The Supreme Court recognized the basic structure concept for the first time in the historic Kesavanand Bharati case of 1973. Ever since the evolution of constitution, the SC has become the interpreter of constitution and the arbiter of all amendments made by parliament. In this case, the validity of 25th amendment was challenged along with 24th & 29th Amendments. The majority decision overruled the Golaknath case of 1967 which held that parliament could not amend the fundamental rights of the citizens. The 13 bench majority in Kesavanand Bharati case held that Article 368, even before the 24th amendment, contained the power as well as procedure of amendment. The SC declared that art 368 did not enable the parliament to alter basic structure of the constitution and parliament could not use its amending power under article 368 to damage, emasculate, destroy, abrogate, change or alter the basic structure of the constitution. This decision went on to become the landmark decision in the evolution of constitutional law and turning point of constitutional history.
Between February 1967 and April 1973, the government made a concerted bid to ensure the parliament had uncontrolled powers to amend or abridge any part of the constitution, including the fundamental rights.
The Golaknath case stemmed from the family of Golaknaths challenging acquisition of their farmlands in Punjab under land ceiling laws. The Golaknaths contended that attachment of lands denied them equality and equal protection as constitutionally guaranteed. It violated their fundamental right to hold and acquire the property and practice any profession. The apex court reversed its previous verdict of 5 judge bench of Shankari Prasad case of 1951 and now declared that parliament did not have the right to amend fundamental rights, in part or in whole. The court also ruled that despite it being the parliament’s duty to enforce the directive principles of state policy, this could not be done by altering fundamental rights.
In Kesavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala, as the case is called in the chronicles of Indian judicial history, the apex court pronounced its judgement. The 13 judge bench was split vertically with seven judges in majority and six against it. The Kesavananda Bharati judgement overruled the Golaknath verdict and gave back to the parliament the right to amend the constitution provided its “basic structure” was not altered. It was sweet loss to the government as it won the basic case but did not get the unrestrained powers to amend the constitution.