This Brief is part of a series that highlights the context, content and effect of important constitutional amendments that were passed in India after we enacted our Constitution.
The Constitution (Twenty-Fourth Amendment) Act, 1971 was passed on 5 November 1971. This Amendment aimed to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in I.C. Golak Nath v. State of Punjab which prohibited Parliament from curtailing Fundamental Rights in any manner. A Special Bench of 11 judges had held that Parliament has no power to abolish or abridge constitutional freedoms. The Government believed that this decision would not allow it to effectively implement the Directive Principles of State Policy which in some cases entailed an invasion of the Fundamental Rights. The 24th Amendment modified Articles 13 and 368 to authorize Parliament to freely amend the Fundamental Rights.
Article 13 stated that any law which was inconsistent with the Fundamental Rights was invalid. In Golak Nath, the Supreme Court ruled that the word ‘law’ also included constitutional amendments; as a result, any constitutional amendment which violated the Fundamental Rights was invalid. So Parliament would not be able to use constitutional amendments to curtail the Fundamental Rights. The 24th Amendment inserted clause (4) to Article 13, which stated that Article 13 would not apply to any constitutional amendments, effectively overturning Golak Nath.
Article 368 lays down the procedure to amend the Constitution. Under the original Constitution, any constitutional amendment would only come into force if two conditions were met: first, if two-thirds of the members of each House of Parliament voted in its favour; second, if it received the assent of the President, who had the option of withholding assent. The Amendment modified the second condition, to provide that the President was bound to give his assent to the Bill - they had no choice.
The 24th Amendment was partially overturned in 1973, when the Supreme Court held in Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala that Parliament could not amend the 'basic structure' of the Constitution. In this case, 11 judges held that certain basic or essential features of the Constitution were beyond the scope of Parliament’s amending powers.
However, since each judge had a separate opinion on which Articles are included in the 'basic structure', the question of what constitutes the basic structure was not fully answered. The cases of Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain and Minerva Mills v. Union of India before the Supreme Court has added to the 'basic structure', but no case exhaustively defines or lays down the principles that fall under the doctrine.
Both Articles 13 and 368 continue to exist in their amended form. However, through various cases, the Courts have strived to not allow these Articles to undermine the basic structure of the Constitution.
Desk Brief: Seventh Amendment
Desk Brief: The First Amendment