Judgement of the day: Minerva Mills V. Union of India

Bench:

Y.V. Chandrachud (then CJI), A.C. Gupta, N.L. Untwalia, P.S. Kailsam & P.N. Bhagwati JJ.


Background:

Minerva Mills was a textile industry in the State of Karnataka engaged in the mass production of silk clothes and provided market to the general public. The Central Govt. was suspicious that if the company fulfilled the criteria to be classified as a silk industry. Therefore, the Central Govt. in 1970 appointed a committee u/s 15 of the Industries (Development and Regulation) Act, 1951 for making a full detailed report analyzing the affairs of Minerva Mills. Relying on the Committee’s report, on October 19, 1971 the Central govt. empowered National Textile Corporation Limited (a body under the 1951 act) to take over the management of Minerva Mills u/s 18A of the 1951 act.


Earlier through the 39th Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 1975 the Parliament inserted Nationalization Act, 1974 into the Ninth Schedule which means that any challenge on the said act was outside the purview of judicial review. Now, the petitioner was not able to challenge this aspect of the 39th amendment since this remedy was barred by 42nd Amendment. The Parliament after suffering massive defeat in Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Shri Raj Narain in order to make its power and authority supreme passed 42nd amendment to bar any challenge on constitutional amendments in courts of law.


Therefore, the main issue before the court was to check the constitutionality of 42nd Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 1976.


Judgement:

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 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 an unanimous vote in both houses strip this right because Judicial Review is basic structure of the Constitution. Relying on the analogy of Justice Hegde & Mukkerjea 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 fulfilment for Part IV provisions only then it will be constitutional.

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