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Fundamental Rights – Articles 31 till 35

Article 31A of the Indian Constitution provides protection to certain laws related to property acquisition by the state from being challenged on the grounds of violating Fundamental Rights, particularly Articles 14 (Equality), 19 (Freedoms), and the now-abolished 31 (Right to Property). These laws encompass various categories of property acquisition, including land reforms such as the abolition of zamindari system and imposition of ceilings on landholdings, acquisition of property for public purposes such as infrastructure development or creation of public utilities, and takeover of property management by the state for a limited period, either in the public interest or for ensuring proper management.

Additionally, laws related to amalgamation of corporations, extinguishment or modification of rights of directors or shareholders of acquired corporations, and extinguishment or modification of earlier granted mining leases are also protected under Article 31A.

Key provisions of Article 31A include limited protection, as it only shields laws enacted within specific categories mentioned above and does not protect arbitrary property acquisition laws. Furthermore, laws under Article 31A must still provide for “fair compensation” to the affected property owner, although the method and amount of compensation are not rigidly defined.

Despite the protection provided by Article 31A, certain exceptions exist where individuals can challenge property acquisition in court. These exceptions include situations:

1. Where the law was not enacted for a genuine public purpose,
2. Where the acquisition process was not fair or did not follow due procedure, or
3. Where the compensation provided is demonstrably inadequate.

These exceptions ensure that the protection afforded by Article 31A is not misused and that individuals have recourse to legal remedies in case of unjust property acquisition.

Article 31B, introduced in 1951 alongside Article 31A, is another contentious provision related to property rights in the Indian Constitution. It validates specific existing laws listed in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, immunising them from challenges based on any Fundamental Right enshrined in Part III. This essentially shields these laws from being declared unconstitutional even if they violate individual rights like equality, freedom, or (previously) property.
Unlike Article 31A, which protects specific categories of laws, 31B applies to a broader range of already existing laws listed in the Ninth Schedule. It has a wider scope and retroactive effect, validating these laws even if they were enacted before the Constitution came into force, potentially infringing on existing rights. Courts cannot strike down laws included in the Ninth Schedule based on Fundamental Rights violations, leading to concerns about undermining the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

However, Supreme Court intervention, as seen in the case of I.R. Coelho v. State of Tamil Nadu, has established certain limitations on Article 31B’s application. While offering limited protection, the court has emphasised that laws under 31B must still adhere to basic constitutional principles like the rule of law and due process, meaning laws will be subjected to judicial review. Additionally, the “basic structure” doctrine, established in the Kesavananda Bharati case, prevents amendments violating the Constitution’s core principles, even with parliamentary majorities. This doctrine offers some safeguard against the excessive use of Article 31B and ensures that fundamental rights are not unduly compromised.

Article 31C, added in 1971 through the 25th Amendment, occupies a unique space in the Indian Constitution, dealing with the interplay between Directive Principles of State Policy (Part IV) and Fundamental Rights (Part III). It remains relevant for laws enacted before 1978 that fall under its protection, as well as legal challenges where balancing Directive Principles and Fundamental Rights beyond property rights come into play.

While offering broad protection, the Supreme Court plays a crucial role in ensuring that the law has a reasonable nexus to the intended Directive Principle, that the infringement on Fundamental Rights is minimal and proportionate to achieve the desired social goal. Additionally, courts move to ensure that alternative, less restrictive measures were explored before infringing on rights.


Article 33 of the Indian Constitution grants the Parliament the authority to modify the application of certain Fundamental Rights for specific groups, namely the Armed Forces, forces responsible for maintaining public order (such as the police), intelligence and counter-intelligence agencies, and personnel employed in related telecommunication systems. The purpose of this provision is to enable the Parliament to enact laws that may restrict or abrogate certain Fundamental Rights within these groups in order to ensure the proper discharge of duties and the maintenance of discipline. It is noteworthy that State legislatures do not possess this power, emphasising the centralised nature of this authority.
Any restrictions imposed under Article 33 must be reasonable and proportionate to achieve the aforementioned objectives, ensuring a balance between the protection of Fundamental Rights and the exigencies of these specialised groups’ functions and responsibilities.

Article 34 of the Indian Constitution provides indemnity for actions taken during martial law, that is military rule in simple terms. This article grants the Parliament the authority to pass laws that indemnify any person, whether in service of the Union, State, or others, for actions undertaken while maintaining or restoring order in an area under martial law. Additionally, it empowers Parliament to validate any sentences, punishments, or other actions carried out during the period of martial law. The purpose of this provision is to offer legal protection to personnel who may have resorted to extraordinary measures during exceptional circumstances like martial law. However, it is essential to note that such indemnification is contingent upon the actions being bona fide efforts to restore order and uphold public safety.

Article 35 empowers the Parliament, and Parliament only, to make laws related to specific Fundamental Rights as under Articles 16(3) (residence in a state or union territory as a pre-condition for particular employment or appointments in the respective state or union territory or in local authorities or other authorities within that state or union territory); Article 32(3) (empowering courts other than Supreme Court to issue directions, writs and other powers conferred on the Supreme Court for protecting fundamental rights); Article 33 (Restricting or abrogating the application of Fundamental Rights to members of armed forces and police forces, etc.); and Article 34 (indemnity for actions taken during martial law).

It’s crucial to recognise that these provisions serve as exceptions to the broader framework of Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Constitution. They are invoked under specific circumstances, such as considerations related to national security, the preservation of public order, and the facilitation of the efficient functioning of certain groups within society. Moreover, any limitations or constraints imposed under these articles must adhere to the principles of reasonableness, proportionality, and alignment with the intended scope of these provisions.

In navigating the application and interpretation of laws formulated under Article 35, the Judiciary assumes a pivotal role. It is tasked with scrutinising the constitutionality of legislative enactments, ensuring that they align with the overarching principles and values enshrined in the Constitution. By safeguarding the integrity of Fundamental Rights while also acknowledging the necessity of legislative action in specific contexts, the Judiciary contributes to upholding the balance between individual liberties and the collective welfare of society.

Note: Remaining articles related to right to freedom, i.e., Articles 20 and 22, and the Right to Remedy will be discussed in the next article.

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