Constitutional Law- Minerva mills vs Union of India and ors.

SUBJECT: CONSTITUTIONAL LAW

CASE NAME: Minerva mills vs union of India and ors.

CITATION: AIR 1980 SC 1789

BENCH: Chandrachud, Y.V (CJ), Bhagwati, P.N Gupta, A.C. Untwalia, N.L. Kailasam, P.S.

PETITIONER: Minerva Mills Ltd & Ors.

RESPONDENTS: Union of India & Ors.

DECIDED ON: 31/July/1980

Introduction:

Fundamental Rights are the essence of the Constitution and should be considered more than a directive principle because they can be enforced by the Court. The three organs of the Constitution include legislation, executive, and judiciary. It is important that there should be a right balance between them. There have been instances where the executive and legislative have committed action in order to expand power over the other organs. To protect the rights of the individual judiciary, have time and again taken steps to protect those rights. In the case of Minerva Mills vs Union of India[1]a similar attempt was made to exploit the power of the Parliament.  

Facts of The Case:

On August 20, 1970, the Central Government appointed a committee under section 15 of the Industrial (Development and regulations) Act, 1951 [2]to investigate into the affairs of the Minerva Mills as it was apprehended that the industry was likely to suffer from a substantial fall in the volume of production. The Committee submitted its final report in January 1971. Based on its report the central government passed an order under section 18A of the act of 1851 authorising the National Textile Corporation Limited to take over the management of the Mills on the ground that its business was being managed which prejudiced public interest. Hence this undertaking was nationalised and taken over by the central government under the Sick Textile Undertaking (Nationalization) Act, 1974. Thereafter the petitioner challenged the order under the High Court but the petition was dismissed. The petitioner, therefore, filed a Writ Petition in Supreme Court under article 32 of the Constitution of India[3], 1950. The petition challenged various provisions of the Sick Textile Undertaking act 1974 and also the order of the Central government of the takeover. Apart from this section 4 and 55 of the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976 was also challenged on the basis that it violated the basic structure of the Constitution of India.

Issues Raised:

  •  Whether insertion made under Article 31C and Article 368 through sections 4 and 55 of the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976 does hamper the basic structure doctrine? 
  • Whether the Directive Principle of the State policy has primacy over Fundamental right to the Indian Constitution?   

Arguments Advanced by The Petitioners:

The petitioners were represented by Nani Palkhivala he was the ambassador of the Janata Government soon he felt the need to return to India to protect Human Rights so he argued the case on the behalf of the previous owners of the Minerva Mills. 

  • The amendment powers of the parliament are limited under Article 368. This amendment would allow parliament the creature of the Constitution to become its master. 
  • The court decision in the Kesavananda Bharati case mentioned that the Parliament has no authority to disturb the basic features of the Constitution. 
  • It was an obligation on the State to pass laws on the Directive Principle of the State policy but it should be done through permissible means it cannot overrule the Fundamental Rights. 
  • Due to section 55 of the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1976 no court would have the power to review the constitutional amendment passed by the Parliament this would damage the balance between the Judiciary and the Parliament. 
  • There would be a disbalance that would be created between the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles of the State Policy there is a need to create a harmonious construction. 
  • Almost every law enacted by the government would one or the other way be associated with the Directive Principles. 
  • To give immunity to the Directive Principle would wipe out Article 19 and Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. 

Arguments Advanced by The Respondents:

The State was represented by the attorney general L.N. Sinha and additional solicitor general K.K. Venugopal they both were in a precarious position to defend the amendment passed the emergency era: 

  • Article 31C of the Indian Constitution [4]reinforced the basic structure doctrine, Directive Principles provided goals in absence of Fundamental Rights.  
  • Any harm that is caused to the Fundamental Rights won’t amount to the violation of the basic structure doctrine. 
  • To achieve the goals framed under the Directive Principle of the State Policy powers of the Parliament should be supreme there should be no restrictions on its amendment powers. 
  • The issue related to academic interest should not be decided by the Court. 
  • The government through the naturalization process was assisting the company to raise loans. 

Judgement of The Court in Brief:

The writ petition challenging various provisions of the Sick Textile Undertaking (Nationalization) Act, 1974 was unanimously dismissed by the Supreme Court. The Court observed that the affairs of the company were mismanaged in a manner detrimental to the public interest. The petitioner’s claim that the Nationalization act was unconstitutional as it damages the basic structure of the Constitution was also rejected by the court. The court held that the Nationalization act comes under the umbrella of Article 31C (unamended before the 42nd Amendment) and they were not entitled to challenge its validity on the ground of violation of provisions of Article 14 [5]and Article 19 [6]of the Constitution.

By a majority of 4:1, the Supreme Court held section 4 of the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976 as unconstitutional while Justice P.N. Bhagwati giving the dissenting opinion. Section 55 of the Constitution (42nd amendment) Act was also held to be unconstitutional unanimously by the bench.

Analysis of The Judgment:

Indira Gandhi government after feeling aggrieved by the decision of the apex court in Indira Gandhi Nehru v. Raj Narain passed the 42nd Amendment Act in the year 1976. This amendment was a black stain on the noble provision of article 368 i.e. Constitutional Amendment. This amendment made explicit something which no one can imagine from a democratically elected government. This amendment made the challenge of Constitutional Amendments in the courts of law unjustifiable, further it clearly laid down that there is no sort of limitation on the Parliament’s competency when it comes to Constitutional Amendments. This amendment was made so that Parliament can without fear of any institution do whatever necessary to satisfy their political greed. This amendment even gave the power to parliament to rewrite entire Constitution and turn this Democratic nation into a Totalitarian regime. Earlier the courts had the power to shed water on malicious acts of legislature however after enactment of the 1976 amendment act the courts were stripped off this power. The arguments that the government advanced in defense of such a horrific law was that to achieve the goals enunciated in Part IV it is necessary to make Parliament Supreme when in reality the Parliament was making it escape from the clutches of Judiciary. The Parliament was contending that since Part IV provisions are also basic structure therefore, the achievement of such provisions cannot be termed as violation of basic structure. The legislature also said that if an unintentional injury is caused to Part III provisions in the process of fulfillment of Part IV provisions it would not be a violation of basic features of the Constitution.

The apex court in the said judgment rejected all the contention raised by the legislature. It held that Section 55 of the amendment act 1976(through which courts were stripped off their power to entertain challenge) is unconstitutional since it violates the basic structure. Therefore, the court struck down the said sections. The court opined that snatching from the citizens their power to seek constitutional remedies which were termed as Heart & Soul of the Constitution[7][5]is an unpardonable wrong to the Constitution. This would cause an irreversible damage to the sanctity of the Constitution & hurt its spirit. The court very well pointed out in the decision that it is not the function of the judges to question the validity of laws rather it is their duty. The parliament cannot even by a unanimous vote in both houses strip this right because Judicial Review is basic structure of the Constitution. Relying on the analogy of Justice Hedge & Mukherjee the court said that some features are basic while other are circumstantial and where the latter may be changed the former can never be changed because it will change the whole spirit of those features.

The court also explained the relationship between the provisions of Part III & Part IV where it held that the entire Indian constitution is based upon the foundation of these provisions. Over emphasis on one part will be injustice to another part. There can be achievement of Part IV provisions without the abrogation of Part III provisions. The court also laid down that this harmonious relation between Part III & Part IV is basic feature of Constitution. Bhagwati J. wrote the minority opinion in which he dissented with the majority and held that the courts have to look into the substance of law, if it is actually for fulfillment for Part IV provisions only then it will be constitutional. 

Conclusion:

 This case establishes that the amending power of the Parliament is limited. It can amend the Constitution but the amendment cannot destroy the basic structure and the identity of the Constitution of India. Through this case, the Supreme Court held that the judicial review is one of the most important functions of the judiciary and every constitutional amendment are subject to judicial review. Thus any law which is likely to transgress the basic structure shall be struck by the Supreme Court. Through this case, the apex court also established that the DPSP and the fundamental rights are supplemental to each other and the balance formed by the Constitution between the two is one of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution. Thus the parliament is wrong in giving primacy to one over another and the provisions of Part IV must be achieved but without abrogation of Fundamental Rights and anything which shakes this balance violates the essential balance of the Constitution.


[1] AIR 1980 SC 1789

[2] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1487644/

[3] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/981147/

[4] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/198382/

[5] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/367586/

[6] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1218090/

[7] https://theprint.in/theprint-essential/what-is-article-32-which-ambedkar-said-was-heart-and-soul-of-constitution/546050/

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