Constitutional Law: Doctrine of Eclipse

Updated: Jul 31


If the Moon can get over shadowed by eclipse, it is still a law!

Yes! Just like the beautiful moon gets overshadowed many times in a calendar year just to remind us that to every bright side there is a dark one, which is inevitable and hard to ignore. This doctrine similarly functions to overshadow the delusional bright side and helps to safeguard the Fundamental Rights of the citizen. The Doctrine of Eclipse has been enshrined in the supreme law of land The Constitution of India in article 13.

Constitution is the prominent law book which tries to strike equilibrium between the state and it’s citizen, so that those in authority and powerful position do not try to invade the rights and liberty of their fellow citizens. Everyone is subjected to follow the provisions of the Constitution; to see that it does not become stagnant certain principles have been devised in order to guide policy makers and safeguard the inalienable rights of the citizen. One such principle is the Doctrine of Eclipse mentioned in article 13, part III of constitution. According to the Doctrine, Constitution makes those Laws void ab initio and unenforceable if such a law violates and is inconsistent with the Fundamental Rights mentioned in the part III of The Constitution. Fundamental Rights have a prospective effect and as a result of its operation if any law tries to harm the liberty given under them; this principle just makes it inoperative and not altogether a dead law. This article also restrains the Central and State Government to make such laws which can infringe, takeaway the inviolable rights. Any order, ordinance, bye laws, rules, regulations, custom, tradition and usage if it is incompatible with the Fundamental rights of the people it is deemed to be unenforceable and non-binding in the country.

 Tracking the inception and the evolution of the Doctrine of Eclipse in India one can catch a glimpse of the doctrine being repeatedly utilized in the cases where there is an alleged violation of Fundamental Rights. The Doctrine has opened the door for several discussions and reviews which will be evaluated in the later part. The part III of Constitution was made after a thorough research and discussion. When the court strikes a part of law under this doctrine it becomes unenforceable till that date when constitutional disability is removed either by subsequent amendment in the law or in the fundamental rights. It is thus a significant feature of this that as soon as the Eclipse is removed the law becomes enforceable and binding.

There are various salient features of the Doctrine of Eclipse which makes it valuable and unique from other Doctrines. While making the constitution part III was dealt in detail for 38 days. The chief components are undermentioned:

· It is an indispensable part of article 13 which is mentioned in the Part Ill of The Constitution which deals with the fundamental rights of citizens.

· Fundamental Rights exist from the time when Constitution came into presence. The prime aim of this Doctrine is to shield Fundamental Rights of the people from those arbitrary and erratic statutes or law made by the Government which may be incompatible with the rights and freedom of people.

· The Doctrine also pursues to make the pre-constitutional statutes unenforceable and non-binding as far as they violate the fundamental rights.

· Doctrine of Eclipse does not altogether repeals or removes the laws but is shadowed by it. It acts like the Valencia filter for the pre or post Constitutional laws.

· In future, if there are certain revision or amendment in either the Fundamental Rights or law which was overshadowed and was inconsistent as well as violated the Fundamental rights is now invariant or compatible, the statute will become enforceable and obligatory.

Landmark judgements pertaining to the applicability of The Doctrine of Eclipse. After Independence, the Indian courts did the remarkable job of interpreting and evaluating the pre-constitutional laws. This doctrine was introduced and established after a thorough discussion on its applicability on the old laws and how it would influence the essence of our Constitution.

In Bhikaji V. State of MP. AIR 1955, there was a Motor Vehicle Act of 1939 enacted by the British government in colonial India. It gave power to the Central Government and State Government to modify the road transport rules. The main purpose of the Law was to enhance the transport facilities for the British Officers and their goods to be traded. Accordingly, the State of MP enacted CP and Berar Motor Vehicle(amendment) Act 1948. This act authorised to take up the whole transport business of the perpetrators and to exclude the motor transport operator as well. This provision of law was valid when it was legislated, but after The Constitution came into existence it became incompatible with article 19(1)(g) of Part III.

In the year 1951 clause(6) of the article19 was reconstructed so as to facilitate and authorise the Government to establish monopoly over any business or trade. It was done in furtherance of removing the Eclipse due to the article 13 and make the disputed statute independent from any deficiency or imperfection. After the amendment in 1951, it became enforceable once again against the citizen and non-citizens once the constitutional obstruction was eliminated.

In Keshava Madhava Menon V. State of Bombay, AIR 1951: The petitioner, in this case, was prosecuted under the Press Law where he published a pamphlet called, "Railway Mazdooro ke khilaf nai sazish" in Bombay. The offence was booked under the Indian Press(Emergency Powers)Act, 1931. While the proceedings were initiated and in operation, the Trial Court said that it was a case which involved the question of law. While the case was still undergoing it's proceedings The Constitution of India was enacted on  January 26, 1950. A written statement was then filed by the petitioner on March 3, the same year stating that the definition of "Newsheet" given in Section 2(6), Section 2(10), Section15(1) and Section18(1) of the Indian Press(Emergency Powers) Act were incompatible, void and ultra vires according to Article 19(1)(a) and under Article 13.

The Supreme court held that the Fundamental rights came into force from the time  when Constitution came into being. The question of inconsistency arose from the date when the Fundamental Rights came into existence. Court held that the law became ineffective and void not completely but to the extent it abridged and violated Part III of The Constitution conferring Fundamental Rights to the citizens.

Ambika Mills Limited V. State Of Gujarat AIR 1964, In this judgement it was ruled out that if a law which has been enacted after The Constitution came into force and infringes the Fundamental Rights of Citizens it doesn't mean that it is void for Non-Citizens as well. The honourable Supreme Court held that non citizens cannot avail fundamental rights and therefore are not allowed to take the benefit of voidness and inconsistency of law under Article 13 of the Constitution. Therefore even if the Fundamental Rights of a Citizen is being infringed by a law the same law will be applicable to non-citizens without being Eclipsed by the Doctrine.

In Shankari Prasad V. Union of India AIR 1951: In the year 1951 the fundamental right to property was wiped out. The removal of this right was questioned in this case. The Constitution of India provides for its amendment in article 368 through the Parliament. As Fundamental Right is also a part of Constitution it was valid for the Parliament to amend Part III as well.  Supreme Court said that taking away of the Fundamental rights in the prescribed constitutional way was valid. Similarly in Golaknath V. State of Punjab AIR 1967 it was held that if the need for amendment arises in any case it should be constitutional and left the Parliament without any authority to curtail the fundamental rights thus it eclipsed article 368 of the Constitution.

Later in the year 1973, the distinguished Keshavanda Bharati V. State of Kerala once again gave  power to the Parliament to amend Indian Constitution as well as the Fundamental Rights without altering the Basic Structure of the Constitution. In this way the eclipse was removed from article 368.

Deep Chand V. State of Uttar Pradesh AIR 1959 it was decided that any law made after the year 1950 i.e.; after the Constitution came into force if that law further infringed Fundamental Rights it will be declared to be void ab initio and the doctrine of eclipse will cease to operate.

Critically analysing The Doctrine of Eclipse one can notice that a previously declared void law can be restored. But the point should be noted here is the law which was declared void and non-binding on certain sensitive and critical ground of infringement of Fundamental rights is re-enacted in order to save administrative difficulty and expenditure, should they revive automatically? Without any supervision. It is possible that the same law may affect different Fundamental right now!

It has been well established that our Constitution has no retrospective effect it has prima facie prospective effect but the Doctrine of Eclipse seeks to invalidate all pre Constitutional laws inconsistent with Fundamental Rights and makes them void.

The use of the word "Void" in Article 13(1) commonly implies that the statute has been repealed and discarded. The Supreme Court in the judgement of Keshavan Madhav Menon, 1951said that the article has only the capacity of nullifying or making it ineffective rendering the former laws unenforceable and non-binding. Thus the infringing statute is only eclipsed or shadowed and not removed completely. Every statute prima facie has the ability of having prospective effect.  This article was added with an intention to give it a retrospective effect as it has been explicitly mentioned that, " All laws in force before commencement of this Constitution".

We can thus conclude that The Doctrine of Eclipse is a significant component of part III of the Indian Constitution which epitomizes the theory of constitutionalism given by John Locke which limited the powers of government so that it doesn't act tyrannically. The doctrine has acquired a pivotal role and defends the inalienable rights from being violated. This Doctrine also seeks to restrain the powers of the Central and State Government so that they work and make rules in accordance with the Fundamental Rights given by the Supreme Law Book of the land. It gives maternal nourishment necessary for the survival and upkeep of the fundamental rights. Here is the beauty of the doctrine that it also conserves different statutes from being completely annihilated and erased from the law books by making them non-functioning and dormant for a period till when they can become operative, binding and enforceable. Generally, any statute if declared unconstitutional cannot be revived and it has to go through the whole process in the Parliament and if it attains the assent of President it will be enforced. But if a law has been eclipsed it can revive automatically by any amendment in the said law or the fundamental right. One can comprehend the rationale behind including the Doctrine of Eclipse in the Constitution so that the administrative expenses and difficulty could be removed, as well as to reduce the difficulties of re-enacting the law afresh to save time and money. But it is a matter of concern that the law which earlier infringed the fundamental rights of the people revives automatically without going through scrutiny and debate which any other law has to undergo before re-enactment. Thus is it beneficial for India to revoke the doctrine or should the government take certain steps in order to safeguard the citizens from the misuse of previous laws. One should never back out from difficulties rather they should face adversities valiantly. Without removing the Doctrine of Eclipse Government can certainly try to scrutinise and debate over the laws which were declared void so that The Doctrine of Eclipse can benefit everyone it true sense.


-Avinash kumar

Team Lawtsapp

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