Articles 12 and 13 of the Indian Constitution: Safeguarding Fundamental Rights

AUTHOR: Vaibhav Verma, B.A.LL.B. (Hons.) 2nd Semester, Banaras Hindu University 

Introduction

The Indian Constitution stands as the bedrock of the nation, providing a comprehensive framework for governance and safeguarding the rights of its citizens. Among its key provisions are Articles 12 and 13, which play a crucial role in upholding fundamental rights. This blog aims to explore and shed light on these articles, their significance, and the impact they have on Indian society. 

Article 12: definition of the State 

Article 12 was originally presented as Article 7 in the Draft Constitution. Later, B.R. Ambedkar explained the significance of this article and its importance for every citizen whose rights could be violated by any authority. Initially, the definition of the state was seen as limited and only included the authorities mentioned in Article 12 itself. However, in the case of Pradeep Kumar Biswas v. Indian Institute of Chemical Biology (2002), the Supreme Court expanded the definition of the state. It overruled the previous decision in the case of Sabhajit Tiwary v. Union of India (1975) and stated that the assets and funds of CSIR, even though nominally owned by the society, were ultimately owned by the government and thus fell under Article 12. 

Article 12 serves as a cornerstone in defining the scope of the term “State” withintheIndian Constitution. It lays down the broad understanding of what constitutes theState, extending beyond the executive, legislature, and judiciary. The article defines the State as not only the government at the center and in the states but also includes other entities like local authorities, statutory bodies, and instrumentality that are subject to government control. 

This expansive definition of the State under Article 12 is crucial as it extends the reach of fundamental rights, ensuring they are not restricted to the actions of the government alone but also apply to other bodies exercising public functions. This interpretation has been pivotal in safeguarding individual liberties and preventing abuse of power by various entities. 

Article 13: Judicial Review and the Doctrine of Basic Structure

Article 13 is often referred to as the “heart and soul” of the Indian Constitution due to its immense significance in the realm of judicial review. This article asserts the supremacy of the Constitution and establishes that any law inconsistent with or in contravention of fundamental rights shall be void. 

The doctrine of basic structure, an inherent part of Article 13, serves as a crucial tool for the judiciary to ensure the preservation of the core principles and values enshrined in the Constitution. This doctrine prohibits any amendment or legislation that alters the essential features of the Constitution, thereby protecting the democratic, secular, and socialist fabric of India.

Over the years, the judiciary has relied on Article 13 and the doctrine of basic structure to strike down laws that violate fundamental rights and dilute the essence of the Constitution. Landmark judgments such as Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala (1973) and Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain (1975) have cemented the doctrine’s importance in preserving the constitutional balance and preventing arbitrary changes to the Constitution. 

Article 13(1) talks about the pre-constitutional laws i.e the day fromwhichtheconstitution came in existence there were many laws in the country and when the constitution came into existence fundamental rights do came, therefore the laws before the existence of the constitution must prove their compatibility with the fundamental rights, only then these laws would be considered to be valid otherwise they would be declared to be void. 

For example Article 15 of the constitution do gives the right to education to all without any discrimination on the basis of caste, sex, religion, etc, but an Education act which came in existence in 1930 says that: 

A particular group of kids would not be provided education on the basis of their caste’. As this particular clause of the act is inconsistent with that of the fundamental rights therefore it is declared to be null and void. 

Moreover article 13(1) is prospective in nature but not retrospective i.e the article will be in effect from the day when constitution came in effect ..(26th jan.,1950) and the person who committed offence afterwards will be prosecuted according to the laws of Indian constitution but not according to the pre-constitutional laws. 

Impact on Fundamental Rights: 

Articles 12 and 13, together, form the backbone of protecting fundamental rights inIndia. Article 13 ensures that any law inconsistent with the rights enshrined in Part III of the Constitution is rendered invalid, ensuring citizens can seek legal recourse against any infringement of their rights. 

These articles have played a vital role in promoting equality, justice, and social progress. By expanding the definition of the State and subjecting public bodies to the scrutiny of fundamental rights, Article 12 has prevented potential abuse and fostered accountability. 

The doctrine of basic structure under Article 13 has acted as a bulwark against attempts to alter the fundamental principles of the Constitution. It has protected the essence of India’s democracy, secularism, federalism, and social justice, ensuring the preservation of the nation’s core values. 

Cases:

In Shankari Prasad Singh Deo v. Union of India, the Constitutional (1st Amendment) Act of 1951, which amended the fundamental rights protected by the constitution, was contested on the grounds that it was an invalid piece of legislation under Article 13’s clause (2) because it had the effect of restricting those rights. The supreme court rejected the argument and determined that a bill passed by the Parliament under Article 368 modifying the constitution was not a “law” as defined in clause (2). As opposed to “constitutional amendments made in exercise of constituent powers,” it was claimed that the term “law” refers to “the rules and regulations enacted by legislatures.” As a result, the majority of decisions, including Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan, adopted this ruling. However, in the case of Golak Nath v. State of Punjab, the Supreme Court ruled by a 6:5 margin that the word “law” in Article 13 (2) included constitutional amendments.

As a result, if an amendment curtailed or eliminated fundamental rights protected by Part III of the Indian Constitution, the amending Act would be null and void and out of bounds. The Constitution (24th amendment) Act, 1971, which included clauses (3) and (4) to Article 13 and overturned the Golak Nath case, was subsequently decided by the Supreme Court of India in the case of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala.

Conclusion: 

Articles 12 and 13 of the Indian Constitution stand as pillars in protecting and upholding fundamental rights. While Article 12 expands the notion of the State to include various public bodies, Article 13 and the doctrine of basic structure provide a mechanism for judicial review, safeguarding the Constitution’s core principles. These articles have been instrumental in ensuring the citizens’ right to equality, justice, and social progress. By understanding and appreciating the significance of Articles 12and13, we can work towards creating a more just and inclusive society

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