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Keshavananda Bharti v Union Of India

Keshavananda Bharti v Union Of India

By Shiralee Kinariwala


India got its independence in 1947 and we were free from British rule. So at that time, the government of India started implementing agrarian reforms which are defined under part IV of the Indian constitution which consist of a directive principle of state policy. The government mainly thought of welfare state, equal justice to each and every individual, establishment of the village panchayat, and also the equal distribution of income among the people without any discrimination and also the implementation of the uniform civil code in India. 

At that time there was also the zamindari system which was practiced in India and out of which the right to property was made our fundamental right so that there should not be any ceiling and interference in the use of the property of any person. Each and every person was free to acquire any property and can also profess any profession whichever they want to, nobody can interfere in this. Several acts were also made of the zamindari system in our country. So after that, the property owners went to the court that these acts of zamindari system are violating the fundamental right to the Supreme Court struck down the acts of zamindari system and declared all those acts null and void.

After this, in 1951 the first amendment took place in our country which added 9th schedule in our Indian constitution under which article 31B was made invalidation of certain acts and regulations. The amendment which took place mainly made ninth schedule a powerful instrument because no one can raise the question on the elements of ninth schedule. And none of the acts which were added in the ninth schedule cannot be challenged on the ground that they violate our fundamental rights.

The first amendment was also challenged in two cases namely Shankari Prasad Singh Deo V. Union of India (1952) And Sajjan Singh V State of Rajasthan (1955). In this, it was brought that parliament can amend our fundamental rights and also the distinction was also made between legislative powers and also the constituent powers held in article 13 did not include an amendment of Indian constitution made in the exercise of constituent powers and fundamental rights were not outside the scope of amending power. As this was the time of Indira Gandhi in our country this conflict between the parliament and the government as she wanted to bring one party rule.

And before keshavnanda Bharti case there was one of the most landmark cases was also held namely the Golaknath V. State Of Punjab. In this case, petitioners were the golaknath and his brothers who own 500 acres of property in Jalandhar and there were few workers working on that property who do not have anything. So under the Punjab security and land tenure act 1953, the state government told them that they could only keep 20 acres of the land and the rest of the land will be declared as the surplus land and that surplus land will be distributed among the labors who were working on that land. So this was very injustice to them.

So golaknath and his brothers challenged this in the court of law by saying this that their constitutional right of right to acquire property and to profess any profession on that land and also the right to equality and equality before the law is also there. So that is why the right cannot be infringed. So in this case, 11 judge bench was there and the supreme court gave the decision in the ratio of  6:5 and gave the judgment that supreme court has no power to amend part III of our Indian constitution and overruled its decision of Shankari Prasad and the Sajjan Singh case. And it also consists that the amending, as well as the legislative powers, are the same. If any amendment is made by the parliament then it will be treated as the law and it should be within the scope of article 13 of the Indian constitution. So from this case, the fundamental right was also given sacrosanct and transcendental position in Indian constitution and parliament has no such power to amend the Indian constitution.

After the judgment of golaknath case, there was a cold war between the supreme court and the parliament. As government started bringing new social engineering policies and were implementing them for the development but the supreme court used to strike all the amendment which were made by the parliament. There were many amendments which took places such as 24th, 25th, and 26th amendment which took place so after that there was the keshavannda case which saved the democracy of our country.


Keshavnanda Bharti was the plaintiff in this case. He was in a religious mutt in Kerala named “editor mutt”. In 1970, he took an objection to attempt of the government to acquire his property of the mutt under Kerala land reforms acts 1963, land belonging to the mutt. He filled a writ petition seeking to protect the fundamental rights of the religious institutions to manage their own property without undue restriction by the state. The validity of these amendments was challenged before the constitution bench comprising of five judges which were replaced by thirteen bench judge which heard a case for six months in supreme court.


1. Whether the amendment which took place in article 368 are applicable to the fundamental rights or not?

2. Whether the 24th amendment is valid or not?

3. Whether 31C of the Indian constitution is valid or not?

4. What is the constitution of “basic structure of Indian constitution”?


In this case, the validity of 25th, 24th and 29th amendment was challenged. The court by the majority overruled the judgment of golaknath case which denied the parliament’s power to amend fundamental right of the Indian citizens. The majority held that article 368 even before the 24th amendment contained the power as well as the procedure for amendment. The supreme court declared that article 368 did not enable the parliament to alter the basic structure of the Indian constitution and the parliament could not use its amending power under 368 to ‘damage’, ‘destroy’, or ‘alter’ the basic structure or the framework of the Indian constitution. Though there is no such place in the Indian constitution which stated the constitution of the basic structure at the time of the judgment of this case there were certain points which were stated by our Indian constitution which will include into the basic structure.


Keshavnanda case overruled the golaknath case. The judgment of this case tells us that before the right to property was considered as the part of the basic structure but by the 44th amendment it was deleted from the ambit of the basic structure of Indian constitution. The supremacy of the Indian constitution was also recognized. Judicial review cannot be stopped by any provision. As a reaction, to this judgment, Indira Gandhi elevated A.N. R.y to CJI and during an emergency he set up a bench to review of keshavnanda case and he was also one among the thirteen bench judgment which is known as the largest bench till now.


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