I. C. Golaknath and Others v. State of Punjab (1967) – Fundamental Rights Amendment Case

The case of I.C. Golaknath vs State of Punjab is a landmark judgement in Indian constitutional law. It deals with the power of the parliament to amend fundamental rights and the meaning of “law” in Article 13(2)

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Background of the Case

  • Filed in 1965 by Henry Golaknath and his family, who were in possession of over 500 acres of farmland in Jalandhar, Punjab
  • State government invoked the Punjab Security and Land Tenures Act, 1953, which limited the amount of land the family could keep and declared the rest as surplus
  • Act was placed in the Ninth Schedule by the Constitution (Seventeenth Amendment) Act, 1964
  • Family argued that the act and amendment violated their constitutional rights to acquire and hold property and to equality
  • Also argued that the Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution could not be used to amend or abridge fundamental rights, and that the 17th amendment was therefore ultra vires
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Issues before the Court

  • Whether the parliament has the absolute power to amend fundamental rights
  • Whether the word “law” in Article 13(2) includes amendments
  • Validity of the Constitution (Seventeenth) Amendment Act, 1964

Judgement

  • Majority of the court held that the Parliament does not have the absolute power to amend fundamental rights
  • Word “law” in Article 13(2) does include amendments to the Constitution
  • Constitution (Seventeenth) Amendment Act, 1964, was not valid as it violated the fundamental rights of the petitioners
  • Majority overruled the decision in the Sajjan Singh case and held that the Parliament cannot amend fundamental rights
  • Minority argued that fundamental rights can be amended and that the Constitution should be adaptable to changing circumstances
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Implications of the Case

  • Established that fundamental rights cannot be amended by the Parliament as they form an integral and essential part of the Constitution
  • Clarified that “law” in Article 13(2) does not include constitutional amendments made under Article 368
  • Reinforced the principle that the Constitution should not be amended in a way that undermines fundamental rights or converts a democratic society into a totalitarian one
  • Laid the foundation for the development of the basic structure doctrine
  • Impact on property rights and compensation for individuals whose land was taken by government
  • Reinforced the court’s role as a legitimate institution with the power to protect citizens’ interests and prevent erosion of constitutional values.

Glossary

Article 13: prohibits the state from making any law that takes away or abridges the fundamental rights of citizens.
Article 14: guarantees the right to equality before the law.
Article 19(f) and (g): guarantee the right to acquire and hold property and the right to practice any profession, respectively.
Article 32: guarantees the right to move the Supreme Court for the enforcement of fundamental rights.
Article 248: confers the residuary power of the Parliament.
Article 368: lays down the procedure for amending the Constitution.
9th schedule: provides certain laws protection from judicial review on the ground of violation of fundamental rights.
Basic structure doctrine: A principle in Indian constitutional law that the basic structure of the Constitution, including the fundamental rights, cannot be amended or destroyed by the Parliament.
Kesavananda Bharti v. State of Kerala: A landmark 1973 Supreme Court case in which the basic structure doctrine was first developed.
Sajjan Singh case: A 1965 Supreme Court case in which the Parliament’s power to amend the fundamental rights was upheld.

This article is part of the series “Landmark Judgements that Shaped India” under the Indian Polity Notes & Prelims Sureshots. We aim to make the articles comprehensive while leaving out unnecessary information from the UPSC perspective. If you think this article is useful, please provide your feedback in the comments section below.

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