty adjustment to Part III, and fearing that if it persists, the status of Democratic India will be transformed into an authoritarian one.

CONCLUSION

Fundamental rights are among the most important things that people of every nation must have to feel secure and at ease whenever they encounter difficulties that can threaten their liberty. However, these rights must be changed to meet changing societal needs, and our constitution-makers recognized this and included a mechanism to amend these rights regularly. Additionally, these rules help to increase the nation’s current government’s power and influence. The constitution’s framers inserted this amendment clause as a safeguard on this.

Author(s) Name: Majjari Pavani (Alliance School of Law, Alliance University)

References:

[1] I.C. Golaknath & Ors. v State of Punjab (1967) AIR 1643

[2]  Kesavananda Bharati v Union of India (1973) 4 SCC 225

[3] Constitution of India 1950, art. 32

[4] Constitution of India 1950, art. 14

[5] Constitution of India 1950, art. 19 (f)

[6] Constitution of India 1950, art. 19(g)

[7] Constitution of India 1950, art. 13(2)

[8] Constitution of India 1950, art. 368

[9] Sajjan Singh v State of Rajasthan (1965) AIR 845

[10] Shankari Prasad v Union of India (1951) AIR 458

[11] Constitution of India 1950, art. 368

[12] Constitution of India 1950, art. 248

[13] Constitution of India 1950, art. 13

[14] Ibid