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I. R. Coelho vs. State of Tamil Nadu

Case Summary: I. R. Coelho vs. State of Tamil Nadu

Equivalent Citation: (2007) 2 SCC 1: AIR 2007 SC 861

Introduction:

The case of I R Coelho v. State of Tamil Nadu is a landmark moment in the interpretation of the theory of basic structure, determined by a nine-judge court in the context of a power struggle between the Parliament and the Supreme Court.

This decision established a distinction and limited the legislature’s arbitrary activities under the pretence of Article 368. The 9th schedule case is another name for this case. This judgement was given holding the basic structure doctrine propounded in the Kesavananda Bharti case as precedent. 

 Background of the Case:

  • 9th Schedule with Article 31B:

The 9th schedule was added into the Constitution in 1951 by the 1st amendment. It was established under Article 31-B, which, along with Article 31-A, aimed to defend agrarian reform laws and eliminate the zamindari system.

Article 368 of the constitution allowed the parliament to pass several laws and measures that were arbitrary and infringed on fundamental rights. These laws were enshrined in the 9th schedule, which was backed up by Article 31-B, allowing them to escape judicial scrutiny.

Art.31-B was created to remove constitutional issues. However, this power was abused to implement legislation under the 9th Schedule that was not subject to legal review.

Facts of the case:

  1. The Gudalur Janmann Estates (Abolition and Conversion into Ryotwari) Act, 1969, was set down by the Supreme Court in Balmadies Plantations Ltd and Anr. v. State of Tamil Nadu because it was not found to be agricultural reform legislation covered by Article 31-A of the Constitution.
  1. Subsequently, The Calcutta High Court knocked down Section 2(c) of the West Bengal Land Holding Revenue Act, 1979, as arbitrary and hence unconstitutional, and the State of West Bengal’s special leave petition against the ruling was dismissed.
  1. The Constitution’s Thirty-fourth Amendment Act, however, added the Janmann Act in its entirety to the 9th Schedule which was challenged. The argument made before the Constitution Bench was that statutes that had previously been declared unconstitutional could not be included in the Ninth Schedule.
  1. According to Waman Rao & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors., amendments to the Constitution made on or after 24.4.1973 (the date of the Kesavananda Bharati judgement) that inserted various laws in the ninth schedule was open to challenge because such amendments are beyond the constituent power of Parliament because they harm the Constitution’s basic structure.
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Issues Raised:

  • Is it possible to exempt the 9th Schedule from judicial review?
  • Can the 9th schedule’s fundamental rights be challenged in court if they are shown to be infringing?
  • Whether judicial review of Ninth Schedule laws based on fundamental rights would be included in the basic structural test?
  • To what degree and in what form can Article 31-B grant genuine immunity?

Contentions Raised:

By Petitioner:

  1. The petitioners argued that constitutional immunity of the type guaranteed by Article 31-B cannot be granted to Ninth Schedule laws and that if it is, it should be based on the direct influence and effect test. This means that the form of the change would be irrelevant, but the outcome would be decisive.
  1. It was argued that the authority to make any law at will violates Part III and is incompatible with the Constitution’s essential framework. If accepted, the result of such arbitrary will would be the repeal of Article 32 and a violation of the Constitution’s core structure.
  1. It was also argued that the power of the Constituent under Article 368 does not include judicial power. The ability to establish judicial remedies differs significantly from the ability to execute judicial power.

By Respondent:

  1. The respondents argued that the validity of Ninth Schedule laws can only be determined by applying the basic structure theory, as decided by a majority in the Kesavananda Bharati case. Because the case affirmed the 29th Amendment, it was argued that judicial review based on a violation of fundamental rights was out of the question.
  1. The protection afforded by Article 31-B, it was argued, excludes Fundamental Rights. Furthermore, it was argued that, while the existence of the judiciary is a fundamental structure of the constitution that cannot be abolished, this power could be limited in certain circumstances.

Judgement:

  1. Any statute included in the 9th Schedule that abridges the rights provided in Part III of the Constitution would be invalidated by judicial review, according to the court’s majority judgement.
  2. While determining whether a statute violates the Basic Structure Doctrine, the “effect and impact” test must be applied.
  3. All amendments to the Constitution adopted on or after April 24, 1973, that affect the Ninth Schedule must be judged against the touchstone of the Constitution’s core elements, as represented in Article 21, Article 14, and Article 19, as well as the values that underpin them.
  4. Any law added to the Ninth Schedule after April 24, 1973, that is determined to violate any of the rights in Part III might be contested because it destroys the basic structure as specified in Article 21, Article 14, and Article 19, as well as the principles, put out therein.
  5. Judicial review is a fundamental feature of the Constitution, and no statute can be exempted from it by adding a clause to the 9th Schedule.
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Observations of the Judgement:

In this case, the Court stated that it was the job of the judiciary to preserve citizens’ basic rights. Any modification that is incompatible with the basic structure theory and undermines the Constitution’s identity or tampers with the vital parts that make up the Constitution’s core will be rejected.

In this case, the Court stated that it was the job of the judiciary to preserve citizens’ basic rights. Any modification that is incompatible with the basic structure theory and undermines the Constitution’s identity or tampers with the vital parts that make up the Constitution’s core will be rejected.

‘The goal of Article 31-B is to ease problems, not to delete Part III in its entirety or judicial review,’ the court stated.

Relevant Case Laws:

  • The Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the First Amendment of the Indian Constitution in the case of Sri Shankari Prasad Singh Deo v. Union of India. The amendment was enacted with the goal of ensuring the constitutional legitimacy of the Zamindari Abolition Laws in general and specific acts in particular, as well as save those laws from dilatory litigation that would have only delayed implementation.
  • The Supreme Court confirmed the Constitutionality of the statutes included under the Ninth Schedule Constitution (Seventeenth Amendment) Act, 1964, in Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan. The Court also noted that Articles 31-A and 31-B were added to ensure that the State Legislative measures adopted by the various State Legislatures about agrarian reforms were carried out, as challenging them based on violating Fundamental Rights would only delay their implementation.

Conclusion:

The fundamental structural doctrine is upheld by the court’s decision. It serves as a check on Parliament’s amending power if it is judged to be encroaching on citizens’ fundamental rights.

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This decision reaffirms the basic structure doctrine and sets a precedent in that it holds that any constitutional amendment that requires the violation of any fundamental rights and is regarded by the Court as forming part of the Constitution’s basic structure can be declared invalid and struck down, depending on its impact and consequences.

As a result, a clear line was drawn between the scope of parliament’s amending powers and the courts’ judicial review power.

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