6 Landmark Judgements of the Supreme Court of India - The power tussle with the Parliament

landmark judgements of the supreme court of India

There have been several important landmark judgments of the Supreme Court of India that changed the course of Indian history and defined the constitutional values that the establishment should follow. Here is an analysis of some of the landmark judgements of the supreme court of India that were the turning points for Indian Judiciary, showcasing the tussle between the parliament and the Supreme Court of India. This judicial activism started back in the 1960s,  when for the first time the Supreme Court of India was brought into the picture in relation to the Berubari case.

A case which was considered an epitome of foolishness by one and opportunism by the other. It involved the demarcation of boundary dispute, where  Radicliffee, “the unbiased divider”, awarded Berubari Thana to India, but forgot to mention the same in official documents, after which Pakistan started claiming it. Later the dispute was settled by the Nehru-Noon agreement in 1958. The Berubari Union was divided equally into the parties.

This sparked various criticisms of the Nehru Government and the case was referred (Presidential Reference) to the Supreme Court. For which the latter said that the parliament does have the power to cede any territory under Article 3 of the Indian Constitution. They can do so by bringing an amendment under Article 368. In one of the landmark judgements of the Supreme Court of India held that the preamble is not a part of the constitution. Later in 1969, the Supreme Court gave another decision implying that the settlement of boundary disputes does not require any constitutional amendment and can be done by executive orders, provided that no cession of territories is involved.

In the year of 1967, there was an important case of Golaknath v/s State of Punjab, where the state had forcefully taken the property of the Golaknath family. This action goes against Article 14, Article 19 (1) (f) (was in existence back then) and Article 31 of the Indian Constitution. The petitioners filed a petition to the apex body, by exercising their fundamental right given under Article 32. In one of the landmark judgements of the Supreme Court of India, it held that amendment powers of parliament are not unlimited and that they cannot amend the fundamental rights.

Later in 1973, in the Keshvanand Bharti v/s State of Kerala, the Supreme Court upheld the parliament’s right to amend the entire constitution. The court also said that amendments shall not hurt the basic structure of the constitution. The basic structure doctrine since then has been used in various cases of judicial review under Article 226 and 227 by the High Courts and Article 32 and 136 by the Supreme Court of India. The judgement established that the parliament cannot take away the judicial review power of the Supreme Court of India. This was one the most important landmark judgements of the supreme court of India

Post which in 1976, in ADM Jabalpur v/s Shivakant Shukla case (Habeas Corpus case), the Supreme court which was under immense pressure to tow the lines of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, gave judgement in the favour of government by upholding the arbitrary arrests by the authorities. This case is still regarded as a black day in the history of the judiciary where judges sold justice to fear and position. Justice Hans Raj Khanna, the only dissenting voice, earlier had mentioned to his sister, “I have prepared my judgment, which is going to cost me the Chief Justice-ship of India.”. Later Justice Khanna resigned from his post in 1977.

Later again, the judicial review came into question in 1980, when Minerva Mills v/s the Union of India case came in front of the Supreme Court of India, where the court held that the parliament has some limits in amending the constitution. The apex body said that they cannot take away the judicial review in any act whatsoever passed by the parliament as it is a basic feature of the constitution. The Supreme Court also established that the Directive Principles of State Policy cannot supersede the Fundamental Rights. It was also established that the parliament cannot extend their amending power by bringing in a constitutional amendment.

In 1985, when a Muslim woman who was divorced and expelled from her home by her husband, filed a petition in the Supreme Court where she won the case and she was granted the alimony. This was very important step towards the gender equality. Later, under the pressure of radical Islamist groups, the government overturned the judgement of the Supreme Court in Mohd. Ahmed Khan v/s Shah Bano Begum case and enacted Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 which limited the alimony time to the period of Iddah (90 days). Later in the Danial Latifi & Anr vs Union Of India on 28 September 2001, the Supreme Court of India upheld the earlier judgement and nullified the Muslim Women Act, 1986.

(Note - Rest of the important cases will be covered in the upcoming articles of the Landmark Judgements.)

Leave a Reply