Doctrine of Eclipse - UPSC Notes

The Doctrine of Eclipse states that any law which is inconsistent with fundamental rights is not invalid. It is not totally dead but overshadowed by the fundamental right. The inconsistency (conflict) can be removed by constitutional amendment.

It is an important topic for the UPSC exam. It is important to know the salient features and the significance of this doctrine, especially for the UPSC polity & governance segments. In this article, you can learn all about this important doctrine for the IAS exam.

Refer to the Indian Judicial Doctrines explained for UPSC at the linked article.

Doctrine of Eclipse UPSC Notes:- Download PDF Here

The important articles that candidates must read along with Doctrine of Eclipse are linked below:

Indian Judiciary Fundamental Rights
Supreme Court of India Parts of the Indian Constitution
Important Supreme Court Judgements Important Amendments in the India Constitution

UPSC 2023

Doctrine of Eclipse

The Judiciary is the guardian of the rights provided for in the Constitution of India. It is the job of the judiciary to restrain the actions of the Legislature and the Executive where they are infringing upon these rights. When the Constitution was adopted on January 26, 1950, with it came, the fundamental rights that are guaranteed to the citizens.

There were several existing laws at the time when the Constitution was adopted, some of which were in direct conflict with fundamental rights, so in order to determine the validity of these laws the Supreme Court came up with certain principles/doctrines, one of which was the Doctrine of Eclipse.

  • This doctrine emanates directly from Article 13(1) of the Constitution that is a part of the fundamental rights, which states, “all laws in force in the territory of India immediately before the commencement of this Constitution in so far as they are inconsistent with the provisions of this Part, i.e. Part III, shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, be void.”
  • The doctrine of eclipse envisages fundamental rights as prospective in nature.
  • It states that a pre-constitutional law inconsistent with the fundamental rights is not a nullity or void ab initio but only remains unenforceable, i.e., remains in a dormant state.
  • They exist for all past transactions, i.e., for rights and liabilities that were acquired before the Constitution came into being.
  • These laws also remain applicable to individuals who have not been given fundamental rights, for example, non-citizens.
  • Therefore, the impugned law remains hidden behind the fundamental rights and can become operative again if and when the fundamental right it is inconsistent with is amended.

Candidates can also get a comprehensive list of Important Articles in the Indian Constitution at the linked article.

Kickstart your IAS exam preparation now and complement it with the links given below:

Court Rulings related to Doctrine of Eclipse

The Doctrine of Eclipse has evolved through various Supreme Court rulings after the adoption of the Constitution.

  • In the Keshav Madhav Menon v. State of Bombay case, the petitioner was prosecuted under the provisions of the 1931 act, the Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act, for publishing a pamphlet with no permission. The case was still pending when the Constitution came into force and thus raised questions regarding the prospective and retrospective nature of Article 13(1) and the word “void”. The question before the Court was whether the impugned Act was violative of Article 19(1) (a) and if so whether it should be declared void. The Court answered the first part in affirmative adding that the Act is void only to the extent of the violation and that the word “void” used in Article 13 does not mean that statutes or provisions shall be repealed altogether.
  • In the case of FN Balsara, the Court declared Section 13(b) of the Bombay Prohibition Act of 1949 as void because it violated Article 19(1) (f) of the Constitution. The Court again held that only the part of the statute that is violative of Part III is inoperative and not the whole Statute.
  • It is generally agreed, however, that the actual genesis of this doctrine occurred in Bhikaji Narain Dhakras v. State of Madhya Pradesh. In this case, the C. P. and Berar Motor Vehicles Amendment Act of 1947 was challenged for being violative of Article 19(1) (g). This amendment act was a pre-constitutional law. Thus, the Doctrine of Eclipse was applied and the Act’s provisions were made inoperative.

However, in the year 1951, by virtue of the 1st Constitutional Amendment Act, Article 19(1) (g) was amended and the eclipse was removed, rendering this law enforceable against citizens and non-citizens. According to the Court, “the effect of the amendment was to remove the shadow and to make the impugned Act free from all blemish or infirmity”.

The Doctrine of Eclipse – Salient Features

Doctrine of Eclipse - Salient Features

  • The doctrine only applies to pre-constitutional laws that were valid at their inception.
  • The doctrine is not applicable to post-constitutional laws since they are invalid from the very inception because of being inconsistent with Part III; the same was held by the Supreme Court in Deep Chand v. State of Uttar Pradesh. However, non-citizens can’t take any advantage of the rule as the violation doesn’t impact them.
  • The impugned law must be violative of the fundamental rights, and then only can it be hidden or eclipsed.
  • The law that turns out to be violative of Part III does not become a nullity but just remains unenforceable & defective.
  • If the fundamental right that is violated by the impugned law is amended in the future, the law automatically becomes operative.

The judgments of Bhikaji and Deep Chand were upheld in the cases of Mahendra Lal Jain v. State of Uttar Pradesh, State of Gujarat v. Ambica Mills, Sagir Ahmed v. State of Uttar Pradesh and P. L. Mehra v. D. R. Khanna.

Aspirants should not confuse the Doctrine of Eclipse with the Doctrine of Lapse which was an administrative policy in British India.

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The Doctrine of Eclipse is one of the fairly subtle principles of the rule of law that has helped the pre-constitutional laws from being wiped out altogether. It is imperative to mention here that the applicability of this doctrine to post-constitutional laws is still somewhat of a grey area. However, this doctrine has been effective in harmonizing the pre-constitutional and post-constitutional positions with respect to various laws, such harmonization has ensured the triumph of constitutionalism in every sense of the word.

IAS aspirants can get the updated UPSC Syllabus for the prelims and mains examination for the upcoming Civil Services Exam at the linked article and accordingly start their preparation.

Frequently Asked Questions about Doctrine of Eclipse


What is the relation of Doctrine of Eclipse and Doctrine of Severability?

The ‘doctrine of eclipse’ cannot be invoked in the case of a post Constitution law whereas; ‘Doctrine of Severability’ makes the law void ab initio. Owing to Article 13(2) of the Indian Constitution, limitations are laid upon the legislature to adhere to the fundamental rights of the constitution.

What is Doctrine of Eclipse in the Indian Constitution?

Doctrine of eclipse is contended in Article 13(1) of the Indian Constitution. Article 13 states that any law which was made before the commencement of the constitution must be consistent with the part III of the Indian Constitution. If any statue which is inconsistence with the provisions provided under part III of the Indian constitution such statue shall become void.

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