The Doctrine of Eclipse is a very important judicial innovation in the field of Constitutional law. The word eclipse means “to hide”. This doctrine is based on the principle that a law that violates Fundamental Rights is not void from the very beginning but becomes only unenforceable. It is overshadowed by the Fundamental Rights and remains dormant, but it is not dead. The inconsistency of law can be removed by making constitutional amendments to the relevant fundamental rights so that the eclipse of the law can be removed and the entire law becomes valid. So, it means till the time a law violates fundamental rights provided by the Indian Constitution, it is void and inoperative. But if such eclipses are removed by making certain amendments, the laws become operative and valid again.
When a court strikes any part of the law, it becomes unenforceable. Hence, an ‘eclipse’ is said to be cast on it. The law just becomes invalid but continues to exist. The eclipse is removed when another makes the law valid again or an amendment is brought to it by way of legislation.
Article 13 of the Indian Constitution talks about this doctrine of the eclipse. The scope and extent of article 13 of the Indian Constitution have been a matter of debate in various cases and had resulted in the conflicting decisions of the Supreme Court. Courts have evolved various doctrines like the doctrine of severability, prospective overruling, and acquiescence. The Doctrine of Eclipse is one such principle, based on the premise that Fundamental Rights are prospective in nature.
According to article 13(1) of the Indian Constitution which talks about pre-constitutional laws stated as:
“All laws in force of territory of India, immediately before the commencement of the constitution, which are inconsistent with the fundamental right under part-III shall be void to the extent of such inconsistency.”
The Doctrine was inherited implicitly in the ruling of the Supreme Court in Keshavan case; it was further qualified by the dissenting opinion in Behram case and was subsequently propounded as law in Bhikhaji Case.
REDA ALSO: PREAMBLE UNDER THE INDIAN CONSTITUTION
KESHAVAN MADHUVA MANON V/S STATE OF BOMBAY, 1951 –
The Doctrine of Eclipse was first originated in this case. The court held that since constitutional rights came from date of commencement of Constitution the question of the inconsistency of the existing laws with those rights must necessarily arise on and from the date those rights came into being.
BHIKAJI NARAIN V/S STATE OF MADHYA PRADESH, AIR 1955 S.C.781 –
In this case Berar Motor Vehicle Act, 1947 was challenged. In this case there were certain sections which empower the state government to take under the whole motor business. After 1950 these all sections become void according to section 19 of the Fundamental Rights.
The Supreme Court added the Doctrine of Eclipse in the Indian Constitution and held that any existing law inconsistent with fundamental rights becomes inoperative from the date of Constitution is not totally dead. It was dormant.
DEEP CHAND V/S STATE OF UTTAR PRADESH, 1959 –
In this case, Supreme Court held that a post-constitutional law as made under article 13 of the Indian Constitution which contravenes a Fundamental Right is void from beginning. This Doctrine of Eclipse does not apply to post-constitutional law but applies only to pre-constitutional law.
P. RATINAM CASE –
The Supreme Court of India, in this case, has held that section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 unconstitutional. Hence, the section was under eclipse.
GIAN KAUR CASE –
The constitutional bench in this case reversed the decision of P. Ratinam case and held the section as constitutional whereby the eclipse was removed and it because operable again. Since the section was void but it was not removed from law books and from act.
STATE OF GUJARAT V/S AMBICA MILLS, AIR 1974 –
In this case court held that post constitutional law as not void an initio in all cases. Such law will become void and null only against citizens and not against non-citizens.
The Doctrine of Eclipse exemplifies a subtle, nuanced aspect of the theory of Constitutionalism and the rule of law. It is used, in exceptional circumstances, to save unconstitutional statues from being totally wiped off the statute book, and to merely render them dormant or inoperative for the time being. While ordinarily, a statute held unconstitutional cannot be revived except by re-enactment, a statute under eclipse is revived by obliteration of the limitation generating the taint of unconstitutionality.
There are various cases which are related to this doctrine of eclipse. The Supreme Court of Indian in its earlier decisions had applied the doctrine of eclipse only to pre-constitutional laws but later on in the case of the State of Gujarat v/s Shri Ambika Mills, it stated that the doctrine of eclipse can be extended to the post constitutional laws as well.