The ‘basic structure of the Indian Constitution’ has been one the most debated topic in the history of Independent India despite of having no explicit mention of it in the Indian Constitution. The conflict between the provisions of Article 13 and Article 368 of the Indian Constitution, ignited a spark for debate around whether fundamental rights could be amended. This played a significant role in facilitating the judiciary interpret that ‘the basic structure of the constitution cannot be altered’. This was characterized by a tussle between the Judiciary and Legislature. Since the term ‘basic structure’ has not been explicitly mentioned in the Indian Constitution, understanding the basic structure would not have been possible without landmark cases like Shankari Prasad v. Union of India[i] (hereinafter referred to as “Shankari Prasad’s Case”), Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan[ii] (hereinafter referred to as “Sajjan Singh’s Case”), I. C. Golaknath v. State of Punjab[iii] (hereinafter referred to as “Golaknath’s Case”) and Kesavananda Bharti v. the State of Kerela[iv] (hereinafter referred to as “Kesavanada Bharti’s Case”). The Doctrine of Basic Structure was further reiterated by the Supreme Court of India in several judgements including controversial landmark cases like Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain[v] (hereinafter referred to as “Indira Gandhi’s Case”), Minerva Mills v. Union of India[vi] (hereinafter referred to as “Minerva Mills Case”), Waman Rao v. Union of India[vii], etc.
Background of Minerva Mills v Union of India (Minerva Mills Case)
The question of whether Fundamental Rights can be amended and the adjoining conflict between Article 13 (2) and Article 368 of the Indian Constitution fueled a decades long conflict between the two organs of the State. For the first time, the question of whether or not the word ‘law’, as used in Article 13 (2) would include amendments and if Fundamental Rights are amendable in accordance with Article 368 was raised in Shankari Prasad’s case. The court was of the opinion that ‘law’ did not mean amendment and that Article 368 granted the power to amend the constitution including fundamental rights. This decision was further upheld in Sajjan Singh’s case where it was determined that no part of the constitution is unamendable by passing an Amendment Act in accordance with Article 368.
Things took a turn in Golaknath’s Case. In this case, the previous judgements were overruled, it was held that Fundamental Rights as given in the Constitution of India are unamendable when they abridge or violate any of those rights. It was also cleared that a Constitution Amendment Act would be regarded as a ‘law’ that would come under the ambit of Article 13 (2). It was also stated that the amending power was a legislative power which was conferred by Article 245. The decision in Golaknath’s Case was not welcomed by the Parliament. In response, the Parliament passed the Constitution (Twenty Fourth Amendment) Act, 1971. This highlighted certain changes in Article 13 and Article 368, which would further facilitate the Parliament in strengthening their power to amend the Fundamental Rights which was strictly denied in Golaknath’s Case. Consequently, in Kesavanand Bharti’s Case, this Amendment was brought into question. Although the Apex Court upheld the Constitution Amendment, it was held that the Parliament could amend any provision of the Constitution provided they do not alter the basic structure or framework of the Constitution. This gave impetus to the Doctrine of Basic Structure.
After the judgement rendered in Kesavananda Bharti’s case, the nation witnessed yet another controversial case i.e., Indira Gandhi’s Case that ‘challenged’ the interference of the Judiciary in election disputes. As a befitting response to the judgement of the Allahabad High Court in Indira Gandhi’s Case, the Constitution (Thirty Nine Amendment) Act, 1975 was enacted. This restricted the power of the Apex Court of the Country from involving in election disputes involving, among others, the Prime Minister and the Speaker. This was sheer disregard to the ‘judicial review’ powers of the Judiciary by curtailing them in certain matters. The Supreme Court held that it hindered the concept of a ‘free and fair election’, gave State despotic powers and was an attack on the basic structure of the constitution as it aimed at infringing the concept of free and fair elections. The doctrine of basic structure was once again reiterated in Minerva Mills case. The present Article discusses the aforementioned case at length.
Facts of Minerva Mills Case
Minerva Mills was a textile company in Karnataka. In the year 1970, the Central Government, under section 15 of the Industries (Development & Regulation) Act, 1951 (herein after referred to as the “Industries Act”), appointed a committee to carry out an investigation into the Company as it had seen a significant downfall in its production. Section 18A of the Industries Act that mandated the National Textile Corporation Ltd., to take over the management of the company on the ground of mismanagement of the company affairs and the same was cited by passing an order under the aforementioned section. This move facilitated the nationalisation of the company and the company was taken over in accordance with the necessary provisions of Sick Textile Undertakings (Nationalisation) Act, 1974 (hereinafter referred as the Sick Textile Act) by the Central Government.
Subsequently, this take over was challenged in the High Court, but the petition was dismissed. This was later challenged in the Supreme Court of India by filing a Writ Petition under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution.
Issues Raised in Minerva Mills v Union of India (Minerva Mills Case)
Although several issues were raised in the Apex Court, the primary question raised in this landmark case was whether the amendments introduced by Sections 4 and 55 of the 42nd Constitution Amendment Act destroy the basic structure of the Indian Constitution. Furthermore, the constitutionality of the Six Textile Act along with whether or not the Directive Principles of State policy (hereinafter referred to as “DPSP”) supersede the Fundamental Rights were also challenged.
Arguments Advanced On Behalf of the Petitioner
The Learned Counsel for the Petitioner, Mr. Nani Palkhiwala staunchly argued that certain sections of the 42nd Amendment, specifically section 4 and section 55 were in contravention of the Indian Constitution as they were a direct attack on the basic structure of the constitution. It was because of the insertion of clause (4) and clause (5) to Article 368 by section 55 of the 42nd Amendment Act that the Parliament gained undefied power to amend the constitution and restrict the Judiciary’s power of Judicial Review. Furthermore, Article 31 C which provided a shield over DPSP was challenged in court for abrogating fundamental rights (Article 14 and Article 19). The Learned Counsel for the Petitioner persistently argued that the 42nd Amendment Act made it possible for DPSP to overpower Fundamental Rights.
This would ultimately obliterate the basic structure that was mentioned by the Apex Court in Kesavananda Bharti’s Case. In the view of the Learned Counsel, DPSP and Fundamental Rights could coexist without destroying or infringing either of the provisions enshrined in Part III or Part IV of the Indian Constitution. The Learned Counsel also laid emphasis upon justice, liberty and equality as enshrined in the Preamble.
Arguments Advanced On Behalf of the Respondent
The Learned Attorney General persistently argued about the importance of the State to take steps for promoting welfare. The Learned Attorney General along with the Learned Solicitor General argued that Article 31 C must be read down. The Learned Attorney General contended that the laws made in the interest of the public, were far from destroying the basis structure of the Constitution. In order to substantiate this argument, the learned Attorney General emphasized on Article 38 of the Indian Constitution and further argued that a law in compliance with Article 38 could not be said to have abrogated the Fundamental Rights or destroying the basic structure, as the structure is founded on justice, social, political and economic principles and Article 38 enumerates upon the same.
Decision of the Court in Minerva Mills Case
The court condemned the newly added clauses to Article 368. In the opinion of the Supreme Court, they were unconstitutional and vested a limitless amending power with the Parliament. This would be a clear attack on democracy. In the Apex Court’s view, the Parliament must refrain from expanding its amending power to the point where it would ultimately abrogate the Indian Constitution or its basic features. The court severely condemned clause 4 and clause 5 of Article 368. While one of the clauses tampered with the amending power of the Parliament, the other limited the power of judicial review. These clauses sought to render indefinite power in the hands of the Parliament and at the same time restricted the scope and power of Judicial Review that vests with the Judiciary, which if permitted, would result in grave misuse of power, ultimately undermining the basic structure of the Indian Constitution. The court firmly condemned clause (4) and (5) of Article 368 and declared them unconstitutional.
Furthermore, the Apex Court did not fail in its attempt to abhor section 55 and section 4 of the 42nd Amendment Act. The Supreme Court held section 4 as well as section 55 of the 42nd Amendment Act to be unconstitutional as they imposed a grave threat on the basic structure of the Indian Constitution. Further, the Apex Court placed reliance on the significance and necessity of the Golden Triangle i.e Article 14, Article 19 and Article 21 and condemned Article 31 C as it robbed the two sides of this triangle.
Analysis of the Minerva Mills Case Judgement
Minerva Mills case may be regarded as one of the most remarkable cases in the history of Independent India. Through this case, the Supreme court ensured a balance between DPSP and Fundamental Rights. Notwithstanding that, the Supreme Court of India depicted valour while declaring clause (4) and clause (5) of Article 368 ultra vires the Indian Constitution. Furthermore, section 4 and section 55 of the 42nd Amendment were a storm of clouds over the Indian Constitution which would result in nothing less than the obliteration of the Doctrine of Basic Structure. Hence, it became extremely pertinent to prevent further abuse of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution and scrape the destructive provisions, declaring them unconstitutional. The considerable efforts depicted by Apex Court as well as the Learned Counsel for the Petitioner in safeguarding the basic structure of the Constitution were laudable.
The Doctrine of Basic Structure was effectively reiterated in Minerva Mills Case. This case helped in setting a precedent for future cases involving similar constitutional issues. The points of law raised could be regarded as extremely important in taking the Constitution where it is today. The Supreme Court emerged victorious in this indirect battle against the Parliament and helped safeguard the basic features of the Indian Constitution. This case helped in preventing any future attacks on the Fundamental Rights. The judgement of the Court in Minerva Mills Case truly helped in restoring the Golden Triangle. The case immensely helped in emphasizing the importance of striking a balance between Part III and Part IV that include Fundamental Rights and DPSP respectively. Although this was not the only case where basic structure of the Constitution was given predominance, but it would certainly be regarded as one of the first cases that truly helped in interpreting and protecting the Doctrine of Basic Structure as propounded in Kesavananda Bharti’s Case.
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[i] Shankari Prasad v. Union of India, A.I.R. 1951 S.C. 458
[ii] Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan, A.I.R. 1965 S.C. 845
[iii] I.C. Golak Nath v. State of Punjab, A.I.R. 1967, S.C. 1643
[iv] Kesavanand Bharti v. State of Kerala, A.I.R. 1973 S.C. 1461
[v] Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain, AIR 1975 S.C. 2299
[vi] Minerva Mill Ltd. v. Union of India, (1980) 3 SCC, 625
[vii] Waman Rao v. Union of India, (1981) 2 SCC 362