‘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:
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.