How fundamental are the Fundamental Rights of citizens of India.

Ninth Schedule of Constitution of India.

Can a law included in Ninth schedule of the Constitution of India, be challenged on the ground that it violates basic structure of the Constitution even if it can not be challenged as being violative of Fundamental Rights in Part III of the Constitution?

The Constitution Bench of Supreme Court of India comprising of  Y.K.SABHARWAL CJI, ASHOK BHAN, ARIJIT PASAYAT, BISHESHWAR P.SINGH,  S.H.KAPADIA,  C.K.THAKKER, P.K.I.BALASUBRAMANYAN, ALTAMAS KABIR & D.K.JAIN, JJ . held that :

Doctrine of Basic Structure of Constitution and fundamental rights.

(i) A law that abrogates or abridges fundamental rights guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution may violate the basic structure doctrine or it may not. If former is the consequence of law, whether by amendment of any Article of Part III or by an insertion in the Ninth Schedule, such law will have to be invalidated in exercise of judicial review power of the Court. The validity or invalidity would be tested on the principles laid down in this judgment.

(ii) The majority judgment in Kesavananda Bharati’s case read with Indira Gandhi’s case, requires the validity of each new constitutional amendment to be judged on its own merits. The actual effect and impact of the law on the fundamental rights guaranteed under Part III has to be taken into account for determining whether or not it destroys basic structure. The impact test would determine the validity of the challenge.

(iii) All amendments to the Constitution made on or after 24th April, 1973 by which the Ninth Schedule is amended by inclusion of various laws therein shall have to be tested on the touchstone of the basic or essential features of the Constitution as reflected in Article 21 read with Article 14, Article 19, and the principles underlying them. To put it differently even though an Act is put in the Ninth Schedule by a constitutional amendment, its provisions would be open to attack on the ground that they destroy or damage the basic structure if the fundamental right or rights taken away or abrogated pertains or pertain to the basic structure.

Judicial review to check violation of Basic Structure of the Constitution:

(iv) Justification for conferring protection, not blanket protection, on the laws included in the Ninth Schedule by Constitutional Amendments shall be a matter of Constitutional adjudication by examining the nature and extent of infraction of a Fundamental Right by a statute, sought to be Constitutionally protected, and on the touchstone of the basic structure doctrine as reflected in Article 21 read with Article 14 and Article 19 by application of the “rights test” and the “essence of the right” test taking the synoptic view of the Articles in Part III as held in Indira Gandhi’s case. Applying the above tests to the Ninth Schedule laws, if the infraction affects the basic structure then such a law(s) will not get the protection of the Ninth Schedule.
This is our answer to the question referred to us vide Order dated 14th September, 1999 in I.R. Coelho v. State of Tamil Nadu [(1999) 7 SCC 580].

Prospective operation of judgement:

(v) If the validity of any Ninth Schedule law has already been upheld by this Court, it would not be open to challenge such law again on the principles declared by this judgment. However, if a law held to be violative of any rights in Part III is subsequently incorporated in the Ninth Schedule after 24th April, 1973, such a violation/infraction shall be open to challenge on the ground that it destroys or damages the basic structure as indicated in Article 21 read with Article 14, Article 19 and the principles underlying thereunder.

(vi) Action taken and transactions finalized as a result of the impugned Acts shall not be open to challenge.

[Full judgement source: I.R.Coelho v. State Of Tamil Nadu.]

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