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Doctrine of Eclipse

This article talks about the overshadowing of laws inconsistent with the Fundamental Rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution.

By: Charu Bajaj, Final Year Student at Geeta Institute of Law (2015-2020) 

Introduction

Any law inconsistent with the fundamental rights does not become dead completely but is overshadowed by the fundamental right, so it becomes unenforceable. However, the law becomes dormant only against citizens and remains operative against non-citizens who are not entitled to the fundamental right concerned. The eclipse is evacuated when the necessary amendment is made, the law is validated by the amendment and hence becomes operative. 

Article 13 of the Indian Constitution

  1. All laws in force in the territory of India immediately before the commencement of the constitution shall be void to the extent to which they are inconsistent with the provisions of Part III of the constitution.
  2. State shall not make any law which takes away the fundamental rights and any law made in contravention of fundamental rights, shall, to the extent of the contravention, be void.
  3. Law includes ordinance, order, regulation, bye-law, notification, custom or usage.
  4. Judicial review is the basic structure of the constitution. (1)

Eclipse occurs when an object is overshadowed by another object. Similarly, the doctrine of eclipse is applied when any law violates the fundamental rights and the rights overshadow the other law or act and make it unenforceable, but not void ab initio. The law can be reinforced when the part inconsistent with the fundamental rights is amended or removed.

Relevant Case Laws

Bhikaji Narain Dhakras v. State of Madhya Pradesh (2)

In this case, section 43 of the Motor Vehicle Act, 1939 was amended by the Central Provinces and Berar Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 1947. The Amendment Act empowered the provincial government to take up the entire provincial motor business, which was violative of Article 19(1)(g) of the constitution. The court held that for time being the disputed law was to be eclipsed by the fundamental rights and the effect of the Constitution Act, 1951 was to remove the shadow and make the disputed act free from any infirmity.

Deep Chand v. State of Uttar Pradesh (3)

The court held that a post-constitutional law made under Article 13(2) which is inconsistent or in conravention of the fundamental rightsis nullity from its inception. The doctrine of eclipse cannot be applied to post-constitutional laws and a subsequent amendment cannot revive it. The doctrine of eclipse is applicable to pre-constitutional laws only. 

Golak Nath v. State of Punjab (4)

In this landmark case, Parliament’s power to amend all parts of the Constitution, including Part III was questioned. The Supreme Court reversed its earlier decision which upheld the Parliament’s power to amend the constitution including the fundamental rights. The judgment left the parliament with no power to curtail fundamental rights and opined that the amendment needs to be constitutional. Thus, Article 368 was eclipsed.

Kesavanand Bharati v. State of Kerala (5)

The eclipse from Article 368 in the Golaknath’s case was removed by giving parliament the power to amend the constitution including fundamental rights without changing the basic structure of the constitution.  

Application of Doctrine of Eclipse to the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC)

In Rathinam v. Union of India (6), the constitutional validity of Section 309 of IPC was questioned which states the punishment for anyone who attempts to commit suicide with simple imprisonment for up to one year. The apex court gave it a corresponding view with the other fundamental rights that if Article 19 gives us the right to freedom of Speech, which also includes the right to not speak, similarly, the right to life under Article 21 includes the right to not live. Thus, section 309 was held to be unconstitutional and hence was abolished.

In the case of Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab (7), the supreme court reversed the judgment given in P. Rathinam’s case and Section 309 of IPC again came into existence which was previously not removed from the act but was only overshadowed. 

Conclusion

The fundamental rights are of paramount importance, Article 13 talks about the doctrine of eclipse and protects the dormancy of the fundamental rights. Along these lines, the doctrine of eclipse provides for validating the pre-constitution laws that violate fundamental rights upon the reason that such laws are not null and void ab initio but rather become unenforceable to the degree of such irregularity.

If any resulting amendment to the constitution expels the irregularity or the contention of the law being violative of the fundamental rights, at that point the eclipse disappears and that specific law becomes functional again.

(1) Kesavananda Bharti v. State of Kerala, (1973) 4 SCC 225. 
(2) AIR 1955 SC 781
(3) 1959 AIR SC 648
(4) 1967 AIR 1643
(5) (1973) 4 SCC 225
(6) 1994 AIR SC 1844
(7) 1996 AIR SC 946

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