According to Indian law, any existing law that is incompatible with fundamental rights does not entirely become invalid. This is known as the eclipse doctrine. If the Constitution of India, 1950, is amended appropriately to align the contested law with the fundamental rights, it can be made valid. The fundamental rights doctrine is based on the idea that they are prospective.
Because the fundamental rights of the Constitution of India, 1950 did not exist at the time that law was created, any pre-Constitutional law that violated those rights would not be declared invalid. However, concerns have been raised about whether this doctrine also applies to laws passed after the Constitution, all of which have been addressed in this article.
The Indian Constitution and the Doctrine of Eclipse
Article 13 of the Indian Constitution, which discusses laws that violate or interfere with fundamental rights, has a connection to this doctrine. According to Article 13(1), any law that was in effect on Indian territory before the Constitution took effect and that violates or conflicts with one or more of the fundamental rights outlined in Part III of the Indian Constitution is invalid to the extent of the conflict. In addition, Article 13(2) states that any new law that violates fundamental rights, to the extent of such violation, is null and void. These clauses are firmly in line with the severability doctrine. According to this doctrine, any part of a statute that violates the Constitution will be cut out and only that part of the statute will be deemed invalid.
As a result, the court may rule that particular provision invalid rather than the entire act. Article 13(4), however, specifies that constitutional amendments are exempt from the provisions of Article 13. This suggests that laws enacting constitutional amendments that violate or remove certain fundamental rights are still valid even if they are in conflict with the rights.
Origin and development of Doctrine of Eclipse
Since the Indian Constitution was adopted, many laws have been challenged for violating fundamental rights. Similar to eclipse, judicial review helped establish it. This legal doctrine was officially declared in Bhikaji Narain Dhakras and Ors v. State of Madhya Pradesh (1955), but it had been applied in theory in earlier cases.
First signs of this doctrine can be found in Keshava Madavan Menon v. State of Bombay (1951). The appellant in this case was charged under the Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act, 1931, for a 1949 pamphlet. The appellant argued that no case could be brought against him because the pamphlet was in line with Article 19(1). (a). When the pamphlet was published, the Indian Constitution’s fundamental rights did not exist. Appellant couldn’t claim ownership. This case showed that fundamental rights are prospective, not retroactive. Since any statute is prospective unless otherwise stated, the Court determined that Article 13(1) was prospective in this case. This article’s language does not imply retroactive application. Reaffirmed in Pannala Binaraj v. Union of India (1957).
Behram Khurshid Pesikaka v. the State of Bombay addressed the relationship between Article 13(1) and pre-Constitutional laws that violated fundamental rights (1955). The appellant was charged under Section 66(b) of the Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949. The paragraph discusses drunk driving.
The appellant cited the State of Bombay and Anr v. F.N. Balsara, in which it was determined that Section 13(b) of the Act was invalid as it applied to alcoholic medicinal and toilet preparations because it violated Article 19’s fundamental rights. By extension, the appellant said Section 66(b) should not apply to alcoholic medicines and toilet preparations.
The Balsara case was initially ruled not to have repealed or amended the section. The majority opinion stated that the section was “notionally obliterated” from the statute in reference to a larger constitutional bench. The Balsara decision is a strong defense against a Section 66(b) charge involving alcoholic medicinal and sanitary preparations. It was up to the defense to disprove the prosecution’s claim that the accused was intoxicated with alcohol other than alcoholic medicinal preparations.
Indian Penal Code eclipse doctrine
Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, which punishes suicide attempts, was questioned in P. Rathiram v. Union of India (1994). Section 309 violated Article 19, which gives the right to not speak along with free speech. The section was also said to violate Article 21, which gives the right to die.
Gian Kaur v. the State of Punjab ruled this invalid (1996). Thus, Rathiram had eclipsed Section 309 with fundamental rights that Gian removed.
Post-Constitutional eclipse laws.
Article 13(1) applies to pre-constitutional laws, 13(2) to post-constitutional laws. Deep Chand v. Uttar Pradesh drew a distinction between these two clauses (1959). While pre-constitutional laws continue to exist except to the extent of inconsistencies with Part III of the Indian Constitution, post-constitutional laws in contravention of Part III are void ab initio. The eclipse doctrine cannot apply to post-Constitutional laws, per Article 13. In Sagir Ahmed v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1954), the Supreme Court ruled that any law enacted after the Indian Constitution’s start that violated Article 19(1)(g) could not be made valid.
Mahendra Lai Jaini v. Uttar Pradesh is another important case (1963). In this case, it was established that the eclipse doctrine does not apply to post-Constitutional laws and that they cannot be automatically revived by Constitutional amendments. Thus, the challenged act would be void ab initio if it violated Article 13’s fundamental rights (2). To implement that law, the Constitution must be amended and the law re-enacted. K.K. Poonacha v. State of Karnataka reaffirmed this principle (2010). In this case, the main question was whether an act can be declared void if it wasn’t reserved for the President’s consideration and didn’t receive his assent as required by Article 31(3) of the Constitution. The lack of assent does not invalidate a law. Eclipsed until the irregularity was removed. Article 31 was repealed, reviving the act.
Other situations have used this doctrine. In K.P. Manu, Malabar Cements Ltd v. Chairman, Scrutiny Commt (2015), the court ruled that when a person converts to Christianity or another religion, his/her original caste is eclipsed, but when he/she recants, the eclipse disappears and the caste automatically revives. UOI & Ors. v. Duli Chand (2010) held that a stayed penalty order remains eclipsed and not dead. When a stay is vacated, the penalty restarts.
The eclipse doctrine’s application is clear. Allowing Constitutional amendments can validate pre-constitutional laws that violate fundamental rights, but not post-constitutional laws. Article 13 distinguishes between pre- and post-Constitutional laws. This doctrine allows unconstitutional pre-Constitutional laws to be dormant until they can be revived in the future.