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Case Brief |Golaknath vs. State of Punjab

case brief, case summary

Introduction

Golaknath v. State of Punjab is a seminal case in Indian law. In this situation, concerns were raised. However, it was important to determine whether the parliament may amend the Indian Constitution’s Part III’s basic rights.

The petitioners argued that parliament lacks the authority to modify basic rights, but the responses argued otherwise. Parliament, the court concluded, could not modify basic rights. This decision was reversed in 1973 in Kesavananda Bharati versus the Union of India.

The court decided in this case that parliament may change the constitution, but not its fundamental framework.

Facts

Two brothers named Henry and William Golaknath owned approximately “500 acres of farmland in Jalandhar Punjab.

However, under the newly enacted Punjab security and land tenure act, the Golaknath brothers were informed that they could only have 30 acres of property and that portion of the land would be given to tenants while the remainder would be declared surplus and taken over by the government.

The Punjab government’s act was challenged by the Golaknath family, and the matter eventually reached the Supreme Court in 1965.

The Golaknath family filed a case under article 32 challenging the 1953 Punjab legislation, claiming that it violated their constitutional rights under articles 19 f and g to acquire and keep property and perform any profession, as well as their equality before the law under article 14.

They also contested the constitutionality of the Punjab Act, which the 17th amendment added to the ninth schedule, claiming it was ultra vires. One of the most historic and impactful court cases in India is the Golaknath I.C. v State of Punjab case.

In this case, the court established new jurisprudence about known as the basic structure doctrine. In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled that India’s Parliament could not abridge any of the fundamental rights set out in the country’s constitution.”

Petitioner’s Argument

The petitioner’s main arguments about the permanency of the Indian Constitution, which was enacted by the constitutional assembly, are false. They contended that nobody should have the authority to change or try to bring a change in the Indian constitution.

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They argue that the term “amendment” refers only to minor changes that are in full compliance with the basic structure of the constitution and do not represent an entirely new concept.

Additionally, the petitioner asserted that basic rights are absolute. They should be revoked by the government because they have been presented to the public under Part 3 of the Indian Constitution.

The petitioners contended that Article 368 of the Indian Constitution clearly defines the procedure for amending the constitution and does not give Parliament the power to amend the constitution.

Finally, “the petitioners argued before the court that, according to Article 13 3 a, no state or central government can make any law that would deprive the rights mentioned in Part 3 of the Indian Constitution through a constitutional amendment.

Any Constitutional Amendment that violates fundamental rights will be struck down as unlawful and null and void.”

Respondent’s arguments

According to the respondent, a constitutional amendment results from the application of sovereign authority.

This power application is unique from the legislative power Parliament exercises to pass legislation. The constitutions’ creators never wanted our constitution to be inflexible. They always wanted our constitution to be more malleable.

The aim of the amendment is to change the laws of the country as it sees fit. They claimed that without amendment provisions, the constitution would be inflexible and hard to amend. Furthermore, there is no such thing as “basic structure” and “non-basic structure.” All provisions are of equal importance.

The constitutional provisions are equally weighted.

Judgement

In this case, the supreme court at the time had the largest bench in history. The petitioners won by a 6:5 margin in the judgment, indicating a majority decision in their favour. The majority opinion was written by the Chief Justice of India at the time, along with other justices; “J.C. Shah, S.M. Sikri, J.M. Shelat, and C.A. Vaidiyalingam.”

Justice Hidayatullah agreed with Chief Justice of India Subba Rao and wrote a separate opinion as a result. The majority opinion was written by “Justices R.S. Bachawat and V. Ramaswami, and the minority opinion was written by Justices K.N. Wanchoo, Vishistha Bhargava, and G.K. Mitter. The minority opinion was written by Justices R.S. Bachawat and V. Ramaswami.”

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The majority’s assessment of Golaknath reflects their cynicism towards the legislature’s then-current path. Since 1950, the parliament has utilized Article 368 and approved several legislations that violate the basic rights provided by Part III of the Constitution in one manner or another.

“The majority expressed worry that if Sajjan Singh followed precedent, a day would come when all basic rights enshrined in our foundational assembly will be changed by modifications. Keeping basic liberties in mind and predicting a shift from democratic to authoritarian India.

Consequently, Sajjan Singh and Shankari Prasad were overturned by the majority.”

The majority of those who voted in favour of this decision believed that the government should be denied any rights or powers that would allow them to amend the fundamental rights.

These fundamental rights should be absolute in nature, and they should be protected from the reach of any legislative intervention. Therefore, in order to prevent Parliament or the government from taking any autocratic decisions that could lead to the extinction of democracy, the majority in the case believed that legislation cannot amend fundamental rights that have been enshrined in the Indian constitution since its adoption in 1947.

The majority of those who spoke were also of the opinion that fundamental rights are an essential and integral part of the Constitution, and that the Constitution would be like a “body without a soul” if they were not protected.

Critical Analysis

Parliament has been given reasonable powers to amend the constitution. “Article 368 of the Indian Constitution” contains all the necessary details regarding the Parliament’s ability to amend and enact new laws, but the Apex Court has acted as a watchdog, declaring unconstitutional or invalid any law that it believes is twisting/damaging or altering the fundamental qualities of the Constitution under the guise of improving it. Fundamental rights are critical for any individual who wishes to live in a society.

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Our constitution vests each Parliament and government with sufficient authority to enact laws for the common good of the people in their respective jurisdictions. Additionally, the constitution vests the judiciary with the authority to determine the constitutional validity of all legislation.

The majority judgment was praiseworthy” in that it attempted to save Indian democracy from the parliament’s tyrannical engagements.

While the majority’s justification for their decisions, fear of India devolving into a dictatorial state, is satisfactory, why limit it to fundamental rights only? One of the most critical issues left unresolved by the Golaknath decision was the precise degree to which the definition of amendment varies.”

Conclusion

The Golaknath trial was a watershed moment in Indian history. The case’s verdict came at an inopportune time. It occurred during the country’s “darkest decade” in recorded history. This judgment put an end to the parliament’s tyranny.

The majority bench feared that the constitution would be weakened. This decision prevented the legislature from violating citizens’ fundamental rights by enacting a law that undermined the legislature’s authority. 

The trial was centred on defending fundamental human rights that cannot be revoked by any government. The Golaknath case reaffirmed the “rule of law” by demonstrating that legislators are not immune from the law. This case established citizens’ faith in the supremacy of the law, not in the makers, enforcers, and interpreters of the law (Judiciary). 

Everything has flaws. Similarly, Golaknath’s judgment is not always perfect. The most serious flaw was that the judgment-imposed rigidity on the constitution. When an amendment is required, a constituent assembly must provide it.

Additionally, the court safeguarded only the fundamental rights against the parliament’s total power, but it could have safeguarded all the constitution’s fundamental rights. They blew it. Due to these types of errors in the judgment, the precedent-setting Kesavananda Bharati v Union of India 1973 decision was temporarily reversed.

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