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Judgment Summary: Golaknath Vs. State of Punjab


The family of Golak Nath had over 500 acres of property in Punjab. Acting under Punjab Security and Land Tenures Act, 1953 which was placed in the 9th Schedule by the 17th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1964 the state government intimated to petitioner that he can now only possess 30 acres of land & rest will be treated as surplus. Aggrieved by this intimation of the state government petitioner filed a writ petition under Article 32 of Indian constitution and pleaded the violation of his FR’s mentioned under article 19(1)(f) i.e. Right to Hold & acquire property, 19(1)(f) Right to practice any profession & 14 (Equality before Law & Equal protection of laws).


1. Whether Fundamental Rights can be amended or not.

2. Whether Amendment is a “law” under the meaning of Article 13(3) (a).


The Apex court with the largest bench that had ever sat on an issue till that time arrived at a 6:5 majority favouring Petitioner. The judgment reversed the Supreme Court's earlier decision which had upheld Parliament's power to amend all parts of the Constitution, including Part III related to Fundamental Rights. The judgment left Parliament with no power to curtail Fundamental Rights. The Hon’ble Supreme Court held that a constitutional amendment under Article 368 of the Constitution was an ordinary 'law' within the meaning of Article 13(3) of the Constitution. The majority did not believe that there was any difference between the ordinary legislative power of the parliament and the inherent constituent power of parliament to amend the Constitution.

The majority did not agree with the view that Article 368 of the Constitution contained "power and procedure" to amend but instead believed that the text of Article 368 only explained the procedure to amend the constitution, the power being derived from entry 97 of the List I of the7th Schedule to the Constitution. According to Article 13(2), the Parliament could not make any law that violates the Fundamental Rights contained in Part III of the Constitution, a constitutional amendment, also being an ordinary law within the meaning of Article 13, could not violate the fundamental rights contained in the Constitution of India. Therefore, all constitutional amendments thus far which were in contravention or which had made an exception to fundamental rights of the Constitution were said to be void.

The Doctrine of Prospective Overruling was applied in this Case

The judgment inter alia provides for Prospective Overruling of the law laid down by this Judgment. The decision to prospectively overrule earlier decisions was a smart and reasonable move played by the Judiciary. The doctrine of prospective overruling implies that the effects of the law to be laid down will be applicable on the future dates only i.e. past decisions will not be affected by this decision. Prospective Overruling was chosen by the majority to save the nation from the chaos of retrospective operation and the judicial branch from multiple litigations that may follow after the decision opted for prospective overruling. This was to minimize the negative impact of the judgment invalidating the earlier constitutional amendments. However, these amendments were in consonance & strict accordance with the laws laid down in Shankari Prasad and Sajjan Singh, therefore they were valid as per the previous law.

Hon'ble Hidayatullah.J, one of the judges from the bench also supported Prospective Overruling by opining that previous decisions should not be affected by the ratio laid down by the present decision.


This Blog has been written by Ritika Dahiya.

Edited By: Swathi. Ashok. Nair


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