In 1973, Kesavananda had filed a case challenging the Kerala government’s attempts to impose restrictions over the mutt property. In a wafer-thin majority ruling of 7-6, the 13-judge bench pronounced that while Parliament had “wide” powers, it cannot alter the basic structure of the Constitution.
Kesavananda Bharati, the head of Edneer Mutt at Kasaragod in Kerala whose petition in the Supreme Court led to the landmark verdict of 1973 that outlined the basic structure doctrine of the Constitution, died in the early hours of Sunday.
He was 79 and had been indisposed for the past two weeks, said sources from the mutt.
Bharati was the head of Jagadguru Shankaracharya Samsthanam mutt, which belongs to the Shankaracharya tradition. The mutt is believed to have been established by Totakacharya, one of the first four disciples of Adi Shankaracharya.
He was the petitioner in the His Holiness Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru and Ors. Vs. State of Kerala and others case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the basic structure of the Constitution is inviolable, and cannot be amended by Parliament.
It was on March 21, 1970 that Bharati moved the apex court, challenging the Kerala government’s takeover of land owned by the mutt as per the land reforms Act of 1969.
Following enactment of the law, the mutt had lost its property and was struggling for financial resources for its functioning and charitable activities.
Veteran barrister M K Nambiar, the father of K K Venugopal, currently Attorney General of India, had introduced Bharati to jurist Nani Palkhivala and he had helped Bharati file the petition in Supreme Court.
In his petition, Bharati had sought enforcement of rights guaranteed under Article 25 (Right to practice and propagate religion), Article 26 (Right to manage religious affairs), Article 14 (Right to equality), Article 19(1) (f) (freedom to acquire property), Article 31 (Compulsory Acquisition of Property).
He had prayed that provisions of the Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963 (Act 1 of 1964) as amended by the Kerala Land Reforms (Amendment) Act 1969 (Act 35 of 1969) be declared unconstitutional, ultra vires and void. During pendency of the writ petition, the Kerala Land Reforms (Amendment) Act 1971 was passed and it received assent of the President on August 7, 1971.
The petition was heard by a 13-member bench, the largest-ever bench in the history of the Supreme Court. The court heard the petition for 68 working days, from October 31, 1972 to March 23, 1973.
In an interview a few years ago, Bharati had said that he believed the SC verdict was God’s decision. He had said he was successful in protecting the property of the mutt and happy that many persons benefited from the verdict in their fight for justice.
Bharati became the head of the mutt at the age of 19 in 1960 following the death of Ishwarananda Bharati Swami. Under him, the mutt emerged as a seat of art and learning.
Bharati was passionate about Carnatic music and was at the forefront of promoting Yakshagana, a traditional theatre form popular in Kasaragod and coastal Karnataka. He had directed Yakshagana plays and used to organise musical concerts at the mutt.