I.C. Golaknath and Ors. vs State of Punjab and Anrs. 1967 SCR (2) 762

Prachi Rathi

Petitioner: I. C. Golaknath & Ors.
Respondent: State of Punjab & Anrs. (With Connected Petitions)
Bench: Subba Rao, K.N. Wanchoo, M. Hidayatullah, J.C. Shah, S.M. Sikri, R.S. Bachawat,
V. Ramaswami, J.M. Shelat, Vihishtha Bhargava, G.K. Mitter & C.A. Vaidiyalingam
Citation: 1967 AIR 1643, 1967 SCR (2) 762
Date of Judgment: 27/02/1967
Initially, in the case of Sankari Prasad v. UOI, the SC affirmed the Parliament's power to amend every aspect of the Constitution, including that which affects citizens' fundamental rights. As a result, the SC took the view that Article 368, which included provisions relating to the reform of the Constitution, merely have been provided for the amendment. The 1967 Golaknath verdict witnessed the Supreme Court's eleven judges' bench overriding the stance it held in the case of Sankari Prasad v. UOI.
I.C. Golaknath is one of the landmark cases in the history of India is I.C v Punjab State. In this case, with its decision the court established jurisprudence around what is known as the fundamental structure doctrine. The court ruled in 1967 that any of the constitutional rights enshrined in India's constitution cannot be curtailed by Parliament.
In Jalandhar, Punjab, the family of Henry and William Golaknath owned over 500 acres of farmland. Under the Punjab Security and Land Tenures Act, the government held that only thirty acres each could be kept by the brothers, a few acres would go to tenants, and the remainder was considered to be surplus. This was challenged by the Golaknath family in court. This case was further appealed to the Supreme Court in 1965. In accordance with Article 32, the family lodged a petition challenging the Punjab Act of 1953 on the ground that it deprived them their constitutional rights to obtain and keep property and to practice any occupation (Article 19(f) and (g) and to exercise equality before the law was secured (Article 14). They tried to declare ultra vires (beyond the powers) with the 17th amendment, which had inserted the Punjab Act in the 9th schedule.
Since the Punjab Act was adopted by the 17th Amendment in the 9th Schedule, the parties concerned are:—
1. Whether or not the amendments made in a statute is a law under the Article 13 of the constitution.
2. Whether the fundamental rights which fall under the basic structure of the constitution can be amended or not, after the historic judgment of Sankari Prasad v. UOI.
1. Article 13 (2) of the Constitution: Any law that abolishes or abridges the rights granted by Part III shall not be made by a State and any law made in contravention of that provision shall be invalid, to the degree of the contravention.
2. Article 368 of the Constitution: The provision laid down the powers of the parliament to amend the provisions of the Constitution and as well as the procedure to do the amendments.
Until that time, the Supreme Court with the largest bench that had ever sat on a topic achieved a 6:5 majority supporting petitioners. The majority view was written by the then CJI along with four other justices, and Justice Hidayatullah agreed with the opinion of CJI Subba Rao, while Justices K.N. Wanchoo, Vishistha Bhargava and G.K. Mitter wrote a single minority opinion and separate minority opinions were written by Justices R.S. Bachawat& V. Ramaswami. One of the landmark cases in Indian history is I.C. Golaknath. v State of Punjab. In this case, with its decision the court established jurisprudence around what is recognized as the basic structure doctrine. In 1967, the court ruled that Parliament was unable to curb any of the basic rights ratified in India's constitution.
Sajjan Singh & Shankari Prasad overruled to keep this possible extinction of FR's in mind and to fear the eventual transition of Democratic India to Totalitarian India majority. The majority therefore held that Parliament should not change Fundamental Rights in order to check this colorful exercise of power and save Democracy from Parliament's autocratic acts.
“The majority equated FR's with Natural Rights and considered them to be the primordial rights required for human personality development.” The majority posed a rather troubling concern about the state that when the rights referred to in Part III cannot be affected by the unanimous bill of Parliament, then how a clear or special majority can do so. The minority view, on the other hand, followed the earlier rule, i.e. Shankari Prasad& Sajjan Singh, thus holding that Parliament has the power to amend, including constitutional rights, the entire Constitution. The minority, therefore, granted parliament full autonomy.
Among other items, the judgment provides for the prospective overruling of the law formed by this judgment. A wise and fair move by the Judiciary was the decision to prospectively overrule earlier decisions. The theory of prospective overruling means that only on future dates will the consequences of the law to be set be relevant, i.e. previous decisions will not be impacted by this decision.
The majority preferred Prospective Overruling on the following grounds:
1. The majority opted for prospective overruling in order to save the country from the uncertainty of retrospective operation and the judicial branch from numerous lawsuits that could follow after the decision. This was to mitigate the negative effect of the earlier constitutional amendments being invalidated by the judgment.
2. Since the decision in Golaknath was that parliament could not change fundamental rights, another explanation why the majority opted for prospective overruling was that all previous amendments would also be null and unconstitutional. These amendments were however, compliant with and strictly in compliance with the laws set out in Shankari Prasad and Sajjan Singh, so they were applicable in accordance with the previous rule.
Justice Hidayatullah also endorsed Prospective Overruling by taking the view that the ratio defined by the present decision should not impact previous decisions.
This judgment prevented the Parliament from causing further harm to citizens' constitutional rights by creating a law that would suppress the autocracy of the Parliaments. Nevertheless, including all the benefits and drawbacks of the judgment, was successful in deterring the Parliament from breaching any further constitutional rights. Its deterrent was powerful to the point that Parliament attempted to implicitly overrule Golaknath in order to revert the law to the status of pre-Golaknath.