Doctrine of Eclipse
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Doctrine of Eclipse

The Doctrine of Eclipse calls any law inconsistent with a fundamental right as invalid. The inconsistency in the act can be removed by a constitutional amendment under Article 368 of the Indian Constitution.

While the Indian Constitution was adopted on 26 January 1950, fundamental rights became an important provision. The Fundamental Rights are important rights which are guaranteed to all the citizens of India by the Indian Constitution.

The Judiciary, one of the bulwarks of the administration, is the guardian of the rights provided by the Indian Constitution. 

Any law, which the judiciary believes to be restricting the fundamental rights of a citizen, can be revoked. It is thus the job of the judiciary to keep the actions of the Executive and the Legislature accountable. 

Why was there a requirement of Doctrines like Doctrine of Eclipse and Doctrine of Severability?

Just after the Constitution was adopted, it was identified that there were several existing laws, which were directly in conflict with the Fundamental Rights.

In order to determine the intent and hence the validity of these laws, the Supreme Court came up with these doctrines, one of them being the Doctrine of Eclipse.

Article 13 made void all such laws in force in India before the commencement of the Constitution, which were inconsistent with the provisions of the Fundamental Rights.

The Doctrine of Eclipse is derived from the very same Article 13.

The Doctrine of Eclipse contemplates that the Fundamental Rights are prospective in nature.

  • It states that any pre-constitutional law, inconsistent with the Fundamental Rights, would not be null (like in the Doctrine of Severability), instead would only remain unenforceable.
  • However, for people not holding citizenship of India, the laws would continue to remain applicable.

Thus, according to the Doctrine of Eclipse, the impugned law would remain hidden behind the Fundamental Rights, and would become enforceable only if and only when the Fundamental Right is inconsistent with its amendment.

Doctrine of Eclipse – Important Cases

Since the adoption of the Indian Constitution, the Doctrine of Eclipse has evolved through various Supreme Court rulings.

Keshav Madhav Menon v. State of Bombay case

In Keshan Madhav Menon vs. State of Bombay case, under the Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act, the petitioner was prosecuted for publishing a Pamphlet against the British Government.

While the Constitution was adopted, the case remained pending. Thus, questions arose regarding the retrospective and prospective nature of Article 13. Whether the India Press (Emergency Powers) Act was against Article 19(1)? Whether the act could be declared void?

While the court held that the Act was indeed violative of Article 19(1), it also held that the word “void” in the Article 13 didn’t mean that the statute or the law itself were to be repealed.

FN Balsara

In the FN Balsara case, the Court held that Section 13 (b) of the Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949 was void. It stated that the Act was violative of the Article 19 (1) (f) of the Indian Constitution.

Further, the court also held that only the part violative of the Article was violative, and not Part III altogether. 

Bhikaji Narain Dhakras vs. State of Madhya Pradesh

In the Bhikaji Narain Dhakras vs. State of Madhya Pradesh case, CP & Berar Motor Vehicles Amendment Act of 1947 was challenged to be violative of the Article 19 (1) (g).

This amendment to the Act was pre-constitution. Thus, using the Doctrine of Eclipse, some parts of the provisions were declared unenforceable.

What happens when the Fundamental Right, which is violated by a law, is amended?

This is what happened in 1951. By the very 1st Constitutional Amendment Act, Article 19 (1) was amended, making the eclipse void. Thus, the impugned act became free of all blemish, as stated by the Court. 

Salient Features of the Doctrine of Eclipse

  • The Doctrine of Eclipse is ONLY applicable to the pre-constitutional laws and not to the post-constitutional laws.
  • This is because the post-constitutional laws would become ineffective since the very inception of the Constitution and it being inconsistent with Part III of the Indian Constitution.
    • The same was held by the Supreme Court in the Deep Chand vs. State of Uttar Pradesh.
  • The impugned law must violate the Fundamental Rights, and it is only then that the law can be hidden.
  • The impugned law would just be inoperative and unenforceable, and not “null & void”.
  • If in the future, the Fundamental Right which was violated by the impugned law is amended, the law would automatically become operative.

To Conclude…

The Doctrine of Eclipse helped clean up all pre-constitutional laws violative of the fundamental rights as inoperative. However, the usage of the Doctrine of Eclipse to the post-constitutional laws remains disputed. While the court held that the very emergence of the Constitution holds all laws violative of Fundamental Rights as invalid, it still has some gray areas.

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