Doctrine of Eclipse

Dec 17th, 2020 | by  malvika singhal


Fundamental rights conform to the rights of every citizen of India that allow them to live a life that is more than mere animal existence. If these fundamental rights conformed by Part III of the Constitution are violated, they are punishable under the Indian Penal Code. Article 13 of the Constitution of India states that laws that are inconsistent with fundamental rights are void. To avoid the tiresome process of repealing and again executing laws, the Indian Judiciary has developed various doctrines for the same. The inconsistency of laws concerning Article 13 is solved by the Doctrine of Eclipse. 

What is the Doctrine of Eclipse?

It is based on the principle that the laws which are inconsistent with the fundamental rights do not become void ab initio or null. Instead, they become unenforceable which is to say that they remain in dormant form. They are overshadowed by the fundamental rights are in a moribund state. Such laws are not wiped out from the statute book entirely. These laws can be made operational if some amendments are made in the respective fundamental right to remove the inconsistency.

Evolution of the Doctrine

The Doctrine has evolved through various Supreme Court judgments in the leading cases over the years. These are discussed below as: 

Retrospective or Prospective nature of Article 13(1)

In the case of Keshavnan Madhvan Menon v. State of Bombay [A.I.R. 1951 S.C. 128], the petitioner raised questions as to the retrospective and prospective nature of the doctrine in the context of Article 13(1). The petitioner was accused under the Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act of 1931 of publishing a pamphlet without permission. The case was still pending when the Constitution was adopted in 1950. He contended that the provisions of the Act violated Article 19(1)(a). The court held that fundamental rights are prospective and their operation, unless otherwise made retrospective. The word "void" in Article 13(1) does not mean to wipe off or repeal the law from the statute book it only means they are inoperative to the extent of inconsistency with the fundamental rights.

The link between Pre- Constitutional Law and Article 13(1)

In the case of Behram Khurshid Pesikaka v. State of Bombay [A.I.R. 1955 S.C. 123], the petitioner was prosecuted under Section 66(b) of the Bombay Prohibition Act of 1949 which was previously Section 13 of the same act was declared void in the case of F.N Balsara v. State of Bombay [A.I.R. 1951 S.C. 318]. Court held that only that part of the act that is inconsistent with the Constitutional laws will be void, not the whole statute. 

Applicably of the Doctrine

In the case of Bhikaji Narain Dhakras v. State of Madhya Pradesh [AI.R. 1955 S.C. 781], the government passed the C. P. and Berar Motor Vehicles Amendment Act of 1947 which brought the entire transport business under the regulation of the state government. It was said to be violating Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. The court held that since this law was a pre-constitutional law, the doctrine of the eclipse was applicable and this made the provisions of the act unenforceable. In 1951, the Constitution was amended and Article 19(6) was added which removed the inconsistency of the amended act. The court said that such an amendment in the fundamental rights was made to remove the eclipse. 

What are the "Salient features" of the Doctrine of Eclipse?

The Indian Judiciary, through numerous leading cases, has tried to give a concrete shape to the present doctrine. Some of the salient features that can be interpreted from the judgments of the Supreme Court as discussed below as: 

  • The doctrine of the eclipse is only applicable to the pre-constitutional laws. 
  • The present doctrine does not apply to the post-constitution laws as the doctrine is applicable only for those laws that have been valid since the time they were enacted but post-constitution laws that are invalid with the constitution are non-operative since their very enactment. 
  • The pre-constitutional laws in conflict with the fundamental rights to be made operational by the doctrine.
  • If there is any amendment in the fundamental right in the future then also it makes such moribund laws operative.


The doctrine of Eclipse is an attempt made by the Indian Judiciary to prevent the Pre-constitutional laws from being wiped off the statute book. The applicability of the doctrine in different cases and to the kind of laws is always debatable. But the good conscious of the judiciary to prevent wastage of time in re-enacting of the legislation and the laws, delay in the process of the delivery of the justice, the hassle in going over the process of quashing the whole statute should be acknowledged and appreciated. This doctrine can be seen as the tool to harmonize the pre and post-constitutional laws and also the state and central law regulations. 




malvika singhal

malvika singhal

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