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The Doctrine of Severability under Article 13

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The doctrine of severability, as enshrined in Article 13 of the Indian Constitution, is a crucial legal principle that helps uphold fundamental rights. It allows for the selective invalidation of specific provisions within a statute inconsistent with the constitutional guarantees. 

By employing the doctrine of severability, the courts can strike a balance between preserving a statute’s validity and protecting individuals’ fundamental rights.

What is the Doctrine of Severability?

The doctrine of severability states that if certain parts or provisions of a statute conflict with fundamental rights, the entire statute will not be declared void. Instead, only the particular clause or provision inconsistent with the fundamental rights will be treated as void by the court of law.

Preserving Constitutional Validity

The primary objective of the doctrine of severability is to ensure the preservation of constitutional validity. It recognizes that a statute may contain provisions that violate fundamental rights, but it also acknowledges that other parts of the statute may be in harmony with the Constitution. 

Therefore, instead of nullifying the entire statute, the doctrine allows for removing the offending provisions while upholding the validity of the remaining portions.

Balancing Fundamental Rights

By employing the severability doctrine, the courts balance preserving constitutional validity and protecting fundamental rights. The doctrine enables the court to remove or strike down specific provisions that infringe upon fundamental rights while allowing the other provisions to remain in force as long as they are consistent with the Constitution. 

This approach ensures that individuals’ fundamental rights are safeguarded while maintaining the legal effectiveness of the statute.

Application and Judicial Discretion

The application of the doctrine of severability requires careful analysis and judicial discretion. The court must determine whether the offending provision can be separated from the rest of the statute without substantially affecting its purpose or rendering it meaningless. 

The intention is to preserve the valid provisions and remove only those that violate fundamental rights.

Example 1: Right to Privacy and Aadhaar Act

In 2017, the Supreme Court of India ruled on a challenge to the validity of specific provisions of the Aadhaar Act, which established a unique identification system for Indian residents. The court held that while the Aadhaar Act was valid, specific provisions violated the fundamental right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Applying the doctrine of severability, the court struck down the provisions that infringed upon the right to privacy while upholding the constitutionality of the rest of the Act. By doing so, the court ensured that the valid provisions of the Aadhaar Act, aimed at efficient service delivery and preventing identity fraud, remained in force while protecting individuals’ fundamental right to privacy.

Example 2: Decriminalization of Homosexuality

In 2018, the Supreme Court of India delivered a landmark judgment in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India, decriminalizing consensual homosexual acts. The court declared Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalized same-sex relationships, unconstitutional as it violated the fundamental rights to equality, privacy, and dignity.

In this case, the doctrine of severability was not explicitly invoked since the court found the provision to be entirely unconstitutional. However, it serves as an example of how the courts can invalidate a specific provision or section of a statute, in this case, Section 377, while upholding the validity of the remaining provisions of the Indian Penal Code.

Summary

The doctrine of severability, as outlined in Article 13 of the Indian Constitution, is an important tool in upholding fundamental rights. It allows for the selective invalidation of specific provisions within a statute inconsistent with the Constitution while preserving the validity of the remaining provisions. 

By employing the doctrine of severability, the courts balance preserving constitutional validity and protecting fundamental rights, ensuring that the legislative intent is respected within the framework of the Constitution.

Note: Access complete CLAT Legal Reasoning notes here.


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