• The family of Henry and William Golak Nath held over 500 acres of farmland in Jalandhar, Punjab.
• In the phase of the 1953 Punjab Security and Land Tenures Act, the state government held that the brothers could keep only thirty acres each, a few acres would go to tenants and the rest was declared ‘surplus’.
• This was challenged by the Golak Nath family in the courts and the case was referred to the Supreme Court in 1965.
• The family filed a petition under Article 32 challenging the 1953 Punjab Act on the grounds that it denied them their constitutional rights to acquire and hold property and practice any profession (Articles 19(1)(f) and 19(1)(g)) and to equality before law and equal protection of the law (Article 14). They also sought to have the Seventeenth Amendment – which had placed the Punjab Act in the Ninth Schedule – declared ultra vires.
• Whether Amendment is a “law” under the meaning of Article 13(3)( a), and
• whether Fundamental Rights can be amended or not.
• The petitioner argued that the constitution of India was drafted by the constituent assembly and it is of permanent nature. No one can change or can try to bring change in the constitution of India.
• They argued that the word “amendment” in question only implies a change in accordance with the basic structure but not altogether a new idea.
• Further, the petitioner contended that the fundamental rights enshrined under part III of the constitution cannot be taken away by the parliament. They are essential and integral part of the constitution without which constitution is like a body without a soul.
• The petitioner also argued that Article 368 of our constitution only defines the procedure for amending the constitution. It does not give the power to the parliament to amend the constitution.
• The last thing on which the petitioner argued before the court was that Article 13(3)(a) in its definition of “law” covers all types of law i.e. statutory and constitutional etc. And by virtue of Article 13(2), which says that the state cannot make any law which takes away the rights mentioned under Part 3, any constitutional amendment which takes away the Fundamental rights will be unconstitutional and invalid.
• The respondent contended before the court that constitutional amendment is a result of the exercise of its sovereign power. This exercise of sovereign power is different from the legislative power which parliament exercises to make the laws.
• Our constitution makers never wanted our constitution to be rigid in its nature. They always wanted our constitution to be flexible in its nature.
• The object of the amendment is to change the laws of the country as it deems fit for the society. They argued that if there won’t be any provision for amendment then, it would make constitution a rigid and non-flexible one.
• They further argued that there is no such thing of basic structure and non-basic structure.
• All the provisions are equal and of equal importance. There is no hierarchy in the constitutional provisions.
• In this case, at that time the supreme court had the largest bench ever. The ratio of the judgment was 6:5, majority was favouring the petitioners.
• Whereas Justices K.N. Wanchoo, Vishistha Bhargava and G.K Mitter wrote single minority opinion and justices R.S. Bachawat & V. Ramaswami wrote separate minority opinions.
• The majority opinion of Golakh Nath shows scepticism in their minds about the then course of parliament. Since 1950 the parliament has used article 368 and have passed a number of legislations that had in one or other way violated the fundamental rights under part III of the constitution.
• The majority had doubts that if Sajjan Singh remained the law of the land, a time can come when all fundamental rights adopted by our constituent assembly will be changed through amendments.
• Keeping in view the problem of fundamental rights and fearing that there can be a transfer of Democratic India into totalitarian India. Therefore, the majority overruled Sajjan Singh & Shankari Prasad.
• The majority said that the parliament has no right to amend the fundamental rights. These are fundamental rights that are kept beyond the reach of parliamentary legislation.
• Therefore, to save the democracy from an autocratic actions of the parliament the majority held that parliament cannot amend the fundamental rights enshrined under Part III of the Constitution of India.