The head of Edmeer Mutt and petitioner behind the 1973 Supreme Court landmark judgment, Kesavananda Bharati has died at 79. As per the sources, he took his last breath in the wee hours at around 3.30 AM on Sunday.
It was reported that he died due to age-related health issues including cardiac and respiratory ailments.
Kesavananda Bharati was a petitioner in the revolutionary case law, Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala leading to a historic judgment given by 13 judge SC bench, the largest bench ever to sit in the top court. The 13 judge bench, in a 7-6 ruling, held that the basic structure of the Constitution is inviolable, and cannot be amended by Parliament.
On March 21, 1970, Kesavananda Bharati moved the Supreme Court challenging the Kerala government’s attempts to takeover the land owned by the Mutt through the Kerala Land Reforms Act of 1963 which was later amended in 1969. With this takeover, the mutt was struggling for financial resources for the overall activities.
Bharati had first, approached M K Nambiar, the father of K K Venugopal (Present Attorney General of India) who introduced Bharati to Nani Palkhivala to help file the petition before the Supreme Court.
KK Venugopal said, “Bharati had approached my father M K Nambiar to argue the case. But because of his ill health, he had guided him to engage Nani Palkhivala as his counsel. Bharati never realized that what he did was going to be so famous and well-known in the country that judges, lawyers, and laymen would continue to recount it even half a century later. His case was the first of the writ petitions challenging a constitutional amendment. Nani did a tremendous job and came out with flying colours. Result is that three judges were superseded. But supremacy of the judiciary became established by that judgment.”
In the petition filed through Nani Palkhivala, Bharati 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).
Bharati had also prayed to the apex court to declare the provision of the Kerala Land Reforms Act 1963 as amended by the Kerala Land Reforms (Amendment) Act 1969 void, unconstitutional, and ultra vires.
The matter was taken up by the largest constitution bench, a 13-judge bench with holding the record of longest hearing for 69 days. At that time, Supreme Court was having 16 judges from which then CJI S M Sikri appointed 13 judges to hear the matter. One other reason for being a historic judgment was that 11 of the 13 judges wrote separate judgments in the matter.
While the petition was still pending and was being heard by the bench, Kerala Land Reforms (Amendment) Act 1971 was passed after receiving the assent of the President on August 7, 1971.
On 23 March 1973, the Supreme Court announced its landmark judgment where it held that Parliament could not alter the basic structure of the Constitution of India which marked the victory of Bharati and
He was born to Manchthaya Sreedhara Bhatt and Padmavathi Amma on December 9, 1940. Bharati took sanayasa at the age of 19 and was appointed as the head of the Mutt following the death of Ishwarananda Bharati Swami in Kasaragod district, Kerala, India.
He was also pontiff of Jagadguru Shankaracharya Samsthanam mutt which was believed to be established by Totakacharya, one of the first four disciples of Adi Shankaracharya. Bharati was also honored by the Governor of Kerala with the Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer Award in 2018.