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Landmark Judgments that changed India’s Polity

  • Categories
    Polity: The State of the State
  • Published
    17th May, 2022


  • To differentiate between “great” and “landmark”, it is necessary, to begin with, some very fine distinctions. A great judgment is one that restores the constitutional values of a polity from the waywardness into which it may have fallen, while a landmark judgment is one which opens up new directions in our constitutional thinking and, in the process, adds new dimensions to what is regarded as established constitutional principles. If “great” restore the centrality of constitutional values, “landmark” revitalises them.
  • The Supreme Court is the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution and, by its creative and innovative interpretation, has been the protector of our constitutional rights and fundamental freedom.
  • These judgements are to be appreciated not only as precedents but also as having laid down the law on issues of paramount importance—a law that is binding on all courts and authorities in the country.


  1. K. Gopalan v. State of Madras (1950): Procedure Established by Law
Relevance: In the case, the Supreme Court interpreted the Fundamental Rights under Part III of the Indian Constitution A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras (1950).
  • In this case, it held that the protection under Article 21 is available only against arbitrary executive action and not from arbitrary legislative action.
  • This means that the State can deprive the right to life and personal liberty of a person based on a law.
  • This is because of the expression ‘procedure established by law’ in Article 21, which is different from the expression ‘due process of law’ contained in the American Constitution.
  • Hence, the validity of a law that has prescribed a procedure cannot be questioned on the ground that the law is unreasonable, unfair, or unjust.
  • Secondly, the Supreme Court held that ‘personal liberty’ means only liberty relating to the person or body of the individual.
  1. Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978): Procedure Established by Law: Fair, Just and Reasonable

Relevance: Expanding the meaning of the ‘right to life under the Constitution of India

  • The view expressed in K. Gopalan’s case was revisited in this case after about 28 years.
  • The right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 reads: ‘No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”.
  • In other words, courts were not allowed to question any law—no matter how arbitrary or oppressive—as violating the right to life or personal liberty if the law had been suitably passed and enacted.
  • The SC also ruled that the mere existence of an enabling law was not enough to restrain personal liberty. “The procedure prescribed by law has to be fair, just and reasonable, not fanciful, oppressive or arbitrary.”
  • However, by vesting in itself the power of substantive review under Article 21, the court transformed itself from being merely a supervisor to being a watchdog of the Constitution.
  • The Supreme Court’s judgement in the Maneka Gandhi case effectively meant that ‘procedure established by law’ under Article 21 would have the same effect as the expression ‘due process of law’.
  • In a subsequent decision, the Supreme Court stated that Article 21 would read as: ‘No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to fair, just and reasonable procedure established by valid law.
  1. Shreya Singhal v. Union of India (2015): Section 66A of the IT Act
Relevance: In a landmark ruling, India’s Supreme court had nullified Section 66A, terming it vague and unconstitutional. This judgement is significant as it safeguards the fundamental right of freedom of speech.
  • Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 made it a punishable offence for any person to send 'grossly offensive' or 'menacing' information using a computer resource or communication device.
  • The Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, relating to restrictions on online speech, as unconstitutional on grounds of violating the freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.

Significance of Supreme Court judgement in Shreya Singhal case:

  • Liberty- a cardinal constitutional value: In the judgment, the court held that the liberty of thought and expression is a cardinal value of paramount significance under the Constitution.
  • Free speech: According to the Supreme Court, discussion or advocacy of a particular cause, no matter how unpopular, is at the heart of the right to free speech. It cannot be curbed on the ground of causing public disorder unless such discussion or advocacy reaches the level of incitement.
  • Reasonable restrictions: The court held that only reasonable restrictions can be imposed as contained under Article 19(2). The mere causing of annoyance, inconvenience, danger, etc. or being grossly offensive or having a menacing character are not offences under the Indian Penal Code at all.


  1. Shankari Prasad v. Union of India (1951)

Relevance: This case dealt with the amenability of Fundamental Rights (the First Amendment’s validity was challenged).

  • The SC Court held that the power conferred on Parliament by 368 to amend is a very wide power and includes the power to take away the fundamental rights guaranteed by Part III and
  • that in the context of 13 (2), "law" must be taken to mean rules or regulations made in the exercise of ordinary legislative power and not amendments to the constitution made in the exercise of constituent power with the result that Art. 13(2) does not affect amendments made under Art. 368.
  • The word ‘law’ in Article 13 includes only ordinary laws and not the constitutional amendment acts (constituent laws).
  • Therefore, the Parliament can abridge or take away any of the Fundamental Rights by enacting a constitutional amendment act and such a law will not be void under Article 13.
  1. Golaknath v. State of Punjab (1967):
Relevance: In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that the Parliament cannot take away or abridge any of the Fundamental Rights.
  • The issues regarding the power of the Parliament to amend Part III of the Constitution were re-examined in C. Golak Nath v. the State of Punjab, (1967).
  • The Court held that the Fundamental Rights cannot be amended for the implementation of the Directive Principles.
  • The Parliament reacted to the Supreme Court’s judgement in the Golaknath Case (1967) by enacting the 24th Amendment Act (1971) and the 25th Amendment Act (1971).
  • The 24th Amendment Act declared that the Parliament has the power to abridge or take away any of the Fundamental Rights by enacting Constitutional Amendment Acts.
  • The 25th Amendment Act inserted a new Article 31C which contained the following two provisions:
  • No law which seeks to implement the socialistic Directive Principles specified in Article 39 (b) and (c) shall be void on the ground of contravention of the Fundamental Rights conferred by Article 14, Article 19, or Article 31.
  • No law containing a declaration for giving effect to such a policy shall be questioned in ` that it does not give effect to such a policy.


  1. Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala (1973):
Relevance: Propagating the ‘basic structure doctrine as a safeguard against the usurpation of the Constitution.
  • It was unique for the reason that it brought a shift in the balance of democratic power. Earlier judgements had taken a stand that Parliament could amend even the fundamental rights through a proper legislative process.
  • But the present case held that Parliament cannot amend or alter the fundamental structure a ‘Basic Structure’ of the constitution.
  • Besides, Kesavananda Case was significant in that the Supreme Court ascribed to itself the function of preserving the integrity of the Indian Constitution.
  • The ‘basic structure doctrine formulated by the court represented the pinnacle of judicial creativity and set a benchmark for other constitutional courts around the world.
  • The doctrine ruled that even a constitutional amendment could be invalidated if it impaired the essential features—the basic structure—of the Constitution.

Evolution of the Basic structure doctrine

  • Since the adoption of the Indian Constitution, debates have started regarding the power of the Parliament to amend key provisions of the Constitution.
  • In the early years of Independence, the Supreme Court conceded absolute power to Parliament in amending the Constitution, as was seen in the verdicts in the Shankari Prasad case (1951) and Sajjan Singh case (1965).
    • This means Parliament had the power to amend any part of the constitution including Fundamental rights.
  • However, in the Golaknath case (1967), the Supreme Court held that Parliament could not amend Fundamental Rights, and this power would be only with a Constituent Assembly.
    • The Court held that an amendment under Article 368 is "law" within the meaning of Article 13 of the Constitution and therefore if an amendment "takes away or abridges" a Fundamental Right conferred by Part III, it is void.
  • To get over the judgments of the Supreme Court in the Golaknath case (1967), RC Cooper case (1970), and Madhavrao Scindia case (1970), the then government headed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had enacted major amendments to the Constitution (the 24th, 25th , 26th and 29th).
  • All four amendments brought by the government were challenged in the Kesavananda Bharati case.
  1. Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain case (1975)
Relevance: The doctrine of the basic structure of the constitution was reaffirmed and applied by the Supreme Court in the Indira Nehru Gandhi case (1975).
  • In this case, the Supreme Court invalidated a provision of the 39th Amendment Act (1975) which kept the election disputes involving the Prime Minister and the Speaker of Lok Sabha outside the jurisdiction of all courts.
  • As per the court, this provision was beyond the amending power of Parliament as it affected the basic structure of the constitution.
  • The Parliament reacted to this judicially innovated doctrine of ‘basic structure’ by enacting the 42nd Amendment Act (1976).
  • This Act amended Article 368 and declared that there is no limitation on the constituent power of Parliament and no amendment can be questioned in any court on any ground including that of the contravention of any of the Fundamental Rights.
  1. Minerva Mills v. Union of India (1980)
Relevance: The Supreme Court reiterated that Parliament can amend any part of the Constitution but it cannot change the “Basic Structure” of the Constitution.
  • In the Minerva Mills case, the Supreme Court held that ‘the Indian Constitution is founded on the bedrock of the balance between the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles.
  • They together constitute the core of the commitment to social revolution.
  • The goals set out by the Directive Principles have to be achieved without the abrogation of the means provided by the Fundamental Rights.
  • Therefore, the present position is that the Fundamental Rights enjoy supremacy over the Directive Principles.
  • Yet, this does not mean that the Directive Principles cannot be implemented.
  • The Parliament can amend the Fundamental Rights for implementing the Directive Principles, so long as the amendment does not damage or destroy the basic structure of the Constitution.
  1. I.R Coelho and State of Tamil Nadu 2007
Relevance: Also known as the Ninth Schedule Case, this unanimous judgement delivered by a 9-judge bench led by Chief Justice Sabharwal upheld the validity of the Doctrine of Basic Structure propounded in the Kesavananda Bharti case.
  • This judgement held that if a law is included in the 9th Schedule of the Indian Constitution, it can still be examined and confronted in court.
  • The 9th Schedule of the Indian Constitution contains a list of acts and laws which cannot be challenged in a court of law.
  • The Waman Rao ruling ensured that acts and laws mentioned in the IX schedule till 24 April 1973, shall not be changed or challenged, but any attempt to amend or add more acts to that schedule will suffer close inspection and examination by the judiciary system.
  • In the Indian context and experienced substantial gains resulting from the basic structure doctrine and a bulwark against further erosion of basic fundamental rights.
  1. Berubari Union Case (1960):
Relevance: In this case, the issue was resolved about whether the Preamble is part of the Constitution or not.
  • According to the Supreme Court, in the Berubari Union case (1960), the Preamble shows the general purposes behind the several provisions in the Constitution and is thus a key to the minds of the makers of the Constitution.
  • Further, where the terms used in any article are ambiguous or capable of more than one meaning, some assistance at interpretation may be taken from the objectives enshrined in the Preamble.
  • Despite this recognition of the significance of the Preamble, the Supreme Court specifically opined that the Preamble is not a part of the Constitution.
  • Therefore, it is not enforceable in a court of law.


  1. Mumbai Kamgar Sabha, Bombay, 1976
Relevance: This case is considered to be the foundation of public interest litigation in India.
  • Public interest Litigation (PIL) means litigation filed in a court of law, for the protection of “Public Interest”, such as Pollution, Terrorism, Road safety, Constructional hazards etc. Any matter where the interest of the public at large is affected can be redressed by filing a Public Interest Litigation in a court of law.
  • The seeds of the concept of public interest litigation were initially sown in India by Justice Krishna Iyer, in 1976 in Mumbai Kamagar Sabha vs. Abdul Thai.
  • In this case, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer speaking for the Court held that- “Procedural prescriptions are handmaids, not mistresses, of justice. Our adjectival branch of jurisprudence, by and large, deals not with sophisticated litigants but the rural poor, the urban lay and the weaker societal segments for whom the law will be an added terror.
  • Some other landmark cases in the evolution of PIL are:
  • Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration & Others, 1978
  • Hussainara Khatoon vs. State of Bihar (1979)
  • Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India (1984)


  1. Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug v. Union of India (2011) Right to Die With Dignity
Relevance: In this case, the victim of rape continued to be in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) for a period of 36 years. This case triggered the debate on the need to change euthanasia laws.
  • Passive euthanasia is a condition where there is the withdrawal of medical treatment with the deliberate intention to hasten the death of a terminally-ill patient.
  • The Aruna Shanbaug case triggered the debate on Euthanasia in India.
  • A writ petition under Article 32 before the Supreme Court of India was filed, asking for the legalisation of euthanasia so that Aruna’s continued suffering could be terminated by withdrawing medical support.
  • Supreme court in 2011 recognised passive euthanasia in this case by which it had permitted withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from patients not in a position to make an informed decision.
  • Subsequent to this, in a landmark judgment (2018), the Supreme Court recognised passive euthanasia and “living will”.
  • A ‘living will’ is a concept where a patient can give consent that allows withdrawal of life support systems if the individual is reduced to a permanent vegetative state with no real chance of survival.
  1. National Legal Services Authority and Union of India (2014):
Relevance: This case resulted in the recognition of transgender persons as a third gender. The SC also instructed the government to treat them as minorities and expand the reservations in education, jobs, education, etc.
  • The Supreme Court in National Legal Services Authority Vs. Union of India (2014) recognized them as the “Third Gender”. In the landmark ruling, Justice K.S Radhakrishnan observed that “recognition of transgenders as a third gender is not a social or medical issue, but a human rights issue”.
  • The court in its landmark judgement relied on various judgements from foreign courts like New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Pakistan, and England.
  • The Court made a distinction between biological sex and psychological sex.
  • The Court said no to gender identification based on biological sex and gave full importance to identification based on psychological sex.
  • The Court held that transgenders fall within the purview of the Indian Constitution and thus are fully entitled to the rights guaranteed therein.
  • Article 14 guarantees equality to “any person” which means man, woman, and transgender, and as such, they are also guaranteed equal protection of the law.
  • They have equal rights in employment, health care, education, and civil rights.
  • Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity represents inequality before the law and unequal protection of the law and violates Article 14.
  • The Court further added that transgender individuals have freedom of expression under Article 19 whereby they can talk, dress, act, and behave in a manner they like.
  • They also have a right to live a life of dignity under Article 21.
  1. Justice K.S. Puttaswamy vs. Union of India (2017) Right to Privacy A Fundamental Right Under Article 21
Relevance: SC ruled that Fundamental Right to Privacy is intrinsic to life and liberty and thus, comes under Article 21 of the Indian constitution.
  • Nine judges of this Court assembled to determine whether privacy is a constitutionally protected value. The issue reaches out to the foundation of a constitutional culture based on the protection of human rights and enables this Court to revisit the basic principles on which our Constitution has been founded and their consequences for the way of life it seeks to protect.
  • This case presents challenges for constitutional interpretation. If privacy is to be construed as a protected constitutional value, it would redefine in significant ways our concepts of liberty and the entitlements that flow out of its protection.
  • The Puttaswamy judgement of 2017 reaffirmed the ‘Right to Privacy as a fundamental right in Indian Jurisprudence. Since then, it has been used as an important precedent in many cases, to emphasize upon the right to privacy as a fundamental right and to clarify the scope of the same.
  • The Supreme Court upheld the validity of the Aadhar Scheme on the ground that it did not violate the right to privacy of the citizens as minimal biometric data was collected in the enrolment process and the authentication process is not exposed to the internet.
  • The majority upheld the constitutionality of the Aadhaar Act, 2016 barring a few provisions on disclosure of personal information, cognizance of offences and use of the Aadhaar ecosystem by private corporations.
  • They relied on the fulfilment of the proportionality test as laid down in the Puttaswamy (2017) judgment.
  1. Navtej Singh Johar vs. Union of India (2018): Decriminalising Homosexuality
Relevance: A five-judge SC bench gave a historic, unanimous decision on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, decriminalising homosexuality.
  • In the Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India case, the Supreme Court of India unanimously held that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 (IPC), which criminalized ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature, was unconstitutional in so far as it criminalized consensual sexual conduct between adults of the same sex.
  • The petition challenged Section 377 on the ground that it was vague and it violated the constitutional rights to privacy, freedom of expression, equality, human dignity and protection from discrimination guaranteed under Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.
  • The Court relied upon the judgement in the case of K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India, which held that denying the LGBT community its right to privacy on the ground that they form a minority of the population would be violative of their fundamental rights, and that sexual orientation forms an inherent part of self-identity and denying the same would be violative of the right to life.


  1. Mohammed Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum (1985): A Milestone in the Journey of Gender Justice
Relevance: Questioning the sanctity of personal religious laws and bringing the debate on a Uniform Civil Code to the forefront of the national discourse.
  • In April 1985, the Supreme Court delivered a judgement on the maintenance a divorced Muslim woman would be entitled to receive from her former husband in the case of Mohammed Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum (Shah Bano).
  • It is seen as one of the milestones in Muslim women’s fight for rights in India and the battle against the set Muslim personal law. It laid the ground for thousands of women to make legitimate claims that they were not allowed before.
  • While the Supreme Court upheld the right to alimony in the case, the judgment set off a political battle as well as a controversy about the extent to which courts can interfere in Muslim personal law.
  1. Vishaka vs. the State of Rajasthan, (1997): Preventing Sexual Harassment at Workplace
Relevance: The decision of the Supreme Court in Vishakha v State of Rajasthan was a landmark one as it laid down elaborate guidelines to deal with the menace of sexual harassment against women at workplaces.
  • The ruling was delivered by a three-judge bench comprising of Chief Justice Verma, Justice Sujata V. Manohar and Justice B.N. Kripal. The trial court acquitted all five accused.
  • Vishaka, a Group for Women’s Education and Research, took up the cause of Bhanwari Devi and filed a petition before the Supreme Court on the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace.
  • On August 13, 1997, the apex Court issued guidelines that defined sexual harassment and put the onus on the employers as well as other responsible persons or institutions to provide a safe working environment for women.
  • These guidelines are called ‘Vishaka Guidelines’. These were to be considered law until appropriate legislation was enacted.
  1. Shayara Bano vs Union Of India And Ors. Vs. Union of India (2017): Triple Talaq Unconstitutional
Relevance: The SC outlawed the backward practice of instant ‘triple talaq’, which permitted Muslim men to unilaterally end their marriages by uttering the word “talaq” three times without making any provision for maintenance or alimony.
  • The Supreme Court by holding that Triple Talaq is unconstitutional implied that mere utterance of Talaq thrice does not result in the dissolution of marriage, rather it remains intact.
  • The Court held by a majority of 3:2 that triple Talaq is manifestly arbitrary in the sense that the marital tie can be broken capriciously and whimsically by a Muslim man without any attempt at reconciliation so as to save it. This form of Talaq must, therefore, be held to be violative of the fundamental right contained under Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
  • Triple Talaq is banned in more than 20 Islamic countries including Pakistan.
  • Terming Triple Talaq as unconstitutional as a step towards establishing a uniform civil code (Enshrined in Article 44 of directive principle of state policy).
  1. Indian Young Lawyers Association vs. The State of Kerala (2018): Entry of Females into Sabrimala Temple
Relevance: A 4:1 majority held that the custom is unconstitutional of prohibiting the entry of women in their ‘menstruating years’ (between the ages of 10 to 50), on the grounds that it is a place of worship.
  • In Sabrimala Temple- a Hindu pilgrimage centre in Kerala, female devotees between the age group of 10 to 50 years were denied entry on the basis of certain customs and usage.
  • A Constitution Bench of the apex Court led by CJI Dipak Misra overruled the Kerala High Court’s 27-year-old decision that had upheld the restriction on entry of women into the temple.
  • The court delivered its verdict in this case by a 4:1 majority which held that the practice violated the fundamental rights to equality, liberty and freedom of religion, Article 14, 15, 19(1), 21 and 25(1).
  • The court said, “The dualism that persists in religion by glorifying and venerating women as goddesses on one hand and by imposing rigorous sanctions on the other hand in matters of devotion has to be abandoned. Such a dualistic approach and an entrenched mindset results in indignity to women and the degradation of their status.”
  1. Joseph Shine vs. Union of India (2019): 497 IPC Unconstitutional
Relevance: The apex Court struck down Section 497 of IPC which criminalised adultery holding that it is violative of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution.
  • Adultery is defined under Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code. Which states that whoever has sexual intercourse with a person who is and whom he knows and reason to believe to be the wife of another man, without the consent or connivance of that man.
  • In Joseph Shine v. Union of India (2018), the Supreme Court held that the offence of adultery was unconstitutional because it was founded on the principle that a woman is her husband’s property after marriage
  • The Supreme Court called the law unconstitutional because it “treats a husband as the master”.
  • The Court held- “Any provision of law affecting individual dignity and equality of women invites the wrath of the Constitution. It’s time to say that the husband is not the master of the wife. Legal sovereignty of one sex over other sex is wrong”.
  1. Nirbhaya Case (2014)
Relevance: Introduction of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 and definition of rape under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, Indian Penal Code, 1860 and Code of Criminal Procedures, 1973.

Nirbhaya case changed Indian rape laws:

  • SC also gave a new definition of rape under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, Indian Penal Code, 1860 and Code of Criminal Procedures, 1973.
  • The government set up the “Nirbhaya fund’ with 1000 crores, to support women's safety projects such as CCTV @public places, GPS-Emergency buttons in public vehicles, toll-free numbers and defence classes.
  • It amended as well as inserted new sections in the IPC with regard to various sexual offences. New offences like acid attacks, sexual harassment, voyeurism, and stalking have been incorporated into the IPC.
  • It expands the definition of rape to include oral sex as well as the insertion of an object or any other body part into a woman’s vagina, urethra or anus.
  • The new amendment defines ‘consent’, to mean an unequivocal agreement to engage in a particular sexual act; clarifying further, that the absence of resistance will not imply consent.
  • Earlier the offence of rape (sexual assault) was gender-neutral, while now this offence is women-centric. Only a man is assumed to be capable of committing such offence and that too against a woman only. The aspect of gender neutrality was required in the following aspects:
  • When a man or transgender person is raped.
  • In a few instances, even women have carried out sexual assaults against other women.
  • Nirbhaya Case (2014)


  1. R. Bommai v. Union of India (1994): Power Under Art.356-Imposition of President's Rule in States.
Relevance: In this case, the Supreme Court laid down that the Constitution is federal and characterised federalism as its ‘basic feature’.
  • In this judgement, the SC attempted to curb the blatant misuse of Article 356 of the Constitution of India, which allowed the President's rule to be imposed in States.
  • It observed the fact that under the scheme of our Constitution, greater power is conferred upon the Centre vis-a-vis the states does not mean that the states are mere appendages of the Centre.
  • The states have an independent constitutional existence. They are not satellites or agents of the Centre. Within the sphere allotted to them, the states are supreme.
  • The fact that during an emergency and in certain other eventualities their powers are overridden or invaded by the Centre is not destructive of the essential federal feature of the Constitution.
  • They are exceptions and the exceptions are not a rule. Let it be said that the federalism in the Indian Constitution is not a matter of administrative convenience, but one of principle–the outcome of our own process and a recognition of the ground realities.
  1. NOTA "None of the Above” judgement (2013): Reforms Right Not to Vote- NOTA Case
Relevance: This judgement introduced the NOTA (None-Of-The-Above) option for Indian voters.
  • On 27 September 2013, the Supreme court of India ruled that the right to register a "none of the above" vote in elections should apply, while ordering the Election Commission to provide a button for the same in the electronic voting machines.
  • In a parliamentary democracy A positive ‘right not to vote’ is a part of the voter’s right to expression under Article 19(1)(a) and it has to be recognized and given effect to in the same manner as the ‘right to vote’.
  • The ECI introduced a particular symbol for the ‘None of the Above’ option to allow the voters to exercise NOTA. This symbol appears in the last panel on all Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).
  • The NOTA option was first used in the 2013 assembly elections held in four states (Chhattisgarh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh), and the Union Territory of Delhi.
  • The main objective of the ‘NOTA’ option is to enable electors who do not wish to vote for any of the candidates to exercise their right to reject without violation of the secrecy of their decision. The Right to vote granted to all citizens must allow the vote of disapproval.
  1. Lily Thomas v. Union of India (2013): Election Reforms
Relevance: Struck down as unconstitutional Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act (RPA)-1951 that allowed convicted lawmakers three months for filing appeals to the higher court and to get a stay on the conviction and sentence.
  • In this case, the Supreme Court in a PIL declared subsection (4) of Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which allowed convicted members of legislative bodies 3 months to appeal against the conviction and sentencing, as ultra vires the Constitution.
  • Section 8 of the RPA deals with disqualification on conviction for certain offences: A person convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for varying terms under Sections 8 (1) (2) and (3) shall be disqualified from the date of conviction and shall continue to be disqualified for a further period of six years since his release.
  • But Section 8 (4) of the RP Act gives protection to MPs and MLAs as they can continue in office even after conviction if an appeal is filed within three months.
  • The Supreme Court held that charge-sheeted Members of Parliament and MLAs, on conviction for offences, will be immediately disqualified from holding membership of the House without being given three months for appeal, as was the case before.
  • The Bench found it unconstitutional that convicted persons could be disqualified from contesting elections but could continue to be Members of Parliament and State Legislature once elected.


  1. First Judges Case - ‘in consultation’ – Interpretation

S P Gupta Vs. Union of India and Ors. AIR 1982 SC 149 (First Judges Case 1981):

  • In this case, the Supreme Court was called upon to examine as to what does the word “consultation” in Article 124(2) and in Article 217(1) of the Constitution actually imply?
  • The apex court held by a majority of 4-3 that in the appointment of a judge of the Supreme Court or the High Court, the word “consultation” in Article 124(2) and in Article 217(1) of the Constitution does not mean “concurrence” however the “consultation” with the CJI must be full and effective.
  • The apex court rejected the idea that the CJI’s opinion should have primacy. and held that In the event of a disagreement, the “ultimate power” would rest with the Union Government and not the CJI.

Second Judges Case Birth of Collegium System

  1. Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association Vs. Union of India (1993) 4 SCC 441
Relevance: This verdict gave birth to the concept of the Collegium System.
  • A 9 Judges Bench of the apex Court re-examining the view expressed in the First Judges case by a majority of 7:2 ruled that Articles 124 and 217 of the Constitution had to be interpreted in a “purposive and contextual” manner.
  • The Court held that there should be a collegium consisting of the Chief Justice and two other senior-most judges of the Supreme Court for proposing and appointment of judges.
  • The apex Court held that in the event of a conflict between the President and the CJI with regard to appointments of Judges, it was the Chief Justice of India whose opinion would not only have primacy but would be determinative in the matter.

Third Judges Case Strengthening of Collegium

  1. In Re Special Reference Case AIR 1999 SC 1
Relevance: This case arose out of a reference made by the President of India under Article 143 of the Constitution for the advisory opinion of the Supreme Court.
  • A nine-Judge bench of the Supreme Court delivered a unanimous opinion and reaffirmed its verdict rendered in the Second Judges case (1993).
  • The only thing that this reference introduced from the Second Judges case was to increase the number of judges in the collegium.
  • The collegium was now to consist of the CJI and the four other senior-most judges of the Supreme Court.

Fourth Judges Case

  1. Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association v. Union of India, [(2016) [‘NJAC Case’]
  • The Constitution (Ninety-Ninth Amendment) Act, 2014 and the NJAC Act, 2014 sought to replace the Collegium system with the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC), a body comprising of the CJI, two senior judges, the Law Minister and “two eminent personalities” appointed by the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition and CJI.
  • The constitutional validity of the Ninety-Ninth Constitutional amendment and NJAC Act, 2014, was challenged before the apex Court.
  • A constitution bench of five Judges with a majority of 4:1 struck down the Ninety-Ninth Constitutional Amendment Act and the NJAC Act as unconstitutional holding that the constitution of the Commission will amount to an infringement of judicial independence and a violation of the separation of powers.


  1. MC Mehta v. Union of India (1986) (Taj Mahal Case)
Relevance: Taj Mahal is considered one of India’s most epic Mughal structures. The Taj Trapezium zone, which is of 10,400 sq. km., is built to protect it from pollution. Mehta visited Taj in 1984 and noticed the white marble of the Taj turning yellow. To bring this matter into the limelight, he filed a petition in the Supreme Court.

Facts of the case-

  • The petitioner stated pollution was the main cause of the yellow colour. The emission of pollutant gases like sulphur dioxide and oxygen turned into acid rain. This rain was harmful to the monument and caused the marbles to turn yellow.
  • Therefore, the petitioner asked for the protection of the monument.
  • As a result, the Central Board for Prevention and Control of Water published “Inventory and Assessment of Pollution Emission in and Around Agra-Mathura Region”.
  • The report declared the pollution levels as high and measures to reduce them.
  • One of the measures was to shut down thermal power stations. Another step was to reduce emissions of Sulphur Dioxide by 50%.


  • The Supreme Court observed that other than chemicals, socio-economic factors too influenced the degradation of the Taj. The people living in the Trapezium Zone were at risk due to air pollution. The court ordered 292 industries to operate using safe fuels like propane instead of coke/coal, otherwise, they would have to relocate.
  • The Gas Authority of India Limited was in charge of applications of gas. The court also gave few fundamental rights to workers of these industries and demanded payment of their wages during the time taken for relocation.
  1. MC Mehta v. Union of India (1986) (The Oleum Gas Leak Case)
Relevance: The judgement is considered as one of the major rulings in the field of environmental law in our country. The judgement took up various new situations and ways of interpreting of the laws and Fundamental Rights.
  • The Supreme Court, in the M.C. Mehta vs Union of India 1987, found the strict liability principle inadequate to protect citizens’ rights and replaced it with the absolute liability principle.
  • This judgement came on the Oleum gas leak case of Delhi in 1986.
  • In this case, the Supreme Court introduced compulsory learning of lessons on the protection and improvement of the natural environment in all the educational institutions of the country as a part of Fundamental duty under Article 51-A (g).


  • The court observed that these hazardous industries contributed to people’s economic development and advancement. For example, these produce chlorine which helps in water disinfection. These industries also support the employment of people. Thus, the final decision taken by the judges was to relocate such factories to less populated areas so that they would not pose a threat to human life.
  • The court suggested the government adopt a national policy for the location of such toxic plants. It should be thoroughly checked if the plants are causing any risk to the community.
  • The immediate case developed the Deep Pocket Principle. This judgment conducted the Parliament to add a new chapter to the Factory Act, 1948. The Public Liability Act was enacted and the policy for the Abatement of Pollution Control was also installed.

Deep Pocket Principle: It is a concept that is used in the sphere of environmental law, and other economic parts of the law. It refers to the idea that the uncertainty of an activity should be borne by the person who is in a better or a relatively good position to handle such a risk.

  1. MC Mehta v. Union of India (1986) (Ganga Pollution Case)
Relevance: The writ appeal highlighted the abuse of the Ganga River by the dangerous industries located on its banks. Justice ES Venkataramiah gave a famous judgement in M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India commanding the closure of a number of poisoning tanneries near Kanpur.

Facts of the case:

  • Tanneries discharged the maximum industrial waste in Kanpur.
  • The tanneries defended themselves by stating that they are not directly discharging this waste into the Ganges. Instead, they discharge into municipal drains and it is the Municipality’s responsibility not to mix the two.
  • In addition, they stated that the equipment required for regulatory mechanisms is too expensive and the shutdown of these tanneries would lead to unemployment.


  • The court stated that in respect of environmental protection and public health, the problems of unemployment and revenue have no value. Public health and the environment cannot be sacrificed in the name of revenue and employment.
  • The court also blamed the Municipality for being a total failure and asked the Municipality to take proper action against this. The court demanded adequate drainage and a sewage system.


  1. Indra Sawhney v. Union of India (1992): 50% Threshold in Reservations and Exclusion of ‘Creamy Layer’.
Relevance: Delivering the decision relating to the constitutionality of reservations under the Constitution of India.
  • In the Indra Sawhney judgment (1992), the Court upheld the government’s move and proclaimed that the advanced sections among the OBCs (i.e, the creamy layer) must be excluded from the list of beneficiaries of reservation. It also held that the concept of a creamy layer must be excluded for SCs & STs.
  • The apex Court examined the scope of Article 16(4) of the Constitution, which provides for the reservation of jobs in favour of backward classes and held that ‘backward classes’ mentioned in Article 16(4) can be identified only based on caste and not economic conditions.
  • The Indra Sawhney verdict also held there would be reservations only in initial appointments and not promotions.
  • But the government through this amendment introduced Article 16(4A) to the Constitution, empowering the state to make provisions for reservation in matters of promotion to SC/ST employees if the state feels they are not adequately represented.
  • It upheld the constitutional validity of 27% reservation for the OBCs with certain conditions. The Supreme Court in the judgement also capped the reservation quota at 50%.
  1. Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan (1997)
Relevance: Innovating jurisprudence to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace.
  • In the context of sexual harassment of women at the workplace, judicial activism reached its pinnacle in Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan (Vishaka).
  • The judgement was unprecedented for several reasons:
  • the Supreme Court acknowledged and relied to a great extent on international treaties that had not been transformed into municipal law;
  • the Supreme Court provided the first authoritative definition of ‘sexual harassment in India; and confronted with a statutory vacuum, it went creative and proposed the route of ‘judicial legislation.
  • Since there was no legislation in India related to sexual harassment in the workplace, the court stated that it was free to rely on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW—signed by India in 1980) in interpreting Articles 14, 15, 19 and 215 of the Constitution.
  • To justify its decision the court referred to several sources including the Beijing Statement of Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary, a decision of the High Court of Australia and its own earlier decisions.


  • The judiciary has always been interpreting the Constitution in line with its revolutionary and transformative potential. When histories of nations are written and critiqued, there are judicial decisions at the forefront of liberty. The inevitable truth is that law is not static and immutable but ever-increasingly dynamic and grows with the ongoing passage of time. Yet others have to be consigned to the archives, reflective of what was, but should never have been.
  • As the custodian of the Constitution, the court has to fight tyranny. The judgment has struck a powerful blow for limiting government. This is what makes it a landmark judgment. Occasionally these landmark judgements also diminish the arrogance of government, resurrect the principle of limited government, and reinstate the ‘genuine’ rule of law.

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