Question: Explain the concept of the ‘Doctrine of Basic Structure’ and its evolution, emphasising its crucial role in bolstering democracy. (250 words)
The basic structure doctrine is a common law legal doctrine that the constitution of a sovereign state has certain characteristics that cannot be erased by its legislature.
The evolution of the Doctrine of Basic Structure can be traced back to the early years of India’s independence when the judiciary was grappling with the issue of constitutional amendments. The Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution was considered unlimited, leading to concerns that it might undermine the core principles of the Constitution and threaten the democratic fabric of the nation. In the case of Golak Nath v. State of Punjab (1967), the Supreme Court held that the Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution did not extend to the Fundamental Rights enshrined in Part III of the Constitution.
However, it was in the Kesavananda Bharati case that the concept of the “basic structure” was explicitly formulated. In this case, the Supreme Court upheld the Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution but introduced the limitation that any amendment should not destroy or alter the basic structure. The court’s ruling defined the contours of the basic structure, which includes features like the supremacy of the Constitution, the rule of law, democratic principles, federalism, secularism, and the independence of the judiciary.
Role of the doctrine:
- Safeguarding Fundamental Rights: By preserving the basic structure, the doctrine ensures the protection of fundamental rights as enshrined in the Constitution. It prevents any arbitrary changes that may dilute the rights and liberties of citizens.
- Preserving Federalism: The basic structure includes the federal nature of the Constitution, ensuring the distribution of powers between the Centre and the States. This helps maintain the balance between the two levels of government, essential for a functioning democracy.
- Upholding Democratic Principles: The doctrine reinforces democratic principles such as parliamentary sovereignty, free and fair elections, and separation of powers, safeguarding the essence of democracy.
- Maintaining Judicial Independence: The basic structure includes the independence of the judiciary, ensuring that the courts can act as a check on executive and legislative excesses, and uphold the constitutional values.
- Preventing Tyranny of the Majority: The doctrine acts as a check against potential abuse of power by the ruling majority in Parliament, as it prohibits amendments that may threaten the democratic character of the Constitution.
The Doctrine of Basic Structure has played a pivotal role in protecting the core values and principles of the Indian Constitution, thereby strengthening democracy. By imposing limitations on the Parliament’s power to amend, the doctrine ensures that the Constitution remains a living document, adaptive to changing times while safeguarding its fundamental tenets. It empowers the judiciary to act as the guardian of the Constitution and ensures the continuity of India’s democratic ethos.