What is Constitution ?


The hierarchical structure of the legal order of a State is that the Constitution is the highest level within national law. The Constitution in the formal sense is a solemn document containing a set of legal norms which may be changed only when special prescriptions are observed. The purpose of special prescriptions is to render the change of these norms more difficult by regulating the manner and form of these amendments. The Constitution consists of those rules which regulate the creation of the general legal norms, in particular, the creation of statutes. It is because of the material Constitution that there is a special form for constitutional law. If there is a constitutional form then constitution laws must be distinguished front ordinary laws. The material Constitution may determine not only the organs and procedure of legislation, but also, to some degree the contents of future laws. The Constitution can negatively determine that the laws must not have a certain content e.g. that the Parliament may not pass any statute which restricts religious freedom. In this negative way not only contents of statutes but of the other norms of legal order, judicial and administrative decisions likewise, may be determined by the Constitution. The Constitution can also positively prescribe certain contents of future statutes. This may be illustrated with reference to the provisions in Article 22 that no person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be of the grounds for such arrest nor shall he be denied the right to consult, and to be defended by, a legal practitioner of his choice.

133. Articles 245 and 246 give plenary powers to legislatures to legislate. The only question is whether any provision of the Constitution is violated. The power of plenary body is not to be construed like the power of a delegate. The largest kind of power will be attributed to legislature. The only prohibition is with reference to the provisions of the Constitution. The Constitution is the conclusive instrument by which powers are affirmatively created or negatively restricted. The only relevant test for the validity of a statute made under Article 245 is whether the legislation is within the scope of the affirmative grant of power or is forbidden by some provision of the Constitution.

134. To accept the basic features or basic structures theory with regard to ordinary legislation would mean that there would be two kinds of limitations for legislative measures. One will pertain to legislative power under Articles 245 and 246 and the legislative entries and the provision in Article 13. The other would be that no legislation can be made as to damage or destroy basic features or basic structures. This will mean rewriting the Constitution and robbing the legislature of acting within the framework of the Constitution. No legislation can be free from challenge on this ground even though the legislative measure is within the plenary powers of the legislature.

135. The theory of implied limitations on the power of amendment of the Constitution has been rejected by seven Judges in Kesavananda Bharati’s case (supra). Our Constitution has not adopted the due process clause of the American Constitution. Reasonableness of legislative measures is unknown to our Constitution. The crucial point is that unlike the American Constitution where rights are couched in wide general terms leaving it to the Courts to evolve necessary limitations our Constitution has denied due process as a test of invalidity of law. In A. K. Gopalan v. State of Madras, (1950) SCR 88 due process was rejected by clearly limiting the rights acquired and by eliminating the indefinite due process. Our Constitution contemplates that considerations of justice or general welfare might require restriction on enjoyment of fundamental rights.

136. The theory of basic structures or basic features is an exercise in imponderables. Basic structures or basic features are indefinable. The legislative entries are the fields of legislation. The pith and substance doctrine has been applied in order to find out legislative competency, and eliminate encroachment on legislative entries. If the theory of basic structures or basic features will be applied to legislative measures it will denude Parliament and State legislatures of the power of legislation and deprive them of laying down legislative policies. This will be encroachment on the separation of powers.

137. The Constitutional validity of a statute depends entirely on the existence of the legislative power and the express provision in Article 13. Apart from the limitation the legislature is not subject to any other prohibition. The amendments made to the 1951 Act by the Amendment Acts, 1974 and 1975 are to give effect to certain views expressed by this Court in preference to certain views departed from or otherwise to clarify the original intention. It is within the powers of Parliament to frame laws with regard to elections. Parliament has power to enumerate and define election expenses Parliament has power to lay down limits on election expenses. Parliament has power to state whether certain expenses can be included or may be excluded from election expenses. Parliament has power to adopt conclusive proof with regard to matters of appointment resignation or termination of service. Parliament has power to state what can be considered to be office of profit. Parliament has power to state as to what will and what will not constitute corrupt practice. Parliament has power to enact what will be the ground for disqualification. Parliament has power to define “candidate”. Parliament has power to state what symbols will be allotted to candidates at election. These are all legislative policies.

138. The conclusive evidence or conclusive proof clause is an accepted legislative measure. Similarly, giving retrospective effect to legislative amendment is accepted to be valid exercise of legislative power. The well-known pattern of all Validation Acts by which the basis of judgments or orders of competent Courts and Tribunals is changed and the judgments and orders are made ineffective is to be found in M. P. V. Sundaramier and Co. v. The State of Andhra Pradesh, (1958) SCR 1422 . The power of the legislature to pass a law includes a power to pass it retrospectively. An important illustration with reference to retrospective legislation in regard to election is the decision of this Court in Kanta Kathuria’s case (supra). Kanta Kathuria was disqualified by reason of holding an office of profit. First the Ordinance and later the Act was passed to nullify the decision of the High Court. The Ordinance as well as the Act stated that notwithstanding any judgment or order of any Court or Tribunal, the officer shall not be disqualified or shall be deemed never to have disqualified the holders thereof as a member of the Legislative Assembly. The rendering of a judgment ineffective by changing the basis by legislative enactment is not encroachment on judicial power because the legislation is within the competence of the legislature.