I.C. Golaknath & Ors. vs.  State of Punjab Anrs. 1967

I.C. Golaknath & Ors. vs.  State of Punjab Anrs.

Date of Judgement: 27th February 1967

Petitioner: C. Golaknath & Others

Respondent: State of Punjab and Anrs.

Bench:

  1. Chief Justice K Subba Rao
  2. Justice J.C. Shah
  3. Justice S.M. Sikri
  4. Justice J.M. Shelat
  5. Justice C.A. Vaidiyalingam
  6. Justice K.N. Wanchoo
  7. Justice Vishistha Bhargava
  8. Justice G.K Mitter
  9. Justice R.S. Bachawat
  10. Justice V. Ramaswami

Justice M. HidayatullahI

CITATION:

1967 AIR 1643 1967 SCR (2) 762

CITATOR INFORMATION :

RF 1967 SC1776 (7)

F 1968 SC1395 (7)

RF 1970 SC 898 (61)

RF 1972 SC 425 (7,16,21)

D 1972 SC 963 (27)

O 1973 SC1461 (10,15,16,17,25,30,32,37,50,51

RF 1975 SC2299 (251,325,522,576,577,649)

F 1976 SC 490 (196)

RF 1976 SC1207 (283,285,397,548)

R 1977 SC1027 (42)

R 1978 SC 68 (89,101,233,261)

D 1978 SC 489 (9)

E&R 1978 SC 597 (19)

RF 1979 SC1550 (9)

RF 1980 SC1762 (5)

RF 1980 SC1789 (86)

RF 1981 SC 271 (33,42)

RF 1981 SC 431 (10)

R 1984 SC 326 (8)

O 1984 SC 684 (65)

RF 1987 SC1140 (3)

R 1987 SC1986 (29)

F 1991 SC 101 (131)

RF 1991 SC1676 (66,71)

Introduction:

Being one of the landmark cases in Indian judicial history, the C Golaknath case raised and answered several questions carrying great significance in the constitutional purview. The salient one of them was the conundrum regarding the ability of the parliament to extend its amendment making power to the fundamental rights.

We approach the case by viewing it through the lenses of the ostensible or authentic constitutionality of the parliament to amend those rights enshrined under Part III. The petitioners’ assertions that the parliament is not vested with the authority to amend the Fundamental rights enshrined under Part III of the constitution were counter-argued by the respondents my putting a dissimilar argument that the parliament was not ordained to be rigid and non-flexible and making it so will certainly violate its makers’ will.

Although in this case’s judgement, the court made the Fundamental Rights immune from being amended by the parliament, it was in 1973 that the judgement was overruled in the notable case Kesavananda Bharati vs the State of Kerala. The new ruling established that the Parliament can amend the Fundamental Rights but at most to such an extent that it doesn’t alter the ‘Basic Structure’ of the constitution.

Facts of the Case:

Owners of the land of about 500 acres of land in Jalandhar dist. of Punjab used for farming purpose, Henry and William Golaknath challenged the acquisition of their land by the Punjab government exploiting the provisions of the Punjab security and Land Tenures Act 1953 saying that each of the brothers can hold at most 30 acres, a part of the rest will go to the tenants and the balance would be taken by the government as surplus property.

The Golaknath family challenged this under Article 32 of COI by challenging the Punjab security and Land Tenures Act 1953 on the pretext f it transgressing their Fundamental Right to hold property and practice any occupation under the Articles 19(f) and 19(g)and the case was subsequently referred to the Supreme Court in 1965.

They also demanded the annulment of the 17th amendment which put Punjab’s 1953 act under the purview of the Ninth schedule i.e. out of the parliament’s amending powers. The apex court ruled in this case that the parliament is not vested with the authority to amend the Fundamental Rights given under the Part III of the constitution of India.

This judgment helped the legal fraternity develop jurisprudence around what is now known and followed as the Doctrine of Basic Structure.

Issues Raised in the Case:

The court had to decide whether or not the parliament can amend the Fundamental rights conferred under Part III of the Constitution of India.

Arguments by the Petitioner:

The Golaknath’s (petitioners) argued on the following points:

  1. The Constitution was meant to be of static nature and trying to change it would defy the very purpose of its makers. A ruling document has to be adaptable to the dynamicity in a pluricultural society, home to crores like India. Not following the dynamicity of the nation will make the document a rigid one, this was not what the founding fathers of the nation and the constitution desired it to be.
  1. The fundamental rights enshrined under Part III are one of the most significant essentials of the constitution, hence trying to change them would be unfair. If any government in future gets vested with the authority to amend the very basic rights of the citizens, chances are high that the same power will be misused by the successive governments to silence any rising voice against it.
  1. The term ‘Amendment’ signifies the partly dynamic nature of the constitution with respect to the basic structure. As explained in the previous point, certain provisions of the constitution like the Fundamental Rights cannot be amended.
  1. They also argued that Art 13(3)(a) also points statutory laws with constitutional laws while depicting the supremacy of Fundamental Rights in ART 13(2). Any law, which infringes any of the fundamental rights of acitizen.

Counter Arguments by the Respondent:

The respondents countered the petitioner’s arguments with the following arguments:

  1. The Punjab government was exercising its sovereign power not the statutory one.So, a question of the constitutionality of the move is not viable.
  1. No letting the constitution be amended will make it rigid and hence invalidate the scope for any dynamicity. The desired nature of a document ruling a country of crores of people must be dynamic and not static as contended by the petitioners.
  1. The Fundamental Rights must also be included under the ambit of amendments to be made to the constitution by using Article 368 of the Constitution of India. They defied the very existence of any concept like the Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution.
  1. The defendants were rough of the view that everything in the constitution can be amended. They missed out on taking into account the provisions of Article 13 which provide for the supremacy of the Fundamental Rights as stated by the petitioners in their arguments.

Judgment:

The bench of 11 decided the judgement in a ratio of 6:5, favoring the petitioners (Golaknath).

This judgement overruled Sajjan Singh vs. State of Rajasthan in order to safeguard the fundamental rights from getting amended and the democratic fibre of the nation getting lost. The apex court also hovered their views upon the way Art 368 was being used to annul laws since 1950.

A majority of the judges found consensus ad idemon that the fundamental rights should be kept immune from the amending powers of the parliament under Article 368.

Conclusion:

The judgement, C Golaknath VS State of Punjab can be seen more as a moral win of law over those who make it or protect it. The majority bench, which ruled in a ratio of 6:5 that the parliament’s amendment making power does not extend to the Fundamental Rights not only ensured the supremacy of the Fundamental Rights over any law but also saved the very democratic fibre of the nation from getting demolished and India turning into either an ostensibly democratic or an autocratic nation.

The judgement, however, acted against its very own soul by making the constitution more rigid by case-sensitively distancing the Fundamental Rights from availing the benefits of the amendments which could’ve awarded them a tag of being dynamic.

The problems were soon recognized and rectified in the case of Kesavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala.

 

Written by Mrutyunjay Saramandal

(Writer, The Legal State)

– Edited by Samarth Pathak

(Editor, The Legal State)

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