Golaknath vs. the State of Punjab


Golaknath v. State of Punjab is a pivotal case in Indian legal history that raised significant concerns regarding the authority of the Indian Parliament to amend the core rights enshrined in Part III of the Indian Constitution.

The petitioners contended that Parliament lacked the jurisdiction to alter fundamental rights, but the respondents presented opposing arguments. Despite the petitioners’ claims, the court ruled against the alteration of fundamental rights by Parliament.

However, the judgment of Golaknath v. State of Punjab was overturned in the landmark case of Kesavananda Bharati vs the Union of India in 1973. In this later case, the court reversed the earlier decision, establishing that Parliament indeed possessed the authority to amend the Constitution, including fundamental rights. Nevertheless, it was underscored that Parliament couldn’t tamper with the basic structure of the Constitution.

The ruling in Kesavananda Bharati reshaped the understanding of parliamentary powers, introducing the doctrine that while Parliament could amend the Constitution, including fundamental rights, it was bound to respect the foundational principles and structure of the Constitution. This nuanced approach ensured a delicate balance between legislative authority and constitutional integrity in India.


In the city of Jalandhar, Punjab, Henry and William Golaknath were proprietors of approximately 500 acres of farmland.

Under the newly implemented Punjab Security and Land Tenure Act, the Golaknath brothers were informed that they could only retain 30 acres of their land. The remaining portion of the land would be distributed among tenants, while the surplus would be appropriated by the government.

Disputing the actions of the Punjab government, the Golaknath family pursued legal recourse, ultimately leading to the case being adjudicated by the Supreme Court in 1965.


The petitioner’s main argument revolves around the notion of the Constitution’s permanence, as envisioned by the framers of the Indian Constitution. They assert that the Constitution, as crafted by the Constituent Assembly, should remain immutable and resistant to any attempts at modification or alteration.

According to the petitioner, the term “amendment” should be construed narrowly, indicating minor adjustments that align with the fundamental principles and framework of the Constitution. They argue against any interpretation that would allow for substantial deviations or the introduction of entirely new concepts.

Moreover, the petitioner emphasizes the inviolability of fundamental rights, which they argue are inherent and cannot be revoked or rescinded. These rights, enshrined in Part III of the Indian Constitution, are deemed sacrosanct and beyond the reach of governmental intervention or nullification.


In this case, the Supreme Court convened its largest bench in history at the time. The petitioners secured victory with a 6:5 ratio, indicating a majority decision in their favor. Justices J.C. Shah, S.M. Sikri, J.M. Shelat, and C.A. Vaidiyalingam authored the majority opinion, along with other justices.

However, Justice Hidayatullah presented a dissenting opinion in alignment with Chief Justice of India Subba Rao. Justices R.S. Bachawat and V. Ramaswami authored the majority opinion, while Justices K.N. Wanchoo, Vishistha Bhargava, and G.K. Mitter authored the minority opinion.

The majority’s stance in Golaknath reflects skepticism toward the legislature’s recent actions. Since 1950, Parliament has utilized Article 368 to enact laws that arguably infringe upon the core rights guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution.

The majority expressed apprehension that adherence to precedent, as seen in Sajjan Singh, might lead to alterations in the core rights established by the founding assembly. They anticipated a shift from democratic to authoritarian governance while underscoring the importance of preserving essential rights.

Consequently, the majority overturned the precedents set by Sajjan Singh and Shankari Prasad. Many who supported this decision believed that the government should not possess any authority enabling it to alter the Constitution.

The prevailing sentiment among those in agreement was that fundamental rights are integral to the Constitution, likening their absence to a “body without a soul.” This underscores the foundational importance of these rights in the constitutional framework.


Fundamental rights play a crucial role in fostering individual growth and autonomy, allowing individuals to shape their lives according to their own aspirations. Enshrined in our constitution, these rights extend to minorities and marginalized groups, ensuring their protection and inclusion in the democratic fabric of India.

While Parliament and state legislatures possess the authority to enact laws within their respective jurisdictions as per the Constitution, this authority is not absolute. The judiciary serves as the guardian of the Constitution, responsible for upholding its principles and assessing the constitutional validity of all laws.

The majority decision in Golaknath v. State of Punjab was commendable as it aimed to safeguard Indian democracy from potentially oppressive actions by the Parliament. However, while the majority’s apprehension regarding the risk of India sliding into dictatorship is valid, the question arises: why should this concern be confined solely to fundamental rights?

The precise scope of permissible amendments, and how they may alter the constitutional framework, remains a critical issue left unresolved by the Golaknath judgment. The tension between the need for flexibility in governance and the imperative to protect fundamental rights underscores the ongoing debate within Indian constitutional law.


The trial of Golaknath marked a significant turning point in Indian history, particularly during what is often referred to as the country’s “darkest decade.” The conclusion of the case occurred amidst a tumultuous period, characterized by authoritarian tendencies within the government.

The decision in Golaknath brought an end to the parliamentary dictatorship that had prevailed until then. The majority court expressed concerns about the potential weakening of the constitution if the decision had swung the other way. This ruling effectively curtailed the legislature’s ability to encroach upon citizens’ fundamental rights through legislation that exceeded its jurisdiction.

At the heart of the trial was the preservation of basic human rights, which were deemed inviolable and beyond the reach of any government. The Golaknath case underscored the principle that parliamentarians are subject to the law, reaffirming the supremacy of the “rule of law” within the Indian constitutional framework. This landmark decision upheld the foundational values of democracy and ensured that no branch of government could act with impunity at the expense of citizens’ rights and freedoms.

                                                                                                     WRITTEN BY: SRISTY DEY

                                                                                 INSTITUTION NAME: JIS UNIVERSITY

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