General Studies Paper 2 (Indian Polity & Constitution)
Question:- 114. The basic structure doctrine through the past 50 years has served as the most important tool to strengthen democracy and keep the spirit of Constitution alive. Explain. Answer in 250 words.
Nov 14, 2022



‘Doctrine of Basic Structure’ was propounded by the Indian Judiciary in 1973 in Keshavananda Bharati case to put a limitation on the amending powers of the Parliament so that the ‘basic structure of the basic law of the land’ cannot be amended in exercise of its ‘constituent power’ under the Constitution.



The word “Basic Structure” is not mentioned in Constitution, but is recognized by the judiciary. The idea that the Parliament cannot introduce laws that would amend the basic structure of the constitution evolved gradually over time and in many cases. The idea is to preserve the nature of Indian democracy and protect the rights and liberties of people.

It was the Kesavananda Bharati case that brought this doctrine into the limelight. It held that the “basic structure of the Indian Constitution could not be abrogated even by a constitutional amendment”. If the Supreme Court finds any law made by the Parliament inconsistent with the constitution, it has the power to declare that law to be invalid (Article 13 and 14). The judgement listed some basic structures of the constitution as:

Supremacy of the Constitution, Unity and sovereignty of India, Democratic and republican form of government, Federal character of the Constitution, Secular character of the Constitution, Separation of powers, Individual freedom.



Over time, many other features have also been added to this list of basic structural features. Some of them are:

  • -Rule of law- Waman Rao(1981), Sampath Kumar (1986), and Sambamurthy ( 1986) cases. Effective access to Justice- Central Coal Fields case(1980).
  • -Democracy, federalism, secularism – Bommai case (1994)
  • -Judicial review
  • -Parliamentary system
  • -Rule/ Doctrine of equality – M. Nagraj v. Union of India case (2006)
  • -Harmony and balance between the Fundamental Rights (Part III) and DPSPs (Part IV) – Minerva Mills case (1980)
  • -Free and fair elections- Kihoto Hollohon case (1992)
  • -Power of the Supreme Court of India under Articles 32, 136, 142 and 147
  • -Power of the High Court under Articles 226 and 227
  • -In I. R. Coelho v. State of Tamil Nadu (2007), the Supreme Court held that even though an Act is put in the Ninth Schedule by a Constitutional amendment, its provision would be open to attack on the ground that they destroy or damage the Basic Structure if the fundamental right or rights taken away or abrogated pertains or pertain to the Basic Structure.
  • -The doctrine of the basic structure helps to prevent legislative excesses, as was evident in the Emergence Era. This is required as a shield against an all-powerful parliament, which can resort to overuse of Article 368.
  • -Recently, the Supreme Court upheld the 103rd Constitutional Amendment Act, which had introduced a 10 per cent reservation for economically weaker sections (EWS) and announced that it wasn’t in opposition to the basic structure of Constitution. The court engaged with several large themes — the Constitution’s Equality Code made of Articles 15, 16, 17 and 18; the demands of substantive equality as against mere formal equality; the distinction between direct discrimination and compensatory discrimination/reparation; the balance between the imperatives of merit and efficiency on one side with the need for equity, justice, participation and representation on the other.



The basic structure doctrine grants the fine balance between flexibility and rigidity that should be present in the amending powers of any Constitution. Today there is no dispute regarding the existence of the doctrine, the only problem that arises time and again is the contents of the same. Certain contents have been reaffirmed again and again by the Courts whereas some of them are still in the process of deliberations.

Over the past 50 years of recognition of basic structure, the Supreme Court has not only been the interpreter of the Constitution and the arbiter of all amendments made by Parliament but, the protector and guarantor of rights of citizens according to the evolving needs of time. It certainly saved Indian democracy from degenerating into authoritarian regime.