I.C. Golaknath vs. State of Punjab – 1967 : Case Analysis

This Case Analysis is written by Dipali Jagannath Nikam, a Fourth Year BLS. LL.B (Hons.) Student at Rizvi Law College, Mumbai University.

Abstract

IC Golaknath v State of Punjab is a landmark case in the history of the Indian Legal System. This case raised a volume of questions on the amendments made by the parliament and also whether such power should be given to the parliament wherein they change the core fundamental rights of our constitution. Also adding any amendments under the 9th schedule which cannot be challenged in the judiciary even if violates the fundamental rights will take away the democratic rights of the citizen.

The petitioners contended that the fundamental rights cannot be waived off and the amendment can add texture to the rights but should not change the rights itself.

The respondent argued that the constitution should not be rigid and the makers always wanted it to be flexible and open for change as deemed fit for the society.

The court in the judgment said that the parliament has violated the fundamental rights under part III of the constitution. The Supreme Court also had the largest bench ever for the judgment and the majority of them believed that the fundamental rights should be kept beyond the reach of parliamentary legislation. The fundamental rights are important for the growth and development of the citizens and it should be treated as natural rights for mankind. (1)

Though the court backtracked the statement six years later on another case and held in their judgment that the parliament can amend the constitution including the fundamental rights but cannot alter the democratic essence of the constitution. (2) This resulted in people turning towards courts for property disputes as the state failed to deliver adequate compensation on the individual land which was taken by the government.

Identification of Parties and the Judges in the Case

Petitioner: I.C Golaknath & Ors

Respondent: State of Punjab

Judges in the bench: K Subba Rao (Chief Justice), K N Wanchoo, J C Shah, M Hidayatullah, R S Bachawat, J.M Shelat, S M Sikri, V Ramaswami, V. Bhargava, G K Mitter, C A Vaidyalingam

Facts

There was a family of one Henry and William Golaknath in Jalandhar, Punjab who had farmland of over 500 acres in their possession. Under the Punjab Security and Land Tenures Act, 1953 which got inserted in the 9th Schedule by the Constitution (17th Amendment) Act, 1964, the state government instructed that both the brothers can keep only thirty acres of land each, a few acres were given to the tenants and the remaining land was declared surplus and was taken over as government property. The brothers challenged this decision in the courts and it was further referred to the Supreme Court in the year 1965. They filed the petition under Article 32 on the grounds challenging the 1953 Punjab Act and pleaded that their constitutional rights to acquire and hold property and practice any profession (Article 19 (f) and (g) and equality before the law and equal protection of the law(Article 14) is denied. (3) They also sought to have the seventeenth amendment declared ultra vires (beyond the powers).

Issues

The 1953 Punjab Act and its inclusion in the 9th schedule under the 17th amendment which violates the fundamental rights of the constitution to its citizens. Also whether parliament has such power to amend the fundamental rights or not.

Petitioner’s Arguments

The petitioner argued that the Constitution of India should be irreversible and no act can alter or try to reshape the constitution itself. An amendment should be made in compliance with the basic structure of the constitution and it cannot contradict or completely reframe the constitution. The fundamental rights enshrined under part III of the constitution cannot be reversed by an act of parliament of whatsoever nature because they are an important and indispensable part without which the constitution will just be a vessel without any essence. The petitioner also argued that Article 368 of the Indian Constitution only defines the procedure to amend the constitution but does not grant the parliament any power to amend it. They further argued that under Article 13(2) under part 3, any constitutional amendment which does away with Fundamental Rights will be unconstitutional and invalid.

Responder’s Argument

The respondent contended that the Constitutional Amendment is an exercise of sovereign power and is different from the legislative power which parliament exercises to make the laws. The very reason for the amendment is to change the laws as per the change of the needs in society. The absence of such power or provision will make the constitution in changing times a rigid and non-flexible one. (4) All the provisions provided in the constitution are of equal importance and statues and there is no basic or non-basic hierarchy among them.

Judgment

The court with the largest bench ever sat together in those times delivered the judgment in the favour of the petitioner. The Chief Justice along with four other justices (JC Shah, SM Sikri, and JM Shelat & CA Vaidyalingam) wrote the majority opinion and agreeing with the opinion of CJ, Justice M Hidayatullah wrote a separate opinion. Justices KN Wanchoo, V Bhargava, and GK Mitter wrote single minority opinions whereas Justices RS Bachawat & V Ramaswami wrote separate minority opinions. The case with a 6:5 ratio opinion was favored to petitioners.

The majority held that Fundamental Rights are core principles of any civilization and it cannot be curtailed or altered by Parliament under the procedure established by Article 368. It has been given a transcendental position and is kept beyond the reach of parliamentary legislation. Also, the majority doubted that if the Sajjan Singh case remained the face of law and the land then a time will come when parliament through amendments change the fundamental rights adopted in our constitution. Keeping this thought in mind, the majority overruled Sajjan Singh & Shankari Prasad. The majority also declared that to save the democracy of the country from the dictatorial action, the parliament will not have any power to amend the fundamental rights enshrined under Part III of the Constitution of India. They developed jurisprudence around what was known as the Doctrine of Basic Structure. But at the same time, the Supreme Court dismissed the petitioner’s demand to make 17th amendment ultra vires and granted validity to the amendment.

Critical Analysis of the Judgement

Fundamental Rights are considered to be an integral part of a country and also in the development of personality in humans, and these rights help them to live life on their terms. The constitution provides the power to the parliament and other state legislatures to make laws but the power granted is not absolute. The Judiciary has the power to judge upon the law and the constitutional validity of the said laws and if it is found violating any provision of the constitution then the judiciary also has the power to declare such law as invalid or ultra vires. The constitution was made to be an adaptable document by the founding fathers so that it can adjust or adapt according to the change in time and situation. (5) The parliament was vested with powers to amend it depending on the situations but Article 368 of the constitution gives the impression that these powers are absolute and encompass all parts of the document. With this verdict, the Supreme Court attached a necessary brake system to the legislative enthusiasm of parliament. The judgment provided with a doctrine of the prospective ruling which will have its effects on the future judgment on this law. The reason behind such interpretation was to avoid the litigations arising over previous judgments and to avoid the negative effect on the earlier judgments or invalidating the earlier constitutional amendments. (1)

Conclusion

The Golaknath case became one of the important cases in Indian Law History. It came at a critical time when the parliament was showing its absolute power and was amending the roots of the constitution. The judgment focused on the protection of fundamental rights which are basic rights for mankind and the verdict also made it clear that even lawmakers are not above the law of the country. But as there are two sides to a coin, the judgment granted rigidity to the constitution. Also instead of protecting all the fundamental features of the constitution it only protected the fundamental rights from the autocratic power of parliament due to which in another case similar to this of Keshavananda Bharati v Union of India this judgment got overruled to an extent. (6)

References –

  1. Gurkaran Babrah, Golakanath, I.C v. State of Punjab 1967: Overview and Analysis, IPleaders (Dec.06, 2019) https://blog.ipleaders.in/golaknath-c-v-state-punjab-1967-overview-analysis/
  1. Ruchita T. Jain & Kirti S. Soni, C. Golaknath v/s. State of Punjab – Initial Stage of Judicial Activism, Legal Service India.com, legalserviceindia.com/article/l426-L.-C.-Golaknath-V.-State-Of-Punjab.html
  1. Abhay Saxena, C.Golaknath & Ors. V.  State of Punjab & Anders: Case Comment, Indianlegalsolution.com (May. 14,2020) https://indianlegalsolution.com/i-c-golaknath-ors-v-state-of-punjab-anrs-case-comment/
  1. Hemant Varshney, I. C. Golaknath & Ors. Vs. State of Punjab & Anrs.- Case Summary, Law Times Journal, (Aug.14,2018) in/i-c-golaknath-ors-vs-state-of-punjab-anrs-case-summary/
  1. Hemant Singh, Important Features of the Indian constitution, Jagran Josh (July.14,2020, 14.40 IST) https://www.jagranjosh.com/general-knowledge/features-of-the-indian-constitution-1434370780-1#
  1. Shristi Suman, Kesavananda Bharati v State of Kerala, (1973), IPleaders (Dec.02, 2019) https://blog.ipleaders.in/kbharatikerala/