Constitution Month Special: Exploring Key SC Verdicts that Strengthened India's Democratic Foundation
New Delhi- Since gaining independence, the Supreme Court has pronounced numerous decisions, the mention of which continues even today after extensive debates. In this special episode of 'Constitution Month Special' on The Mooknayak, we will explore the historic decisions of the Supreme Court that not only upheld the importance of the Indian Constitution but also conveyed a message to future generations.
The Supreme Court of India has rendered several landmark judgments, significantly influencing constitutional law and societal norms in the country. The following are some crucial decisions that have played a pivotal role in shaping India's legal and social landscape:
Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala (1973)
This is one of the most significant judgments in Indian constitutional history. It established the principle of the "basic structure" of the Constitution, which means that while Parliament has the power to amend the Constitution, it cannot alter its basic structure. This judgment ensured that certain fundamental rights and principles (e.g., democracy, secularism, and the rule of law) would remain unamendable.
The Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala case, often referred to as the Kesavananda Bharati case, is a landmark legal case in India that is significant for its impact on constitutional law and the interpretation of the Indian Constitution.
The case revolved around the 24th Amendment to the Indian Constitution, which sought to curtail the scope of judicial review, particularly with respect to amendments to the Constitution. Swami Kesavananda Bharati, the head of a religious mutth (मठ) in Kerala, challenged the amendment, arguing that it violated the basic structure of the Constitution. He contended that there are certain fundamental features of the Constitution that cannot be altered by amendments.
The case was heard by a 13-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India, making it one of the largest benches ever assembled in the history of the Indian judiciary. The central question before the court was whether there were any implied limitations on the amending power of the Indian Parliament, specifically whether Parliament could amend any part of the Constitution, including its basic structure.
In a historic judgment in 1973, the Supreme Court, by a narrow majority of 7-6, ruled in favour of Kesavananda Bharati. The court held that while the Parliament had the power to amend the Constitution, it could not alter its basic structure. The court did not provide an exhaustive list of what constitutes the "basic structure," but it affirmed that certain essential features, such as the supremacy of the Constitution, the rule of law, democracy, and the separation of powers, are beyond the reach of amendment.
This judgment is significant because it laid down the principle that there are inherent limitations on the amending power of the Indian Parliament. It established the doctrine of the basic structure, which serves as a check on the Parliament's ability to amend the Constitution in a manner that undermines its fundamental principles. The case had a profound and lasting impact on the interpretation of the Indian Constitution and the balance of power between the judiciary and the legislature in India.
What was the impact of the judgment in Keshavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala case?
The judgment in the Keshavananda Bharati vs. State of Kerala case, delivered by the Supreme Court of India in 1973, had a significant and far-reaching impact on the Indian legal and political landscape. The case primarily revolved around the interpretation of the scope and amending power of the Indian Constitution, specifically whether there were any implied or inherent limitations on the power of the Indian Parliament to amend the Constitution.
The key impact of the Keshavananda Bharati case was as follows:
1. Doctrine of Basic Structure: The most important outcome of this case was the establishment of the "Doctrine of Basic Structure." The Supreme Court, in its judgment, held that while the Parliament had the power to amend the Constitution, it did not have the power to destroy or alter its basic structure. The Court did not explicitly define what constituted the basic structure but held that it included elements like democracy, rule of law, judicial review, separation of powers, and federalism.
2. Limitation on Parliamentary Sovereignty: The judgment curtailed the unlimited power of the Indian Parliament to amend the Constitution. It clarified that there were certain core principles and values in the Constitution that could not be altered or destroyed through the amending process.
3. Judicial Review: The case reaffirmed the power of the judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court, to review and strike down constitutional amendments that violated the basic structure of the Constitution. This gave the judiciary a vital role in safeguarding the Constitution's integrity.
4. Stability and Continuity: The Doctrine of Basic Structure provided a level of stability and continuity to the Indian Constitution. It ensured that fundamental principles of the Constitution remained intact and could not be easily altered by transient political majorities.
5. Influence on Future Constitutional Amendments: The judgment influenced future constitutional amendments and compelled the Indian Parliament to be cautious when amending the Constitution. Amendments that have been challenged on the grounds of violating the basic structure have been subject to judicial scrutiny.
6. Preservation of Federalism: The case helped protect the federal structure of the Indian Constitution by ensuring that the division of powers between the central and state governments could not be tampered with in a manner that undermined federalism.
7. Political and Legal Discourse: The Keshavananda Bharati case has had a lasting impact on the political and legal discourse in India. It is often cited in debates about constitutional amendments, federalism, and the role of the judiciary in the country.
In summary, the Keshavananda Bharati case had a profound and lasting impact on Indian constitutional law by introducing the Doctrine of Basic Structure, which imposed limitations on the amending power of the Indian Parliament and reinforced the importance of fundamental principles in the Constitution.
Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978)
This case expanded the scope of Article 21, which guarantees the right to life and personal liberty. The Supreme Court held that this right includes the right to travel abroad, and it can only be restricted by a "procedure established by law" that is just, fair, and reasonable.
The Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India case, often referred to as the Maneka Gandhi case, is a landmark legal case in India that significantly expanded and reinforced the fundamental rights of individuals, particularly in the context of the right to personal liberty and the right to travel abroad. The case is also known for its contribution to the development of administrative law in India.
Here are the key details and significance of the Maneka Gandhi case:
1. Background: Maneka Gandhi's passport was impounded by the government under the Passport Act, 1967. She challenged this action, arguing that it violated her fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution.
2. Key Issues: The case raised important questions about the limits of governmental discretion and the procedures that should be followed when restricting an individual's right to travel abroad. The central issue was whether the government's action was arbitrary and violated her right to personal liberty under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
3. Supreme Court's Ruling: The Supreme Court of India, in its landmark judgment in 1978, held that the right to travel abroad is part of the right to personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. It emphasized that any law or government action affecting an individual's personal liberty must be fair and just and must not be arbitrary. The Court ruled that the government's decision to impound Maneka Gandhi's passport without giving her a chance to be heard was arbitrary and violated her fundamental rights.
4. Procedural Due Process: The Maneka Gandhi case introduced the concept of "procedural due process" into Indian jurisprudence. It emphasized that the procedures followed by the government must be just, fair, and reasonable, and individuals should have an opportunity to be heard before their rights are curtailed.
5. Expanded Fundamental Rights: This case expanded the scope of Article 21 by interpreting it as a repository of multiple fundamental rights, including the right to travel abroad, the right to privacy, and the right to dignity.
6. Setting a Precedent: The Maneka Gandhi case set a precedent for future cases involving personal liberty and due process, and it has been frequently cited in subsequent judgments to protect individual rights.
In summary, the Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India case was a significant legal milestone that reaffirmed the importance of personal liberty and due process in the Indian legal system. It emphasized that the government's actions must be just and fair when they impact an individual's fundamental rights, including the right to travel abroad.
Shah Bano v. Union of India (1985)
In this case, the court addressed the issue of Muslim women's rights to maintenance after divorce. The judgment upheld the right of a Muslim woman to claim maintenance under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, regardless of the Muslim Personal Law. This decision had a significant impact on the debate over personal laws in India.
The Shah Bano case, officially known as "Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum," was a landmark legal case in India that had significant implications for Muslim women's rights and the country's legal system. The case revolved around the issue of maintenance (financial support) for a Muslim woman after her divorce.
Here's a summary of the key facts and issues in the Shah Bano case:
1. Background: Shah Bano Begum, a 62-year-old Muslim woman, was divorced by her husband, Mohd. Ahmed Khan, in 1978. Following the divorce, Khan refused to provide her with financial support (maintenance) under the provisions of Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which allows for maintenance for needy wives, children, and parents.
2. Legal Dispute: Shah Bano filed a petition seeking maintenance from her ex-husband in a local court, relying on Section 125 of the CrPC.
3. Controversy: The case became highly controversial when it was appealed to the Supreme Court of India. The issue at the heart of the controversy was whether Muslim women could claim maintenance beyond the iddat period (a three-month waiting period after divorce during which a woman is entitled to maintenance) under the provisions of Section 125 of the CrPC. The crux of the matter was the interpretation of personal laws and fundamental rights.
4. Supreme Court Judgment: In 1985, the Supreme Court of India, in a landmark judgment, ruled in favor of Shah Bano. The court held that Section 125 of the CrPC applied to all citizens, regardless of their religion, and that Muslim women were entitled to maintenance beyond the iddat period.
5. Political Backlash: The Supreme Court's decision led to a significant political and religious backlash from some segments of the Muslim community, who argued that it was a violation of their personal laws and religious freedom. There were protests and demands for a legislative intervention.
6. Legislative Response: In response to the controversy and pressure from religious and political groups, the Indian government, led by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act in 1986. This act effectively nullified the Supreme Court's judgment and restricted the rights of Muslim women to seek maintenance under Section 125 of the CrPC.
The Shah Bano case highlighted the complex interplay between personal laws, fundamental rights, and gender justice in India. It remains a significant reference point in discussions about legal reforms, gender equality, and the rights of women in India. The case also underscored the challenges in reconciling religious and civil laws within a diverse and pluralistic society like India.
Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan (1997)
The Vishakha case laid down guidelines to combat sexual harassment of women in the workplace. This judgment recognized the need for legislation to protect women from workplace harassment, ultimately leading to the enactment of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act in 2013.
Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan was a landmark case in India that dealt with the issue of sexual harassment of women in the workplace. The case was filed in 1997 by the non-governmental organization Vishakha and others on behalf of Bhanwari Devi, a social worker who was allegedly gang-raped while performing her duties to prevent child marriage in a village in Rajasthan.
The Supreme Court of India, in its judgment delivered on August 13, 1997, recognized that sexual harassment at the workplace violated a woman's fundamental right to equality (Article 14) and right to life and liberty (Article 21) under the Indian Constitution. In the absence of specific legislation addressing the issue at that time, the court laid down guidelines and norms to be followed by employers to prevent and redress sexual harassment.
The guidelines provided by the court in the Vishakha case are considered the foundation for the subsequent enactment of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013. The Act mandates the establishment of Internal Complaints Committees (ICCs) in workplaces and outlines the procedure for filing complaints and conducting inquiries into allegations of sexual harassment. The Vishakha case played a crucial role in raising awareness about the issue of workplace sexual harassment and establishing a legal framework for addressing and preventing such incidents in India.
Aadhaar Judgment (2018)
In a series of judgments, the Supreme Court addressed the constitutionality of the Aadhaar project, which involved collecting biometric and demographic data from Indian citizens. While upholding the use of Aadhaar for certain purposes, the court also imposed limitations and restrictions on its usage to protect privacy and data security.
One of the significant judgments related to Aadhaar was delivered by the Supreme Court of India in September 2018. The Aadhaar case revolved around the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar program, a unique identification system in India that assigns a 12-digit Aadhaar number to residents based on their biometric and demographic data.
The Supreme Court, in its verdict, upheld the constitutional validity of Aadhaar but imposed certain restrictions and changes to the original Aadhaar Act. Here are some key points from the judgment:
1. Authentication for government benefits and subsidies: The court ruled that Aadhaar could be mandatory for availing government subsidies and benefits. However, it clarified that private entities could not demand Aadhaar for authentication purposes.
2. Linking to bank accounts and mobile numbers: The court held that linking Aadhaar to bank accounts and mobile numbers was not mandatory. Individuals could not be compelled to link their Aadhaar to these services.
3. Data protection measures: The judgment emphasized the importance of protecting the privacy and security of Aadhaar data. The court specified that data collected under the Aadhaar program should not be used for any purpose other than the intended purpose of authentication.
4. Section 57 struck down: The court struck down Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act, which allowed private entities to use Aadhaar for authentication purposes. This decision meant that private companies could not insist on Aadhaar for their services.
Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India (2018)
In this case, the Supreme Court decriminalized consensual same-sex relations by reading down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. The judgment was a significant step towards recognizing LGBTQ+ rights and upholding the principle of equality and non-discrimination.
Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India was a landmark case in India that dealt with the constitutional validity of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Section 377 criminalized consensual sexual activities between adults of the same sex, labeling them as "unnatural offenses" and prescribing punishment for such acts.
Navtej Singh Johar, along with other petitioners, challenged the constitutionality of Section 377, arguing that it violated various fundamental rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution, including the right to equality, freedom of expression, and the right to life and personal liberty.
The case reached the Supreme Court of India, and in a historic judgment delivered on September 6, 2018, a five-judge bench, headed by then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, unanimously declared that Section 377 was unconstitutional insofar as it criminalized consensual sexual conduct between adults of the same sex. The court held that the provision violated the right to equality and non-discrimination, as well as the right to privacy.
The judgment was celebrated as a significant step forward in the recognition of LGBTQ+ rights in India, decriminalizing same-sex relationships and affirming the constitutional principles of equality and individual freedom. This decision marked a crucial shift in the legal landscape and was a major victory for the LGBTQ+ community in India.
Sabarimala Temple Entry Case (2018)
The Supreme Court allowed the entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala temple, overturning the centuries-old ban on the entry of menstruating women. This decision has had a profound impact on gender equality and women's rights.
The Sabarimala Temple Entry Case refers to a legal controversy in India surrounding the entry of women of menstruating age into the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala. The temple is dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, and traditionally, women aged 10 to 50 (those in their menstruating years) were barred from entering the temple.
The restriction was based on the belief that Lord Ayyappa, considered a celibate deity, should not be disturbed by the presence of women of menstrual age. This practice was challenged on the grounds of gender discrimination, and the case gained prominence as it raised important questions about the balance between religious practices and constitutional principles of equality.
In September 2018, the Supreme Court of India, in a landmark judgment, lifted the ban on the entry of women of menstruating age into the Sabarimala Temple. The court held that the ban was discriminatory and violated the fundamental rights of women. The judgment sparked widespread debate and protests, with some supporting the decision as a step towards gender equality, while others argued that it interfered with the religious traditions of the temple.
The issue raised broader discussions about the constitutional right to equality, freedom of religion, and the extent to which the courts should intervene in matters of religious practices. It also led to discussions on the need to balance the preservation of cultural and religious traditions with the principles of gender equality enshrined in the Indian Constitution.
Ayodhya Judgment (2019)
The court's decision in this case settled a long-standing dispute over the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. It allowed for the construction of a Hindu temple on the disputed land while providing alternative land for the construction of a mosque. This judgment addressed complex issues of religious freedom, property rights, and historical disputes.
These judgments represent just a few examples of the Supreme Court of India's influential decisions that have shaped constitutional law and society in the country. They reflect the court's role in upholding fundamental rights, promoting social justice, and interpreting the Constitution to meet the evolving needs of Indian society.
The Ayodhya Judgment refers to a landmark legal decision by the Supreme Court of India on November 9, 2019, regarding a long-standing dispute over a religious site in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. The dispute revolved around a plot of land where the Babri Masjid (mosque) stood until 1992. The mosque was demolished by a mob, leading to communal tensions and violence.
The key points of the Ayodhya Judgment are as follows:
1. Land Distribution: The court decided to grant the 2.77 acres of disputed land in Ayodhya to the Hindu parties involved in the case. It also directed the government to provide an alternative 5 acres of land to the Muslim parties for the construction of a mosque.
2. Babri Masjid Demolition: While the court acknowledged that the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 was unlawful, it refrained from making a conclusive judgment on who was responsible for the demolition.
3. Title Suit: The court treated the Ayodhya dispute primarily as a title suit, determining the rightful owner of the disputed property.
4. Archaeological Survey Findings: The court considered the findings of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which reported evidence of a Hindu structure beneath the Babri Masjid.
5. Faith and Belief: The judgment acknowledged the faith and belief of the Hindus regarding the birthplace of Lord Ram at the disputed site.
6. Legal Principles: The judgment emphasized the importance of resolving such disputes through legal means and maintaining communal harmony.
The Ayodhya Judgment aimed to bring closure to a protracted legal and socio-political issue that had been a source of religious and communal tension in India for decades. The decision was welcomed by some for providing a legal resolution to a contentious matter, while others expressed concerns about its implications for secularism and religious harmony in the country.