The Indian Constitution stands as the supreme law of the nation, establishing a framework for governance, rights and justice. Within this intricate web of principles and precedents lies a legal doctrine known as the “Doctrine of Eclipse”. Despite its significant impact on constitutional law in India, this doctrine remains relatively unexplored.


This doctrine arises directly from Article 13(1)[1] of the Constitution, a part of fundamental rights which states, “All laws in force in the territory of India immediately before the commencement of this Constitution, in so far as they are inconsistent with the provisions of this Part, shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, be void”[2]. The word ‘doctrine’ refers to a rule or principle that is widely accepted in the legal field. In contrast, the word ‘eclipse’ is an occurrence where an object is overshadowed by another[3]. Hence the Doctrine of Eclipse is based on the principle that a law that violates fundamental rights is not nullity or void ab initio but becomes only unenforceable i.e., remains in a dying condition. It is over-shadowed or eclipsed by the fundamental rights and remains dormant, but it is not dead.


  • Pre-Constitutional Laws- These refer to laws existing before the Constitution came into force.
  • Conflict with Fundamental Rights- It involves pre-constitutional laws that violate fundamental rights.
  • Inoperativeness, Not Nullity- Such laws become temporarily inoperative but are not entirely nullified.
  • Automatic Activation- If there is an amendment to relevant fundamental rights in the future, the previously eclipsed law becomes operative again.


  1. In case of Keshavan Madhava Menon v. State of Bombay[4], the Supreme Court made a significant ruling regarding laws that were in force before the Indian Constitution came into effect. The key principle established was that if such a pre-constitutional law conflicted with a fundamental right, it didn’t automatically become entirely void or nullified. Instead, it became void only to the extent that it contradicted the fundamental right. This meant that the law remained applicable to situations and legal matters that had arisen before the Constitution’s enactment.

In essence, existing laws were not entirely removed from the legal system but remained in effect for past transactions and the execution of rights and duties that had accrued before the start of the Constitution.

The idea of eclipse effectively said that these contradictory laws were not declared permanently unlawful but were temporarily eclipsed by the fundamental rights they violated. If the basic right was later amended to remove the contradiction, the legislation would recover its legality and efficacy. In this way, courts used the Doctrine of Eclipse to ensure that laws that were formerly in conflict with basic rights might be resurrected and fully operational again.

  1. In the case of Bhikaji Narain v. State of Madhya Pradesh[5], a 1947 amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act permitted the Provincial Government to completely take over the road transport company. Initially, this was correct since basic rights did not exist at the time.

However, when the Indian Constitution was enacted, this amendment clashed with citizens’ fundamental right to engage in trade or commerce under Article 19(1)(g)[6]. As a result, the amendment became void under Article 13(1)[7]. To address this the Constitution was amended in 1951 to allow the State to run businesses to partial or complete exclusion.

Later, in 1955 another constitutional amendment clarified property rights under Article 31[8]. The 1947 amendment remained invalid owing to inconsistency until 1955 amendment.

The Supreme Court upheld the validity of the 1947 amendment and established the eclipse theory. This notion stated that after the Constitution was enacted, the amendment remained momentarily dormant in terms of citizens. The 1951 and 1955 amendments eliminated this inactivity, making the legislative legally operative again.


Article 13(1)[9] addresses pre-constitutional legislation, whereas Article 13(2) addresses post-constitutional laws, it states that the state cannot enact legislation that weakens or breaches the basic rights provided in Part III of the Constitution. If such a law is enacted it becomes void to the extent that it contravenes these fundamental rights[10].

  1. The Supreme Court distinguished between Clauses (1) and (2) of Article 13 of the Indian Constitution in the matter of Deep Chand v. State of U.P[11]. The Court’s decision clarified that under Clause (1), pre-constitutional legislation remained in effect unless it conflicted with the provisions of Part III (fundamental rights). In other words, these pre-constitutional laws remained valid for everything except their conflicts with fundamental rights.

However, when it came to Clause (2) of Article 13, the Court highlighted that it clearly forbade the state from enacting any post-constitutional statute that violates the requirement of Part III (fundamental rights). In such instances, the law would be declared null and invalid from the beginning. The Court emphasized that Clause (2) was unequivocal and went to the heart of the matter, essentially limiting the state’s capacity to make any law that infringed basic rights. Any law enacted in violation of this ban would be declared non-existent.

  1. The Supreme Court clarified in the case of State of Gujrat v. Sri Ambika Mills[12] that if a post-constitutional statute infringed people’s basic rights, it would be ruled void solely regarding those persons affected. Non-citizens could not claim that the legislation was completely null and invalid and did not apply to them since it violated some basic rights of citizens. The Court highlighted that the voidness of the law under Article 13 Clauses (1) and (2) applied solely to the degree of the contradiction or violation of the rights given by the Constitution.


The Doctrine of Eclipse, which is based on Article 13 of the Indian Constitution, is very important in Indian constitutional law. It determines the legality of legislation both before and after the adoption of the Constitution. It enables pre-existing laws to continue in the pre-constitutional era unless they contradict basic rights, giving a road to rebirth through amendments. Article 13(2) supports this notion in the post-constitutional setting by forbidding regulations that violate basic rights. Such laws, however, are only invalid to the degree of breach. Supreme Court decisions emphasize that voidness is context-dependent, preserving the balance between the rule of law and individual liberty. The Doctrine of Eclipse is an important instrument in safeguarding fundamental rights within India’s legal structure.

Author(s) Name: Aditya Shaw (Calcutta University, Kolkata)


[1] Constitution of India 1950, art 13(1)

[2] Ibid

[3] Shruti Gala, ‘Doctrine of Eclipse’ (Law Essential, 30 November 2021) < > accessed 27 September 2023

[4] Keshava Madhav Menon v State of Bombay AIR (1951) SC 128

[5] Bhikaji Narain v. State of M.P. AIR (1955) SC 781

[6] Constitution of India 1950, art 19(1)(g)

[7] Constitution of India 1950, art 13(1)

[8] Constitution of India 1950, art 31

[9] Constitution of India 1950, art 13(1)

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

[11] Deep Chand v. State of U.P. AIR (1959) SC 648

[12] State of Gujrat v. Sri Ambika Mills AIR (1974) SC 1300