Guides Interpreters Of Constitution Like A 'North Star': CJI Chandrachud On Basic Structure Doctrine

The Chief Justice of India stated during the Nani A Palkhivala Memorial Lecture that a judge's skill lies in applying contemporary cultural context to the Constitution's text while preserving its soul.

Guides Interpreters Of Constitution Like A 'North Star': CJI Chandrachud On Basic Structure Doctrine
Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud. (Image: ANI/File)

Chief Justice DY Chandrachud on Saturday referred to the basic structure doctrine as the 'North Star' that directs and guides constitutional interpreters and implementers when the road ahead is convoluted.

The CJI's comments followed those made recently by Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar, who raised questions over the landmark 1973 Kesavananda Bharati case ruling, which established the basic structure doctrine. Dhankar had stated that the decision set a poor precedent and that it would be challenging to claim that "we are a democratic nation" if any authority questioned Parliament's authority to modify the Constitution.

The Chief Justice of India stated during the Nani A Palkhivala Memorial Lecture that a judge's skill lies in applying contemporary cultural context to the Constitution's text while preserving its soul.

"The basic structure of our Constitution, like the north star, guides and gives certain direction to the interpreters and implementers of the Constitution when the path ahead is convoluted," he said.

"The basic structure or the philosophy of our Constitution is premised on the supremacy of the Constitution, rule of law, separation of powers, judicial review, secularism, federalism, freedom and the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation," PTI quoted him as saying.

Remembering Nani Palkhivala, who was an eminent jurist, the CJI said that we need people like him to hold candles in their steady hands to light the world around us from time to time. Our Constitution has a distinct personality that cannot be changed, the CJI quoted Nani.

According to him, the doctrine of basic structure has demonstrated that it might be advantageous for a judge to consider how other jurisdictions have solved challenges similar to their own.

The basic structure principle served as the justification for overturning a number of constitutional changes, including the one concerning the appointment of judges to the higher courts.

Dhankhar, who is the Rajya Sabha chairman, recently said he does not subscribe to the Kesavananda Bharati case verdict that Parliament can amend the Constitution but not its basic structure. He had asserted that parliamentary sovereignty and autonomy are quintessential for the survival of democracy and cannot be permitted to be compromised by the executive or judiciary.

Addressing the 83rd All India Presiding Officers Conference in Jaipur on January 11, he said the judiciary cannot intervene in lawmaking.

"In 1973, a wrong precedent (galat parampara) started. In 1973, in the Kesavananda Bharati case, the Supreme Court gave the idea of basic structure saying Parliament can amend the Constitution but not its basic structure. With due respect to the judiciary, I cannot subscribe to this," Dhankhar, who has been a Supreme Court lawyer, said.

Dhankar's statement came against the backdrop of a raging debate on the issue of appointment to the higher judiciary with the government questioning the current Collegium system and the Supreme Court defending it.

In his lecture, Chief Justice Chandrachud said the identity of the Indian Constitution has evolved through the interaction of Indian citizens with the Constitution, and has been accompanied by judicial interpretation.

"The craftsmanship of a judge lies in interpreting the text of the Constitution with the changing times while keeping its soul intact," he added.

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