The Indian Constitution is considered the supreme law of the land. However, it has not been given this level of importance, even though it has been a topic of contention since the time of Indian Independence. This is because it has been updated according to the developments in Indian society through amendments. The legislature has been given this right through Article 368 of the Constitution. Under the ambit of this right, 104 amendments have been made to the Indian Constitution since 1951 until 2020. There have been several cases through which such amendments have been challenged by the public claiming that their Fundamental Rights have been breached. Most of these cases in the 20th century have led to the development of the Basic Structure Doctrine. This Doctrine refers to certain parts of the Indian Constitution that form its basic structure, the core or fundamental characteristics of the Indian Constitution. The cases of Shankari Prasad, Sajjan Singh, Golaknath and Kesavananda Bharati address the matter of whether the Fundamental Rights mentioned in Part III of the Constitution must be included in the Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution.
Historical Background of Sajjan Singh v State of Rajasthan
The First Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 1951 was challenged in the case of Shankari Prasad v. Union of India. This amendment added Articles 31-A and 31-B to the constitution thereby restricting an individual’s right to property. It was also stated that any law that was included under the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution would be immune to judicial review. The Shankari Prasad case challenged the amendment stating that the Fundamental Rights must not be allowed to be amended since they are a vital part of the Constitution. Eventually, the Supreme Court harmoniously interpreted Articles 13 and 368 to adjudge that the challenged amendment was constitutionally valid.
The Parliament then introduced the Seventeenth Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 1964 which further refined the amendments made through the first amendment to the Constitution. This amendment focused mainly on the changes to the right to property thereby defining the term ‘estate’ as used in Articles 31-A and 31-B. Therefore, the Sajjan Singh case challenged this judgment in the same year. In the backdrop of the Seventeenth Constitutional Amendment Act, 1964 the matter of whether fundamental rights could be amended or not was raised before the Supreme Court of India. Therefore, the substantial issue raised before the Apex Court was if the modification of fundamental rights amounted to amendment of the Constitution or rewriting of a section of the same, and if it would come within the ambit of Article 368 if it was concluded to be the latter. Thus, in order to adjudge on this matter in a judicial and just manner, the Doctrine of Pith and Substance was applied.
Appellant’s Contentions – Sajjan Singh Case
In the above-mentioned Sajjan Singh v State of Rajasthan case, the Appellant claimed the following:
- The powers under Article 368 were misused to overpower the rights given to the State judiciary through Article 226 of the Constitution, thereby violating the rules as per Article 368 as well.
- All laws relating to possession of “land” are matters included under the State List of the 7th However, the Union Legislature has dismissed the same by amending the fundamental right to property.
Ratio Decidendi of the Case
The Supreme Court disagreed with the Appellant’s argument that the 17th Amendment Act violates the rights of the High Courts provided under Article 226. In order to substantiate the same, the Supreme Court stated that the Union only intended to protect the State Acts on the said matter from judicial review thereby placing them in the Ninth Schedule through the Seventeenth Amendment Act.
Therefore, the Court finally stated that fundamental rights can be amended through constitutional amendments. The justification for the same stated that constitutional amendments do not fall within the ambit of the term “Law” as used in Article 13 of the Indian Constitution thereby making fundamental rights amendable through Article 368.
However, Justice M. Hidayatullah’s opinion in the said matter of Sajjan Singh gave rise to the arguments in future cases on the matter of the amendment of fundamental rights. This is because he stated that while he partially dissented to the opinions of the other judges. He did so by adjudging that while he agreed that the Seventeenth Amendment did not violate the State powers given under Article 226 of the Constitution, he also felt that the judgement on the differentiation made between constitutional amendments and law as defined under Article 13 must be reconsidered and included together in the said definition. In other words, he opinionated that constitutional amendments can also form a part of the law as defined under Article 13 of the Indian Constitution.
This becomes an important argument in future cases on the said matter as Article 13 refers to ‘law’ only with respect to Part III of the Constitution, which addresses the fundamental rights guaranteed to all citizens of the Indian Subcontinent.
After-effects of Sajjan Singh v State of Rajasthan Case
The dissenting opinion of Justice M. Hidayatullah compelled the judiciary and the lawmakers to reconsider the judgements passed in the cases of both, Shankari Prasad v Union of India and Sajjan Singh v State of Rajasthan. The said opinion formed grounds for the filing of future cases including Golaknath v. State of Punjab and the infamous Kesavananda Bharati Case. In 1973, through the Kesavananda Bharati Case, the Supreme Court of India finally adjudged that an individual’s Fundamental Rights and the Preamble form a part of the basic structure of the Constitution of India. This was the landmark judgement that gave rise to the famous Basic Structure Doctrine which helps determine the constitutional validity of all laws in force within the territory of India.
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