Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru and Ors v. State of Keralaand Anr.

Case Citation: AIR 1973 SUPREME COURT 1461; 1973 4 SCC 225.

Date of Judgment: 24 April 1973

Court: Supreme Court of India

CASE NO.: Writ Petition (Civil) No. 135 of 1970

Parties to Suit

  • Petitioner: Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru and Ors.
  • Respondent: State of Kerala and Anr.

Bench: S.M. Sikri, A.N. Grover, A.N. Ray, D.G. Palekar, H.R. Khanna, J.M. Shelat, K.K. Mathew, K.S. Hegde, M.H. Beg, P. Jaganmohan Reddy, S.N. Dwivedi, Y. V. Chandrachud


Kesavananda Bharati commonly known as “Fundamental Rights Case” was a watershed moment in India’s political history, an important struggle between the Judiciary and the Government. This case of many changes resulting from the controversy took questioning the integrity of the several amendments of the constitution, especially 24[1], 25[2] and 29[3], which sought to curtail Judicial Power and Fundamental Civil Rights. It raised a fundamental question: Whether the power to amend the Constitution extended without limit; or is it limited by discernible constraints?

It was answered by Supreme Court in this case judgement dated April 24, 1973, which covered all legal issues. A rare bench of thirteen judges headed by Chief Justice S.M. Sikri, Justice J.M. Shelat, K.S. Hegde, A.N., eds. Ray, who was called in to consider this important matter. This formidable bench highlighted the complexity of constitutional questions being discussed with knowledge and perspectives. After six months of deliberation, the court issued a historic decision, albeit by a slim 7:6 majority. The decision mirrored the special provision doctrine, a statutory doctrine that construes substantial portions of the Constitution as beyond constitutional amendment. These sacred principles include Democracy, Secularism, National Unity and The Rule Of Law. Moreover, the Court emphasized the importance of judicial review as an integral part of the Constitution’s basic structure, which is not beyond the reach of the legislature.

The significance of Kesavananda Bharati’s case goes beyond its immediate legal implications. It represents a strong emphasis on the role of the judiciary as guardian of constitutional principles, it provides a bulwark against the arbitrary exercise of legislative power. Indeed, the legacy of Kesavananda Bharati’s case resonates in the corridors of Indian legal history, emerging a new era of constitutional interpretation characterized by a delicate balance of constitutional sovereignty and individual liberties. Its lasting impact underscores its rightful place as a cornerstone in the development of Indian legal knowledge, and guides the country’s constitutional journey towards a fairer and more equitable future.

Key Facts

The Kesavananda Bharati case occupies a prominent place in India’s constitutional history. The case emerged to the very period of land reforms in Kerala in the 1950s and 1960s. Among those affected was Edneermut led by Sri Kesavananda Bharati, who took up legal challenges to land ownership restrictions imposed by the Kerala Land Reform Act of 1963[4]. Initially, the case faced with negative decisions, but the issue became more important with the introduction of constitutional amendments[5] that sought to redefine the contours of Judicial Review and Curtail Certain Fundamental Rights.

Finally, the landmark Kesavananda Bharati judgment of the Supreme Court stands as a bastion in support of the principle of original design. Insisting that basic constitutional principles cannot be violated, the judges firmly limited the power of Parliament to amend the Constitution arbitrarily. The tireless advocacy of Shri Kesavananda Bharati has not only secured his place in the circle of Indian constitutional luminaries but has also left an indelible imprint on the democratic character of the country. Within the complex fabric of Indian democratic governance, three branches of government[6] operate independently, each defined to perform specific functions. Although legislature and executive cooperate closely in areas of policy formulation and implemented though deliberately withheld by the judiciary, entrusted with the serious responsibility of interpreting law and the administration of justice. After the turn of the decade, the case of Kesavananda Bharati was a struggle a portrait of the important struggle between the legislative and judicial arms of the country, culminating in a watershed decision that clarified the powers and privileges of each branch.

The unprecedented pronouncement of the Supreme Court, after nearly five months of deliberations, not only safeguarded the sanctity and unity of the Constitution of India, but also upheld the Fundamental Principle as a sacred principle of governance role at all levels of the judiciary. This landmark decision had been preceded by a series of subsequent settlements of legal disputes, notably the former concerning fundamental property rights, and subsequent constitutional measures aimed at judicial evasion research through constitutional amendments.

Landmark Cases (Background)

The principle of basic structure emerged from the following landmark cases:

  1. Shankari Prasad v. Union of India[7]

Date of decision: 26 April 1951 [Supreme Court of India].

The main issue, in this landmark case, is the constitutional validity of the First Amendment[8], particularly its impact on fundamental rights. The Supreme Court decision confirmed the power of Parliament to amend the Constitution, including the fundamental rights provisions under Article 368[9]. In dismissing the petition, the Court set a precedent that constitutional amendments are not subject to judicial review, and emphasized the supremacy of the legislature. This decision not only endorsed the principle of parliamentary sovereignty but also facilitated the legislative establishment of land reform and other socio-economic reforms by clearly internalizing the limitations of Article 13[10] legislation does not extend to constitutional amendment before inclusion of Articles 31(a)[11] and 31(b)[12] Thus, Shankari Prasad v. Union of India set an important example of the balance of power between the judiciary and the legislature in amending the Constitution of India, laying the foundation for development after constitutional law.

  1. Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan[13]

Date of decision: 31 October 1964 [Supreme Court of India].

This case dealt with the constitutional validity of the 17th Amendment[14] and its fundamental rights implications. Despite differences of opinion among the judges, the Supreme Court referred to the precedent set in Shankari Prasad and upheld the power of Parliament to make substantial amendments in Article 368[15]. By the appellant no the argument denying and affirming that Parliament has the right to amend any part of the Constitution including fundamental rights, Court reinforced the principle of constitutional supremacy It has been shown, amendment a was made in parliament in parliament by the court decision in the state of Rajasthan against Sajjan Singh The principle of exclusive jurisdiction was reaffirmed, further complicating the Indian constitutional system.

  1. Golaknath v. State of Punjab[16]

Date of decision: 27 February 1967 [Supreme Court of India].

 This landmark case brought to the fore the question of the power of Parliament to amend fundamental rights, challenging traditional interpretations of Article 368[17]. A majority of the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament has no power to amend Part III of the Constitution. This landmark decision differed from the earlier decisions, reversing the precedent set in Shankari Prasad v. Union of India and Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan, emphasizing the immutability of some fundamental principles of the Constitution, the court introduced the notion of original design principle by emphasizing the importance of creating fundamental elements of the Constitution banned from arbitrary change and shaped the emphasis of subsequent editions.

  1. Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narayan[18]

Date of decision: 7 November 1975 [Supreme Court of India].

In this case, the Supreme Court struck down a provision of the 39th Amendment Act[19] which excluded electoral disputes involving the Chief Minister and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha from judicial scrutiny. The amendments introduced during the Emergency were a response to the Allahabad High Court judgment against Indira Gandhi. The Supreme Court ruled that the scheme violates fundamental provisions of the Constitution, particularly the principles of free and fair elections and judicial review, Justice Y.V. Chandrachud stressed that holding these top politicians under the law violates constitutional equality and democracy. This decision reinforced the independence of the judiciary and the limitations on the power of Parliament to amend the Constitution.

  1. Minerva Mills v. Union of India[20]

Date of decision: 31st July 1980 [Supreme Court of India].

In this case, the Supreme Court dealt with 42nd Amendment Act[21], which gave priority to guiding principles over fundamental rights and restricted judicial review. The court held that the balance of fundamental rights and guiding principles formed part of the basic structure of the Constitution. Justice P.N. His Lordship emphasized that this balance is crucial for the promotion of justice, freedom and equality. The judgment nullified the arguments that suspended judicial review and emphasized that the amendment should not undermine the fundamental principles of the Constitution. The case reinforced fundamental policy principles and the central role of judicial review in protecting constitutional rights.

Key Legal Issues:

The Kesavananda Bharati case centered on several critical legal issues:

  • Whether the Constitutional Amendment can be applied to fundamental rights as per Article 368[22] of the Constitution?
  • Whether the 24th Constitutional (Amendment) Act[23], 1971, is constitutionally valid or not?
  • Whether the 25th Constitutional (Amendment) Act[24], 1972, is constitutionally valid or not?
  • Whether the 29th Constitutional (Amendment) Act[25] is valid, and to what extent can Parliament exercise its power to amend the Constitution?

Contentions by Parties

The arguments advanced by each party in the case of Kesavananda Bharati are:-

Petitioner (Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru and Ors):

Kesavananda Bharati, the petitioner, presented a compelling argument focusing on the concept of the fundamental provision of the Constitution. It is argued that some basic principles like Democracy, Secularism, Federalism And Rule Of Law form the basis of Indian constitutional system These principles are not just statutory provisions but were inherent in the very essence of the Constitution. Kesavananda Bharati argued that giving Parliament unlimited power to amend these basic principles could change the fundamental nature of the Constitution itself. They highlighted the dangers of unlimited legislative power and emphasized the need for judicial oversight to ensure that the amendment did not violate the basic structure of the Constitution. Kesavananda Bharati’s argument was based on the view that the Constitution is not merely a document to be amended at will but a solemn agreement embodying the aspirations and values ​​of the Indian people, which must be preserved from arbitrary alteration.

Respondent (State of Kerala and Anr.):

The State of Kerala, representing the interests of the government, vigorously defended the entire power of Parliament to amend the Constitution. It was argued that the framers of the Constitution deliberately conferred the power of amendment on the Parliament by Article 368[26]. According to Kerala, this conferment of power was intended to be absolute and unlimited, based on policy only on the requirements specified in Constitution. It was argued that any attempt to limit the flexibility of Parliament would undermine the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, the bedrock of India’s democratic system Kerala emphasized the need for a flexible and flexible constitution that could change highlighting the changing needs of society.

Interveners (Various States):

The defendants, including several states, intervened in pursuance of federal principles enshrined in the Constitution. They argued that national unity is an integral part of India’s constitutional system, which is necessary to maintain unity in various fields. The interventionists argued that encroachment on the powers of the states or the federal system would upset the delicate balance of power established by the framers of the Constitution. They emphasized the importance of preserving the autonomy of the states to govern their areas and recommended a joint coordination between the Centre and the States for the development of the country. The interveners asserted that while Parliament has the power to amend the Constitution, this power must be exercised with due regard to the principles of the state to prevent the departure of power everywhere and to protect the interests of the nations.

Attorney General:

Representing the Union of India, the Attorney-General adopted nuanced positions on the superiority of the legislative power to amend and the inherent limitations to avoid making amendments by radically amending and on the basic elements. They emphasized the need for a balance between parliamentary authority and constitutional principles, and advocated a correct approach to constitutional amendment that preserves the integrity of the Constitution and allows for amendment if it is necessary to meet the evolving needs of society. This position sought to reconcile the tension between parliamentary authority and parliamentary immunity, and promoted a practical understanding of the limits of power shifts while adhering to principles of democratic governance.

Judgment in Kesavananda Bharati vs. State of Kerala

The landmark judgment of the Supreme Court in Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala in, by a historic 7-6 majority on April 24, 1973, framed a grand interpretation of the amendment powers of the Constitution of India and laid down the principle of special provision. Sikri, writing for the majority, referred to the judgment of the Court, supporting the contention of the petitioner that the power of Parliament to amend the Constitution is not unlimited and unamendable and the basic structure. The decision began with an affirmation that the Constitution embodies the values ​​and aspirations of the nation and is the supreme law of the land. Chief Justice Sikri emphasized that while Parliament has the power to amend the Constitution under Article 368[27], this power is not absolute and cannot be exercised in such a way as to destroy or deprive its essential elements is void, but beyond the variable power of Congress.

Chief Justice Sikri laid down the principle of special provision that while Parliament can amend the Constitution against that special provision, however any amendment which seeks to destroy or alter the provisions of the Constitution will be deemed which is important to him as unconstitutional and invalid. This landmark decision established judicial review as the power of Parliament to review the amendment, ensuring that the amendments complied with the principles embodied in the basic structure of the Constitution. They also addressed the possibility of a judicial review of constitutional amendments. Chief Justice Sikri clarified that while the court could review the substance of the amendments for violation of the fundamental provision, it did not examine the wisdom or constitutional adequacy of the provisions. This distinction was necessary to preserve the separation of powers between the judiciary and the legislature by allowing the courts to preserve the integrity of the Constitution.

Furthermore, the supremacy of the Constitution and the role of the judiciary as a protector were reaffirmed. Chief Justice Sikri said the judiciary has a duty to uphold the Constitution and protect its duties and no organ of the state, including Parliament, can interfere with it. This assertion of judicial supremacy underscored the Court’s commitment to protect constitutional principles and ensure their perpetuity. Chief Justice Sikri, K.S. Hegde, B.K. Mukherjea, J.M. Shelat, A.N.; Grover, P. Jagmohan Reddy and H.R. Khanna concluded that the Constitution of India needed to be amended, but its basic provisions remained intact. Dissenting, A.N. Ray, D. (1999). G.S. Palekar, K. Matthew, M. H.S. Beg, S.N.; Dwivedi, Y.V.; Chandrachud, opposed giving Parliament unlimited powers of amendment. The Court fully recognized the constitutionality of the 24th Amendment but found portions of the 25th Amendment [28] intra vires and ultra vires. The judgment answered questions about the power of Parliament to amend the Constitution in the Golaknath case, which held that such power was limited by the Fundamental Principles. To summarize, the judgment in Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala. The State of Kerala case marked a watershed moment in the constitutional history of India. It established the principle of special order as a bulwark against arbitrary amendments, emphasized the role of the judiciary as interpreter and ultimate guardian of the Constitution, balanced parliamentary authority with legislature, and ensured that the Constitution could flourish while retaining its essential character.


The landmark judgment in Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru and Ors v. State of Kerala and Anr stands as a pivotal moment in India’s constitutional history, defining the scope and limits of Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution. Delivered by a 13-judge bench of the Supreme Court on April 24, 1973, this decision firmly established the doctrine of the “basic structure” of the Constitution, affirming that while Parliament has broad authority to amend the Constitution under Article 368, it cannot alter the Constitution’s fundamental framework.

Chief Justice S.M. Sikri and the majority opinion underscored that certain core principles—such as democracy, secularism, the rule of law, and the separation of powers—are integral to the Constitution and must remain inviolable. This principle ensures that the essence of the Constitution, embodying the nation’s values and aspirations, is preserved against any arbitrary legislative actions. The judgment emphasized the crucial role of judicial review in maintaining this balance, positioning the judiciary as the ultimate guardian of constitutional integrity.

The Kesavananda Bharati case not only reinforced the judiciary’s power to review and potentially invalidate amendments that threaten the basic structure but also highlighted the delicate equilibrium between parliamentary sovereignty and constitutional supremacy. By setting these boundaries, the Supreme Court ensured that the Constitution could evolve and adapt to changing societal needs while safeguarding its fundamental principles.

The enduring legacy of this case lies in its affirmation of constitutional resilience and its role in protecting the democratic ethos of India. The decision has had a profound impact on subsequent constitutional amendments and interpretations, solidifying the judiciary’s role in upholding the sanctity of the Constitution. As such, the Kesavananda Bharati judgment remains a cornerstone of Indian constitutional law, guiding the nation towards a future where the foundational values of its Constitution are preserved and respected.





[5] See Supra Note 1; See Supra Note 2; See Supra Note 3.


[7] [AIR 1951 SC 458]





[12] Ibid.

[13] [AIR 1965 SC 845]


[15] See Supra Note 9

[16][AIR 1967 SC 1643]

[17] See Supra Note 9

[18] [AIR 1975 SC 2299]


[20] [AIR 1980 SC 1789]


[22] See Supra Note 9

[23] See Supra Note 1

[24] See Supra Note 2

[25] See Supra Note 3

[26] See Supra Note 9

[27] See Supra Note 9

[28] See Supra Note 2



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