Sajjan Singh vs State of Rajasthan holds significant importance in defining the basic structure of the Indian Constitution. It establishes certain core elements that are deemed unalterable as they form the backbone of our constitutional framework. Among these essential features are the Fundamental Rights, which Justice Khanna emphasized are granted to every citizen of the country. Before introducing the concept of the basic structure, the Parliament could amend any section of the Constitution, including the Fundamental Rights, under Article 368 of the Indian Constitution.
Case Title: Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan
Court: Supreme Court of India
Citation: AIR 1965 SC 845
Judges: P. B Gajendragadkar, K. Subba Rao, K.N Wanchoo, M Hitayatullah, J. C Shah
Date: 31st March 1965
Facts of the Case: Sajjan Singh vs State of Rajasthan
In 1951, numerous State legislative measures aimed at implementing agrarian reform faced significant legal challenges in the Courts. To assist the State Legislatures in implementing their policies, the Constitution (First Amendment) Act 1951 introduced Articles 31A and 31B to the Constitution. Article 31A ensured that certain Acts related to agrarian reform specified in the Ninth Schedule would not be considered void or have retroactive voiding. However, even after these amendments, some legislative measures from various States intended to implement agrarian reform continued to face effective challenges.
In response to the ongoing challenges and to safeguard the validity of these Acts and other potentially vulnerable ones, Parliament passed the Constitution (Seventeenth Amendment) Act 1964. This amendment further amended Article 31A and added 44 Acts to the Ninth Schedule.
The petitioners in the Supreme Court writ petitions and interveners were individuals directly affected by one or more of these Acts. They sought resolution and clarity regarding their constitutionality through the judicial process.
1. Does a modification to a fundamental right within Article 368 qualify as “law” per Article 13 (2)?
2. Can a fundamental right in Part III of the Constitution be amended by Parliament in any way within Article 368?
3. Whether the 26th Amendment Act, which eliminated the princely rights and privy funds of the former princely state rulers, have legal standing?
The following laws were applied in Sajjan Singh vs State of Rajasthan:
Article 31B of the Indian Constitution says,
“Without prejudice to the generality of the provisions contained in Article 31A, none of the Acts and Regulations specified in the Ninth Schedule nor any of the provisions thereof shall be deemed to be void, or ever to have become void, on the ground that such Act, Regulation or provision is inconsistent with, or takes away or abridges any of the rights conferred by, any provisions of this Part, and notwithstanding any judgment, decree or order of any court or tribunal to the contrary, each of the said Acts and Regulations shall, subject to the power of any competent Legislature to repeal or amend it, continue in force.”
Article 368(1) of the Indian Constitution says,
“Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, Parliament may in the exercise of its constituent power amend by way of addition, variation or repeal any provision of this Constitution in accordance with the procedure laid down in this article.”
Article 13(2) says,
The State shall not make any law which takes away or abridges the rights conferred by this Part, and any law made in contravention of this clause shall be void to the extent of the contravention.
Article 32(1) says,
” The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Part is guaranteed.”
Arguments by Petitioner
The petitioners challenged in Sajjan Singh versus the State of Rajasthan, affected by the Acts, challenged the validity of the Constitution (Seventeenth Amendment) Act, contending several arguments:
(i) They argued that since Article 226, which falls under Chapter V, Part VI of the Constitution, could potentially be affected by the Seventeenth Amendment, the special procedure outlined in the proviso to Article 368 should have been followed. This proviso requires the ratification by under half the number of States for certain constitutional amendments.
(ii) They sought to reconsider the decision made in the case of Sri Sankari Prasad Singh Deo v. Union of India and State of Bihar (1952), which had rejected a similar contention while dealing with the validity of the First Amendment. They believed that this earlier decision should be reevaluated.
(iii) They claimed that the Seventeenth Amendment Act dealt with matters related to land, and since Parliament lacked the authority to make laws concerning land, the Act was invalid.
(iv) Lastly, they argued that the Act purported to set aside Courts of competent jurisdiction decisions, which they considered unconstitutional.
These contentions formed the basis of their challenge to the Constitution (Seventeenth Amendment) Act in the Supreme Court in the matter of Sajjan Singh vs State of Rajasthan.
Judgment: Sajjan Singh versus State of Rajasthan
The Supreme Court in Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan delivered the following judgment:
The main Part of Article 368, which deals with the amendment of the Constitution, and its proviso must be harmonized so that neither of them is unduly restricted or expanded. When amending the fundamental rights and potentially substantially impacting the High Court’s powers under Article 226, it becomes essential to consider whether the proviso to Article 368 would apply in such a case. If the effect of the amendment on Article 226 is indirect, incidental, or insignificant, the proviso may not be applicable. To assess this, the Court should determine the impugned Act’s true nature and purpose (pith and substance).
In this case, the Constitution (Seventeenth Amendment) Act aims to amend the fundamental rights primarily to remove obstacles in fulfilling a socioeconomic policy. Its impact on Article 226 is incidental and insignificant. Therefore, the Act falls under the substantive Part of Article 368 and does not come under the ambit of the proviso.
(ii) The Court found no justification for reconsidering the Shankari Prasad case. While the Constitution is meant to adapt to changing circumstances, the Court should be cautious in revisiting its earlier decisions without a compelling reason. It must be necessary and essential to reopen a previously decided question, taking into account the alleged infirmity in the earlier decision, its impact on the public good, and the strength of the arguments supporting a contrary view. In this case, if the petitioners’ arguments were accepted, it would jeopardize the validity of the amendments made in 1951 and 1955 and numerous decisions related to the Acts in the Ninth Schedule.
(iii) Parliament was not creating any new land legislation in enacting the impugned Act. Instead, it was validating land legislation already passed by the State Legislatures.
(iv) The power granted to Parliament under Article 368 can be exercised prospectively and retrospectively. Parliament has the authority to validate laws previously declared invalid by the courts.
(v) The power conferred by Article 368 includes the authority to modify or change the provisions of the Constitution, including the fundamental rights guaranteed by Part III. The word “amendment” should not be strictly interpreted in a dictionary sense; it encompasses the amendment of all provisions of the Constitution. The proviso to Article 368 unambiguously indicates that the substantive Part of the Article applies to all aspects of the Constitution.
The term “law” in Article 13(2) does not encompass a law passed by Parliament under its constituent power to amend the Constitution. If the Constitution-makers had intended that any future amendments to the provisions regarding fundamental rights should be subject to Article 13(2), they would have explicitly stated so. It is unreasonable to assume that the fundamental rights in Part III were meant to be unalterable and beyond the reach of any future amendment. The Constitution-makers must have foreseen that Parliament should be competent to amend those rights to address evolving socioeconomic challenges. Therefore, the fundamental rights in Part III are not intended to be eternal and can be amended through Article 368.
Article 226, which grants the High Court the power to issue writs, falls under the proviso to Article 368, while Article 32, which allows citizens to move the Supreme Court for writs, falls under the main part of the section. There may be an anomaly in the modes prescribed by Article 368 for amending Articles 226 and 32, and Parliament may consider remedying this by including Part III in the proviso.
The Court followed the precedent set by the case of Sri Sankari Prasad Singh Deo v. Union of India and State of Bihar (1952). It also referred to the cases of A. K. Gopalan v. State of Madras (1950) and In re: The Delhi Laws Act (1951).
(vi) The argument that the impugned Constitution (Seventeenth Amendment) Act does not amend Part III’s provisions but makes independent provisions by adding Articles 31A and 31B and Acts to the Ninth Schedule is not reasonable. The Court rejected this contention. The Act indeed amends Articles 31A and 31B, Part of Part III, and adds Acts to the Ninth Schedule. By doing so, Parliament used a specific method to amend Part III instead of amending each relevant Article separately. This approach taken by Parliament in 1951 provided a valid basis for further amendments in 1955 and 1964.
(vii) Including Acts in the Ninth Schedule to make them valid does not imply that the Legislatures that passed those Acts have lost their authority to repeal or amend them. If a Legislature amends any of these Acts, the amended provision would not enjoy the protection of Article 31B, and its validity would be subject to examination based on its merits. Inclusion in the Ninth Schedule ensures protection from judicial review for the existing provisions of those Acts, but any future amendments to them would still be open to scrutiny.
The Supreme Court held that the Constitution (Seventeenth Amendment) Act, 1964, which amended Articles 31A and 31B and added Acts to the Ninth Schedule, was constitutionally valid. The Court ruled that the power conferred by Article 368 includes the authority to modify or amend the provisions of the Constitution, including the fundamental rights guaranteed by Part III. The amendments made by Parliament were considered incidental and insignificant in their impact on Article 226, thus falling under the substantive Part of Article 368 and not invoking the proviso.
The Court dismissed the contention to reconsider the Shankari Prasad case, emphasizing that previous decisions should not be lightly reviewed or departed from without compelling reasons. It was affirmed that the fundamental rights in Part III were not intended to be immutable and beyond the reach of any future amendment.
Furthermore, the Court rejected the argument that the impugned Act made independent provisions, concluding that it indeed amended Part III of the Constitution. The inclusion of Acts in the Ninth Schedule aimed to validate them but did not strip the Legislatures of their power to amend or repeal those Acts in the future.
The original copy of the judgement is here.
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