Kesavananda Bharati v/s State of Kerala


The birth of the Kesavananda Bharati case can be traced back to the land reforms that were introduced in the Indian state of Kerala in the 1950s and 1960s. These reforms were intended at redistributing land from large landowners  to the landless and the poor. In 1963, the Kerala government passed the Kerala Land Reforms Act, which placed a limit on the  quantum of land that a person could hold. The Act  handed for the accession of  redundant land from the landowners and its distribution to the landless and the poor.   The Kesavananda Bharati case holds great  significance in Indian  indigenous history, with Sri Kesavananda Bharati  honored as a prominent figure in the defense of republic and the rule of law in India.


The Kesavananda Bharati case emerged against the backdrop of significant socio-political developments in India, particularly the Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963. This legislation, enacted by the Communist-led government of Kerala, sought to implement sweeping agrarian reforms aimed at redistributing land from large landowners to landless peasants. However, it also encroached upon the property rights of religious institutions, including the Edneer Mutt, leading to a constitutional challenge by Sri Kesavananda Bharati, the pontiff of the Edneer Mutt.


The Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963, was part of a broader agrarian reform movement in post-independence India, seeking to dismantle feudal structures and empower marginalized sections of society. However, the Act’s provisions pertaining to religious institutions triggered legal controversies, prompting Sri Kesavananda Bharati to challenge its constitutionality in the courts.


The Kesavananda Bharati case culminated in a marathon hearing before the Supreme Court, spanning over several months and involving exhaustive deliberations on constitutional law principles. In its landmark judgment delivered on April 24, 1973, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963, but, more significantly, articulated the doctrine of the basic structure. 

  In this case of Kesavananda Bharati v/ s State of Kerala, it was held by the Supreme Court that the Parliament has the right to modify the provision of the constitution but it shall not substitute the  basic structure of the Indian constitution. The majority bench held that the  basic structure of the constitution, meaning thereby the true  substance of the constitution, shall be changed by the Parliament under Article 368 of the constitution of India. therefore, the 24th Amendment Act was  fully upheld by the court and two  corridor of the 25th Correction were  set up ultra and intra-vires.   The Doctrine of Basic Structure  

According to the Doctrine of Basic Structure  , the Parliament has all the power to change the  basic structure of the constitution but keeping in mind that the  basic structure of the constitution shall not be amended in any case. It further states that, if the  basic structure of the constitution is amended, the true nature and  substance of the constitution will be lost and it’ll be left  languid. The term  basic structure wasn’t defined by the bench in this case rather it was left on the court to do the interpretation.  In the  corner case of Kesavananda Bharati v/s State of Kerala, the Supreme Court of India delivered a seminal judgment that delineated the  compass of administrative power to amend the Constitution while  securing its  introductory structure. The Court held that although Parliament possesses the authority to amend  indigenous  vittles under Composition 368, it can not alter the basic structure of the Indian Constitution.   The  majority of the  bench affirmed that the  basic structure of the Constitution, embodying its abecedarian principles and  morality, must remain  unassailable indeed in the face of  indigenous  emendations. Accordingly, while the Court upheld the validity of the 24th Amendment Act, it struck down certain  vittles of the 25th Amendment Act as ultra vires, conserving the core  substance of the Constitution.   The Doctrine of Basic Structure  surfaced as a guiding principle from this judgment. According to this doctrine, while Parliament retains the power to amend  colorful  vittles of the Constitution, it must admire the foundational principles that constitute the  introductory structure. The Court emphasized that any attempt to tamper with the  introductory structure would undermine the integrity and spirit of the Constitution, rendering it devoid of its true  substance.   Crucially, the term”  introductory structure” wasn’t explicitly defined by the Court, leaving room for interpretation in  posterior cases. The doctrine entrusted the bar with the responsibility to interpret and  guard the essential features of the Constitution from arbitrary  revision by legislative action.

The basic structure doctrine, as elucidated by the Supreme Court, posited that while the Parliament possessed the authority to amend the Constitution, such amendments could not violate or alter its basic structure. While refraining from providing an exhaustive list of basic structure elements, the Court identified key principles such as democracy, secularism, federalism, judicial review, and the separation of powers as integral components of the basic structure.


The Kesavananda Bharati case involved multiple parties, each presenting distinct arguments and perspectives before the court.

Petitioner’s Arguments (Kesavananda Bharati): Kesavananda Bharati, the petitioner and a prominent religious figure, contended that the Kerala Land Reforms Act infringed upon his fundamental right to property as guaranteed by the Constitution of India. He argued that the Act imposed unreasonable restrictions on landownership and violated his constitutional rights. Additionally, he challenged the notion of unlimited parliamentary power to amend the Constitution, asserting that certain fundamental features of the Constitution, including the right to property, were beyond the scope of amendment.

Respondent’s Arguments (State of Kerala): The State of Kerala, representing the government, defended the constitutionality of the Kerala Land Reforms Act. It argued that the Act constituted a reasonable restriction on the right to property and was enacted with the primary aim of promoting social justice and alleviating poverty. The State contended that the Act’s provisions were crucial for equitable land distribution and economic empowerment of marginalized sections of society. Moreover, it asserted that the Parliament possessed unrestricted authority to amend the Constitution, without inherent limitations on its power.

Intervenors’ Arguments: Various intervenors participated in the case, offering diverse perspectives on the contentious issues at hand. Some intervenors supported the State’s position, emphasizing the necessity of land reforms to address socio-economic disparities and uphold principles of social justice. Others aligned with Kesavananda Bharati, arguing that the Kerala Land Reforms Act violated fundamental rights and exceeded the State’s regulatory authority. Additionally, certain intervenors contended that the Parliament’s authority to amend the Constitution was not absolute and that certain foundational aspects, such as the independence of the judiciary, were immune to constitutional amendments.

Nani Palkhivala’s Brief Submission: On the 69th day of hearing, Nani Palkhivala, a renowned constitutional lawyer, presented a brief submission. While the specifics of his argument may vary, it likely centered on reinforcing the petitioner’s contention regarding the limitations on parliamentary power to amend the Constitution. Palkhivala may have underscored the significance of protecting fundamental rights, including the right to property, against encroachment by legislative measures.

In sum, the arguments presented by the parties and intervenors in the Kesavananda Bharati case revolved around pivotal issues such as the constitutionality of the Kerala Land Reforms Act, the extent of parliamentary authority to amend the Constitution, and the protection of fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of India.


The Kesavananda Bharati case had far-reaching implications for Indian democracy and constitutional governance. It affirmed the supremacy of the Constitution as the supreme law of the land and entrusted the judiciary with the solemn responsibility of safeguarding its core principles. The judgment underscored the importance of judicial review as a bulwark against executive and legislative excesses, ensuring the preservation of constitutional values and the protection of individual rights.

Furthermore, the basic structure doctrine served as a check on the concentration of power, preventing transient majorities from subverting fundamental principles of governance. It fostered a culture of constitutionalism and legal accountability, emphasizing the primacy of constitutional principles over momentary political expediency.

The Kesavananda Bharati case encompassed several pivotal legal issues, notably the constitutional validity of the Kerala Land Reforms Act and the scope of the Parliament’s authority to amend the Constitution.

One significant legal aspect pertained to the constitutional validity of the Kerala Land Reforms Act. This legislation aimed to impose restrictions on landholding and facilitate the acquisition of excess land from landowners, with the overarching goal of redistributing land to marginalized sections of society. Kesavananda Bharati contested that the Act encroached upon his fundamental right to property, a safeguard enshrined within the Constitution of India.

Another central legal question revolved around the Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution. The crux of this issue was whether the Parliament possessed an unfettered authority to amend the Constitution without substantive limitations, or if there existed inherent constraints on its amending power.

A cornerstone of the judgment was the articulation of the doctrine of the basic structure of the Constitution. The Supreme Court elucidated that certain fundamental features of the Constitution, such as its supremacy, the rule of law, and the independence of the judiciary, constituted an immutable core that could not be altered or abrogated through ordinary constitutional amendments. The pivotal inquiry revolved around whether this doctrine was an intrinsic part of the Constitution and whether the Parliament’s amending authority extended to the basic structure.

the Kesavananda Bharati case grappled with the intertwined issues of land reform legislation, the limits of parliamentary authority in amending the Constitution, and the recognition of the basic structure doctrine as a bulwark against arbitrary constitutional amendments. The case not only shaped the trajectory of Indian constitutional law but also reaffirmed the foundational principles of democracy, rule of law, and judicial independence within the Indian constitutional framework.


Preservation of Constitutional Democracy: The Kesavananda Bharati case reaffirmed the foundational principles of constitutional democracy in India. By establishing the basic structure doctrine, the Supreme Court fortified the Constitution against arbitrary amendments that could undermine its democratic ethos. The judgment underscored the idea that constitutional supremacy and adherence to core principles are indispensable for the functioning of a vibrant democracy.

Judicial Independence and Activism: The case highlighted the importance of judicial independence and activism in upholding constitutional values. The Supreme Court’s willingness to assert its authority and delineate the limits of parliamentary power demonstrated the judiciary’s commitment to acting as a bulwark against potential encroachments on individual rights and institutional integrity.

Balancing Federalism and Central Authority: The judgment struck a delicate balance between federalism and central authority in India’s constitutional framework. By recognizing federalism as a basic structure principle, the Court affirmed the autonomy of states while ensuring the integrity of the Union. This equilibrium remains critical for maintaining the unity and diversity of India’s federal structure.

Protection of Fundamental Rights: The Kesavananda Bharati case reinforced the notion that fundamental rights are immutable and form an integral part of the Constitution’s basic structure. It emphasized the judiciary’s duty to safeguard individual liberties against legislative or executive overreach, thereby enhancing the protection of citizens’ rights in a pluralistic society.

Evolution of Constitutional Jurisprudence: The judgment marked a watershed moment in the evolution of Indian constitutional jurisprudence. It provided a robust framework for interpreting and applying constitutional principles, laying the groundwork for subsequent landmark decisions that have shaped the course of Indian democracy.

Symbol of Constitutional Resilience: The Kesavananda Bharati case symbolizes the resilience of India’s constitutional democracy in the face of political turmoil and uncertainty. It demonstrated the ability of constitutional institutions, particularly the judiciary, to uphold the rule of law and preserve the integrity of democratic governance even during challenging times.

the Kesavananda Bharati case transcends its immediate legal implications to embody the enduring values of democracy, justice, and constitutionalism in India. It serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration for future generations, reminding them of the solemn duty to protect and cherish the foundational principles upon which the Indian Republic was built.


The Kesavananda Bharati case stands as a pivotal milestone in the annals of Indian constitutional law, celebrated for its affirmation of the supremacy of the Constitution and the judiciary’s autonomy in safeguarding its basic structure. The judgment handed down a series of principles that have since formed the cornerstone of constitutional jurisprudence in India, including the principles of the rule of law, separation of powers, and judicial independence. Moreover, it has significantly influenced the Indian judiciary’s approach to constitutional interpretation and delineated the boundaries of Parliament’s authority to amend the Constitution.

In a closely contested 7-6 majority decision, the Supreme Court pronounced that the Constitution of India embodies a fundamental structure that remains inviolable even in the face of constitutional amendments. The court unequivocally asserted that the Parliament’s amending power, as delineated under Article 368, is circumscribed and cannot transgress the basic structure of the Constitution. This pronouncement has served as a critical safeguard against unchecked parliamentary authority, imposing a vital constraint on the Parliament’s ability to alter the foundational principles enshrined in the Constitution.

The Kesavananda Bharati case’s enduring legacy lies in its establishment of a robust framework for constitutional governance, predicated on the principles of constitutional supremacy and judicial oversight. By affirming the existence of a basic structure immune to arbitrary amendment, the judgment has buttressed the institutional integrity of the Indian state and fortified democratic governance against potential encroachments. Furthermore, it has engendered a culture of judicial vigilance and accountability, wherein the judiciary serves as the guardian of constitutional values and the arbiter of governmental actions.

In conclusion, the Kesavananda Bharati case epitomizes the judiciary’s pivotal role in upholding the sanctity of the Constitution and preserving the foundational principles of Indian democracy. Its pronouncements have not only shaped the contours of constitutional law but have also reaffirmed the enduring commitment to constitutionalism, rule of law, and democratic governance in India.

                                                                                                                Written by Sristy Dey

                                                                                                               Institution: JIS University

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