Minerva Mills vs. Union of India (1980)


On 31st July 1980, the Hon’ble Supreme court in the matter of Minerva Mills vs Union of India pronounced one of the Landmark judgement in the constitutional history of our country. This judgement not only affirmed the basic structure doctrine but also restored the faith of people in our judiciary. In this judgment, the court emphasised the importance of judicial review and the harmonious relationship between fundamental rights and the Directive Principle of State Policy (DPSP)

Background of the case

Since the emergence of Indira Gandhi in the political map of India, we witnessed a conflict of power between the executive and the judiciary. Indira Gandhi believes in the centralisation of all the power within the executive branch in order to fulfil her goal of socialism. The conflict started with the 11 Judges bench decision in Golak Nath case wherein it was held that the executive has limited power to amend the constitution. To nullify this judgement, the parliament passed the 24th Amendment which gave it unlimited power to amend any part of the constitution.

After this amendment, the parliament nationalised 14 banks and it made an active attempt to remove the privy cases. But the judiciary bounced back strongly and It invalidates both the enactments through the R.C Cooper vs Union of India case. This was a strong blow to the executive and in order to nullify the judgement, it brought the 25th and 26th constitutional amendment.

This conflict settled a bit in the landmark Kesavananda Bharati case wherein it was held that the power of amending the Constitution is subject to the basic structure of the constitution.  In order to make all these judgements void, the parliament brought out the most contentious 42nd constitutional amendment.

Section 4 of the 42nd amendment protects all those acts from declaring unconstitutional which are done to enforce our Directive Principle of State policy irrespective of the fact whether they violate Article 14, 19 or 21 of the constitution. Further Section 55 gives unlimited power to the parliament to amend the constitution. The validity of both these sections was challenged in the Minerva Mills vs Union of India case.

Brief Facts of the Case

Minerva Mills (petitioner) was a textile industry working in the State of Karnataka. It was mainly involved in the large-scale production of silk cloth for the market. At that time, the government was working in a full swing toward its model of socialism and it was acquiring sick companies for public use.

The government did similarly with Minerva Mills and declared it a sick company and thereby took its administration under Section 15 of the IDBI Act, 1951. The company couldn’t challenge this decision in the court because section 4 of the 42nd Constitutional amendment makes all the acts outside the ambit of judicial review which are undertaken to enforce the agenda of socialism.

So, the petitioner challenged the validity of Section 4 and 55 of the 42nd Constitutional Amendment, 1976.

Issues Before the Court

  1. Whether Sections 4 and 55 of the 42nd constitutional Amendment is violative of the basic structure of the constitution ??
  2. Whether the directive principles of State policy (DPSP) enshrined under  Part IV have primacy over fundamental rights provided under Part III of the constitution ??

Argument from the Petitioner

The petitioner was represented by the most famous constitutional lawyer Nani Palkiwala. He argued the following points –

  1. The power of parliament to amend the constitution is limited in nature and there are inherent limitations to amend the constitution under Article 368.
  2. The scope of Article 368 is limited to those amendments which don’t affect the basic structure of our Constitution.
  3. The achievement of DPSP’s shall not be done at the cost of violating the fundamental rights. In other words, the DPSP can’t override fundamental rights. There shall be a harmonious relationship between both the parts of the constitution and if we make one stronger than the other, it will lead to chaos.
  4. The right of getting legal remedy is the basic essence of democracy. Section 4 of the amendment curtailed this basic legal right and due to this our democracy will collapse. So, they should be struck down.
  5. For the smooth functioning of democracy, it is essential to have the principle of check and balance. If one branch of government becomes absolute, then it will end up in anarchy.

Argument from the Respondent

  1. The DPSP is an integral element for the functioning of our nation and If in the process of achieving the end goals of DPSP, some unintentional injury occurred to the fundamental rights, then it is not a violation of basic structure doctrine.
  2. The law which fulfils the directive or the objective of Article 38 shall not be considered as an abrogation of fundamental freedom and thereby it is not against the basic structure.
  3. The parliament’s power to amend the constitution is unlimited by virtue of Article 368 and not many stark changes are introduced through the 42nd Amendment.
  4. This conflict pertaining to the hierarchy of provisions totally related to is an issue of academic interest and therefore, the courts should remain aloof from giving its direction over those issues.

Judgement of the Court

The 5 judge bench in a decision of 4:1 Majority struck down section 4 and 55 of the 42nd Constitutional amendment on the ground of violating the basic structure of our Constitution. The judges upheld the ratio given in the Kesavananda Bharati case and reaffirmed the basic structure doctrine.

  • Constitutional Validity of Section 55

As per the judgement, the court held that this section is void as it made any challenges in the court impossible. Further, it removes all the restrictions imposed on the parliament and makes it an absolute authority.  The court held that the major objective of introducing this section 55 is to nullify the effect of the Kesavananda Bharati case.

This Section possesses the potential to repeal the entire holy constitution and change its nature from democratic to dictatorship one which works as per the whims and fancies of the ruling party and no one can’t challenge their conduct in a court of law. The power of judicial review is one of the integral elements of basic structure doctrine and it cannot be wither away by an amendment.

Relying on the ratio of Kesavananda Bharati, the court opined that the power to amend the constitution under Article 368 doesn’t mean the power to destroy the entire Constitution. The word “amendment” in Article 368 signifies a negative connotation and it can never empower to change the fundamental nature of our Constitution. In simple words, the power of amending the constitution will always be subject to our basic structure doctrine and judicial review is also a part of it. Thus, Section 55 is declared unconstitutional.

  • Relationship between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principle of State Policy (DPSP)

In this decision, the court explained the true relationship between the fundamental rights and the DPSP. The court said that Part III and Part IV is the identity of our Indian Constitution and if we give primacy to one over another, then it will hamper the basic foundation of our Constitution. There shall always be a harmonious relationship between both these concepts and there is no point of superiority between them.

The provision of Part IV should be achieved only while following all the fundamental rights. If any legislation or notification that gives effect to the DPSP violates the fundamental rights, then it will be held unconstitutional on the ground of being inconsistent with our basic structure.

  • Constitutional Validity of Section 4

In our Constitutional mechanism, all the legislation or the notification are put against our fundamental rights to assess or determine their constitutional validity. However, as per Section 4, Article 14 and 19 are kept away from determining the validity of an Act. Thus, the court considered it as violative of our fundamental rights and struck it down.

Analysis of the Case

This was one of the most important cases in which the doctrine of the Basic structure was substantiated and a broader interpretation was given to it. The court ensured that the ideals of our forefathers remain untouched through this doctrine and they further strengthen it.

In this case, the court explicitly said that if the parliament gets absolute power to amend the Constitution, then it will become a master in itself. This conflict between executive and judiciary ended with the fact that all the actions will be subject to judicial review in order to set up adequate checks and balances between various branches of government. The Supreme court is the final interpreter of the constitution and all the laws which violate the basic structure will be struck down by the court. The parliament can never abrogate its right to constitutional remedy which is considered as the heart and soul of our Constitution.

Our entire Constitution is based upon the strategic and harmonious relationship among various parts. The fundamental rights and DPSP both shall be interpreted in a manner to fulfil the spirit of our Constitution rather than doing injustice with each other. The Directive Principle of state policy can do much great without even abrogating the fundamental rights enshrined under Part III of the constitution.

In a nutshell, our Constitution is based on a fine delicate balance of power between the legislature, executive and judiciary. They should work with a spirit of cooperation to achieve the ends of justice.

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