June 22, 2021
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The Ninth Schedule Judgement: Part 4 of 7—the main thrust of the argument of the petitioners and the Validity of 31B

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In the light of aforesaid developments, the main thrust of the argument of the petitioners is that post-1973, it is impermissible to immunize Ninth Schedule laws from judicial review by making Part III inapplicable to such laws. Such a course, it is contended, is incompatible with the doctrine of basic structure. The existence of power to confer absolute immunity is not compatible with the implied limitation upon the power of amendment in Article 368, is the thrust of the contention.

Further relying upon the clarification of Khanna, J, as given in Indira Gandhi's case, in respect of his opinion in Kesavananda Bharati's case, it is no longer correct to say that fundament rights are not included in the basic structure. Therefore, the contention proceeds that since fundamental rights form a part of basic structure and thus laws inserted into Ninth Schedule when tested on the ground of basic structure shall have to be examined on the fundamental rights test.

The key question, however, is whether the basic structure test would include judicial review of Ninth Schedule laws on the touchstone of fundamental rights. Thus, it is necessary to examine what exactly is the content of the basic structure test. According to the petitioners, the consequence of the evolution of the principles of basic structure is that Ninth Schedule laws cannot be conferred with constitutional immunity of the kind created by Article 31B. Assuming that such immunity can be conferred, its constitutional validity would have to be adjudged by applying the direct impact and effect test which means the form of an amendment is not relevant, its consequence would be determinative factor. The power to make any law at will that transgresses Part III in its entirety would be incompatible with the basic structure of the Constitution. The consequence also is, learned counsel for the petitioners contended, to emasculate Article 32 (which is part of fundamental rights chapter) in its entirety  if the rights themselves (including the principle of rule of law encapsulated in Article 14) are put out of the way, the remedy under Article 32 would be meaningless. In fact, by the exclusion of Part III, Article 32 would stand abrogated qua the Ninth Schedule laws. The contention is that the abrogation of Article 32 would be per se violative of the basic structure. It is also submitted that the constituent power under Article 368 does not include judicial power and that the power to establish judicial remedies which is compatible with the basic structure is qualitatively different from the power to exercise judicial power. The impact is that on the one hand the power under Article 32 is removed and, on the other hand, the said power is exercised by the legislature itself by declaring, in a way, Ninth Schedule laws as valid.

On the other hand, the contention urged on behalf of the respondents is that the validity of Ninth Schedule legislations can only be tested on the touch-stone of basic structure doctrine as decided by majority in Kesavananda Bharati's case which also upheld the Constitution 29th Amendment unconditionally and thus there can be no question of judicial review of such legislations on the ground of violation of fundamental rights chapter. The fundamental rights chapter, it is contended, stands excluded as a result of protective umbrella provided by Article 31B and, therefore, the challenge can only be based on the ground of basic structure doctrine and in addition, legislation can further be tested for (i) lack of legislative competence and (ii) violation of other constitutional provisions. This would also show, counsel for the respondents argued, that there is no exclusion of judicial review and consequently, there is no violation of the basic structure doctrine.

Further, it was contended that the constitutional device for retrospective validation of laws was well known and it is legally permissible to pass laws to remove the basis of the decisions of the Court and consequently, nullify the effect of the decision. It was submitted that Article 31B and the amendments by which legislations are added to the Ninth Schedule form such a device, which 'cure the defect' of legislation. 

The respondents contend that the point in issue is covered by the majority judgment in Kesavananda Bharati's case. According to that view, Article 31B or the Ninth Schedule is a permissible constitutional device to provide a protective umbrella to Ninth Schedule laws. The distinction is sought to be drawn between the necessity for the judiciary in a written constitution and judicial review by the judiciary. Whereas the existence of judiciary is part of the basic framework of the Constitution and cannot be abrogated in exercise of constituent power of the Parliament under Article 368, the power of judicial review of the judiciary can be curtailed over certain matters. The contention is that there is no judicial review in absolute terms and Article 31B only restricts that judicial review power. It is contended that after the doctrine of basic structure which came to be established in Kesavananda Bharati's case, it is only that kind of judicial review whose elimination would destroy or damage the basic structure of the Constitution that is beyond the constituent power. 

However, in every case where the constituent power excludes judicial review, the basic structure of the Constitution is not abrogated. The question to be asked in each case is, does the particular exclusion alter the basic structure. Giving immunity of Part III to the Ninth Schedule laws from judicial review, does not abrogate judicial review from the Constitution. Judicial review remains with the court but with its exclusion over Ninth Schedule laws to which Part III ceases to apply. 

The effect of placing a law in Ninth Schedule is that it removes the fetter of Part III by virtue of Article 31B but that does not oust the court jurisdiction. It was further contended that Justice Khanna in Kesavananda Bharati's case held that subject to the retention of the basic structure or framework of the Constitution, the power of amendment is plenary and will include within itself the power to add, alter or repeal various articles including taking away or abridging fundamental rights and that the power to amend the fundamental rights cannot be denied by describing them as natural rights. The contention is that the majority in Kesavananda Bharati's case held that there is no embargo with regard to amending any of the fundamental rights in Part III subject to basic structure theory and, therefore, the petitioners are not right in the contention that in the said case the majority held that the fundamental rights form part of the basic structure and cannot be amended. The further contention is that if fundamental rights can be amended, which is the effect of Kesavananda Bharati's case overruling Golak Nath's case, then fundamental rights cannot be said to be part of basic structure unless the nature of the amendment is such which destroys the nature and character of the Constitution. It is contended that the test for judicially reviewing the Ninth Schedule laws cannot be on the basis of mere infringement of the rights guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution. The correct test is whether such laws damage or destroy that part of fundamental rights which form part of the basic structure. Thus, it is contended that judicial review of Ninth Schedule laws is not completely barred. The only area where such laws get immunity is from the infraction of rights guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution.

To begin with, we find it difficult to accept the broad proposition urged by the petitioners that laws that have been found by the courts to be violative of Part III of the Constitution cannot be protected by placing the same in the Ninth Schedule by use of device of Article 31B read with Article 368 of the Constitution. In Kesavananda Bharti's case, the majority opinion upheld the validity of the Kerala Act which had been set aside in Kunjukutty Sahib etc. etc. v. The State of Kerala & Anr. [(1972) 2 SCC 364] and the device used was that of the Ninth Schedule. After a law is placed in the Ninth Schedule, its validity has to be tested on the touchstone of basic structure doctrine. In State of Maharashtra & Ors. v. Man Singh Suraj Singh Padvi & Ors. [(1978) 1 SCC 615], a Seven Judge Constitution Bench, post-decision in Kesavananda Bharati's case upheld Constitution (40th Amendment) Act, 1976 which was introduced when the appeal was pending in Supreme Court and thereby included the regulations in the Ninth Schedule. It was held that Article 31B and the Ninth Schedule cured the defect, if any, in the regulations as regards any unconstitutionality alleged on the ground of infringement of fundamental rights.

It is also contended that the power to pack up laws in the Ninth Schedule in absence of any indicia in Article 31B has been abused and that abuse is likely to continue. It is submitted that the Ninth Schedule which commenced with only 13 enactments has now a list of 284 enactments. The validity of Article 31B is not in question before us. Further, mere possibility of abuse is not a relevant test to determine the validity of a provision. The people, through the Constitution, have vested the power to make laws in their representatives through Parliament in the same manner in which they have entrusted the responsibility to adjudge, interpret and construe law and the Constitution including its limitation in the judiciary. We, therefore, cannot make any assumption about the alleged abuse of the power.

Validity of 31B

There was some controversy on the question whether validity of Article 31B was under challenge or not in Kesavananda Bharati. On this aspect, Chief Justice Chandrachud has to say this in Waman Rao :

In Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan [(1965) 1 SCR 933], the Court refused to reconsider the decision in Sankari Prasad (supra), with the result that the validity of the 1st Amendment remained unshaken. In Golaknath, it was held by a majority of 6 : 5 that the power to amend the Constitution was not located in Article 368. The inevitable result of this holding should have been the striking down of all constitutional amendments since, according to the view of the majority, Parliament had no power to amend the Constitution in pursuance of Article 368. But the Court resorted to the doctrine of prospective overruling and held that the constitutional amendments which were already made would be left undisturbed and that its decision will govern the future amendments only. As a result, the 1st Amendment by which Articles 31A and 31B were introduced remained inviolate. It is trite knowledge that Golaknath was overruled in Kesavananda Bharati (supra) in which it was held unanimously that the power to amend the Constitution was to be found in Article 368 of the Constitution. 

The petitioners produced before us a copy of the Civil Misc. Petition which was filed in Kesavananda Bharati, (supra) by which the reliefs originally asked for were modified. It appears thereform that what was challenged in that case was the 24th, 25th and the 29th Amendments to the Constitution. The validity of the 1st Amendment was not questioned Khanna J., however, held-while dealing with the validity of the unamended Article 31C that the validity of Article 31A was upheld in Sankari Prasad, (supra) that its validity could not be any longer questioned because of the principle of stare decisis and that the ground on which the validity of Article 31A was sustained will be available equally for sustaining the validity of the first part of Article 31C (page 744) (SCC p.812, para 1518).

We have examined various opinions in Kesavananda Bharati's case but are unable to accept the contention that Article 31B read with the Ninth Schedule was held to be constitutionally valid in that case. The validity thereof was not in question. The constitutional amendments under challenge in Kesavananda Bharati's case were examined assuming the constitutional validity of Article 31B. Its validity was not in issue in that case. Be that as it may, we will assume Article 31B as valid. The validity of the 1st Amendment inserting in the Constitution, Article 31B is not in challenge before us. Point in issue

The real crux of the problem is as to the extent and nature of immunity that Article 31B can validly provide. To decide this intricate issue, it is first necessary to examine in some detail the judgment in Kesavananda Bharati's case, particularly with reference to 29th Amendment.

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