Supreme Court of India

Supreme Court of India

The Supreme Court of India is the highest court of the land as established by Part V, Chapter IV of the Constitution of India. According to the Constitution of India, the role of the Supreme Court is that of a federal court, guardian of the Constitution and the highest court of appeal.

Articles 124 to 147 of the Constitution of India lay down the composition and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India. Primarily, it is an appellate court which takes up appeals against judgments of the provincial High Courts. But it also takes writ petitions in cases of serious human rights violations or if a case involves a serious issue that needs immediate resolution. The Supreme Court of India had its inaugural sitting on January 28,1950, and since then has delivered more than 24,000 reported judgments.

Constitution of the court

On January 28, 1950, two days after India became a sovereign democratic republic, the Supreme Court came into being. The inauguration took place in the Chamber of Princes in the Parliament building. The Chamber of Princes had earlier been the seat of the Federal Court of India for 12 years, between 1937 and 1950, and was the seat of the Supreme Court until the Supreme Court acquired its present premises in 1958.

After its inauguration on January 28, 1950, the Supreme Court commenced its sittings in the Chamber of Princes in the Parliament House. The Court moved into the present building in 1958. The Supreme Court Bar Association is the bar of the highest court. The current president of the SCBA is Mr. P.H. Parekh.

The Supreme Court Building

The Court moved into the present building in 1958. The building is shaped to project the image of scales of justice with the Central Wing of the building corresponding to the centre beam of the Scales. In 1979, two New Wings—the East Wing and the West Wing—were added to the complex. In all there are 15 Court Rooms in the various wings of the building. The Chief Justice's Court is the largest of the Courts located in the centre of the Central Wing.


The original Constitution of India (1950) provisioned for a Supreme Court with a Chief Justice and 7 lower-ranking Judges—leaving it to Parliament to increase this number. In the early years, a full bench of the Supreme Court sat together to hear the cases presented before them. As the work of the Court increased and cases began to accumulate, Parliament increased the number of Judges from 8 in 1950 to 11 in 1956, 14 in 1960, 18 in 1978 and 26 in 1986. As the number of the Judges has increased, they sit in smaller Benches of two and three (referred to as a "Division Bench")—coming together in larger Benches of 5 and more only when required (referred to as a "Constitutional Bench") to do so or to settle a difference of opinion or controversy. Any bench may refer the case up to a larger bench if the need to do so arises.

The Supreme Court of India comprises the Chief Justice of India and not more than 25 other Judges appointed by the President of India. However, the President must appoint judges in consultation with the Supreme Court and appointments are generally made on the basis of seniority and not political preference. Supreme Court Judges retire upon attaining the age of 65 years. In order to be appointed as a Judge of the Supreme Court, a person must be a citizen of India and must have been, for at least five years, a Judge of a High Court or of two or more such Courts in succession, or an Advocate of a High Court or of two or more such Courts in succession for at least 10 years, or the person must be, in the opinion of the President, a distinguished jurist. Provisions exist for the appointment of a Judge of a High Court as an ad-hoc Judge of the Supreme Court and for retired Judges of the Supreme Court or High Courts to sit and act as Judges of that Court.

The Supreme Court has always maintained a wide regional representation. It also has had a good share of Judges belonging to religious and ethnic minorities. The first woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court was Justice Fatima Beevi in 1987. She was later followed by Justices Sujata Manohar and Ruma Pal.

Justice K. G. Balakrishnan in 2000 became the first judge from the "dalit" community. In 2007 he also became the first "dalit" Chief Justice of India. Justice B.P.Jeevan Reddy and Justice A.R.Lakshamanan are the only judges to be elevated to be the Chairman of the Law Commission of India even though they were not the chief justice of India.


The Supreme Court has original, appellate and advisory jurisdiction.

Original jurisdiction

It has exclusive original jurisdiction over any dispute between the Government of India and one or more States or between the Government of India and any State or States on one side and one or more States on the other or between two or more States, if and insofar as the dispute involves any question (whether of law or of fact) on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends. In addition, Article 32 of the Constitution grants an extensive original jurisdiction to the Supreme Court in regard to enforcement of Fundamental Rights. It is empowered to issue directions, orders or writs, including writs in the nature of "habeas corpus", "mandamus", prohibition, "quo warranto" and "certiorari" to enforce them.

Appellate jurisdiction

The appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court can be invoked by a certificate granted by the High Court concerned under Articles 132(1), 133(1) or 134 of the Constitution in respect of any judgement, decree or final order of a High Court in both civil and criminal cases, involving substantial questions of law as to the interpretation of the Constitution. The Supreme Court can also grant special leave to appeal from a judgement or order of any non-military Indian court. Parliament has the power to enlarge the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and has exercised this power in case of criminal appeals by enacting the Supreme Court (Enlargement of Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction) Act, 1970.

Appeals also lie to the Supreme Court in civil matters if the High Court concerned certifies : (a) that the case involves a substantial question of law of general importance, and (b) that, in the opinion of the High Court, the said question needs to be decided by the Supreme Court. In criminal cases, an appeal lies to the Supreme Court if the High Court (a) has on appeal reversed an order of acquittal of an accused person and sentenced him to death or to imprisonment for life or for a period of not less than 10 years, or (b) has withdrawn for trial before itself any case from any Court subordinate to its authority and has in such trial convicted the accused and sentenced him to death or to imprisonment for life or for a period of not less than 10 years, or (c) certified that the case is a fit one for appeal to the Supreme Court. Parliament is authorised to confer on the Supreme Court any further powers to entertain and hear appeals from any judgement, final order or sentence in a criminal proceeding of a High Court.

Advisory jurisdiction

The Supreme Court has special advisory jurisdiction in matters which may specifically be referred to it by the President of India under Article 143 of the Constitution.

Judicial independence

The Constitution seeks to ensure the independence of Supreme Court Judges in various ways. Judges are generally appointed on the basis of seniority and not on political preference. A Judge of the Supreme Court cannot be removed from office except by an order of the President passed after an address in each House of Parliament supported by a majority of the total membership of that House and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of members present and voting, and presented to the President in the same Session for such removal on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity. The salary and allowances of a judge of the Supreme Court cannot be reduced after appointment. A person who has been a Judge of the Supreme Court is debarred from practising in any court of law or before any other authority in India.

Powers to punish contempt

Under Articles 129 and 142 of the Constitution the Supreme Court has been vested with power to punish anyone for contempt of any law court in India including itself. The Supreme Court performed an unprecedented action when it directed a sitting Minister of the state of Maharashtra, Swaroop Singh Naik, [ [ Maha minister gets jail for contempt ] ] to be jailed for 1 month on a charge of contempt of court on May 12 2006. This was the first time that a serving Minister was ever jailed.Fact|date=May 2008

Landmark Judgements: Judiciary-Executive Confrontations

Land reform (early confrontation)

After some of the courts overturned state laws redistributing land from zamindar (landlord) estates on the grounds that the laws violated the zamindars' fundamental rights, the Parliament of India passed the First Amendment to the Constitution in 1951 followed by the Fourth Amendment in 1955 to protect its authority to implement land redistribution. The Supreme Court countered these amendments in 1967 when it ruled in [ "Golaknath" v. "State of Punjab"] that Parliament did not have the power to abrogate the fundamental rights, including the provisions on private property. [ Free Supreme Court Judgements]

Other laws deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court

* On February 1, 1970, the Supreme Court invalidated the government-sponsored Bank Nationalization Bill that had been passed by Parliament in August 1969.

* The Supreme Court also rejected as unconstitutional a presidential order of September 7, 1970, that abolished the titles, privileges, and privy purses of the former rulers of India's old princely states.

Response from the Parliament of India

* In reaction to the decisions of the Supreme Court, in 1971 the Parliament of India passed an amendment empowering itself to amend any provision of the constitution, including the fundamental rights.

* The Parliament of India passed the 25th amendment, making legislative decisions concerning proper land compensation non-justiciable.

* The Parliament of India passed an amendment to the Constitution of India, which added a constitutional article abolishing princely privileges and privy purses.

Counter-response from the Supreme Court

The Court ruled that the Basic Structure of the Constitution cannot be altered for convenience.

On April 24, 1973, the Supreme Court responded to the parliamentary offensive by ruling in the Kesavananda Bharati v. The State of Kerala case that although these amendments were constitutional, the court still reserved for itself the discretion to reject any constitutional amendments passed by Parliament by declaring that the amendments cannot change the constitution's "basic structure", a decision piloted through by Chief Justice Sikri.

The Darkest Hour: Emergency and the Habeas Corpus Case

However, the newfound independence of the judiciary was seriously undermined, and the constitution considerably weakened in what has been called the darkest hour of Indian democracycite news
title = Emergency -- Darkest hour in India's judicial history
author = V R Krishna Iyer
publisher = The Indian Express
url =
date = 2000-06-27
accessdate = 2007-09-16
] . This was during the Indian Emergency (1975-1977) of Indira Gandhi. In an atmosphere where a number of High courts had agreed with the rights of detainees under the restrictive Maintenance of Internal Security Act, the caseof [ "Additional District Magistrate of Jabalpur v. Shiv Kant Shukla"] , popularly known as the "Habeas Corpus case", came up for hearing in front of the Supreme Court. A bench with five of its seniormost judges decided for unrestricted powers of detention during emergency. Justices A.N. Ray, P. N. Bhagwati, Y. V. Chandrachud, and M.H. Beg, stated in the majority decision:cite news
title = A.D.M. Jabalpur vs Shukla: When the Supreme Court struck down the Habeas Corpus
author = Jos. Peter D 'Souza
publisher = PUCL Bulletin
url =
date = June 2001
accessdate = 2007-09-16
] :(under the declaration of emergency) no person has any locus to move any writ petition under Art. 226 before a High Court for habeas corpus or any other writ or order or direction to challenge the legality of an order of detention.The only dissenting opinion was from Justice H. R. Khanna, who stated: :detention without trial is an anathema to all those who love personal liberty... A dissent is an appeal to the brooding spirit of the law, to the intelligence of a future day, when a later decision may possible correct the error into which the dissenting Judge believes the court to have been betrayed.

Before delivering his dissenting opinion, Justice Khanna had mentioned to his sister: "I have prepared my judgment, which is going to cost me the Chief Justice-ship of India."cite news
title = Cry Freedom
author = Anil B. Divan
publisher = The Indian Express
url =
date = March 15, 2004
accessdate = 2007-09-16
] True to his apprehensions, he was superseded for the post of Chief Justice in January 1977, despite being the most senior judge at the time. In fact, it was felt that the other judges may have gone along for this very reason. Justice Khanna remains a legendary figure among the legal fraternity in India for this decision.

The New York Times, wrote of this opinion: "The submission of an independent judiciary to absolutist government is virtually the last step in the destruction of a democratic society; and the Indian Supreme Court's decision appears close to utter surrender."

During the emergency period, the government also passed the 39th amendment, which sought to limit judicial review for the election of the Prime Minister; only a body constituted by Parliament could review this election [cite book
title = India after Gandhi: The history of the world's largest democracy
author = Ramachandra Guha
publisher = Macmillan/Picador, 2007
page = 500
] . The court tamely agreed with this curtailment (1975), despite the earlier Keshavanand decision. Subsequently, the parliament, with most opposition members in jail during the emergency, passed the 42nd Amendment which prevented any court from reviewing any amendment to the constitution with the exception of procedural issues concerning ratification. A fewyears after the emergency, however, the Supreme court rejected the absoluteness of the 42nd amendment and reaffirmed its power of judicial review in the [ "Minerva Mills"] case (1980).

As a final act during the emergency, in what Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer has called "a stab on the independence of theHigh Court", judges were moved helter-skelter across the country, in concurrence with Chief Justice Beg.

Post-1980: An Assertive Supreme Court

Fortunately for Indian jurisprudence, the "brooding spirit of the law" referred to by Justice Khanna was to correct the excesses of the emergency soon enough.

After Indira Gandhi lost elections in 1977, the new government of Morarji Desai, and especially law minister Shanti Bhushan (who had earlier argued for the detenues in the Habeas Corpus case), introduced a number of amendments making it more difficult to declare and sustain an emergency, and reinstated much of the power to the Supreme Court. It is said that the Basic Structure doctrine, created in "Kesavananda", was strengthened in "Indira Gandhi's" case and set in stone in [ "Minerva Mills"] .

The Supreme Court's creative and expansive interpretations of Article 21 (Life and Personal Liberty), primarily after the Emergency period, have given rise to a new jurisprudence of public interest litigation that has vigorously promoted many important economic and social rights (constitutionally protected but not enforceable) including, but not restricted to, the rights to free education, livelihood, a clean environment, food and many others. Civil and political rights (traditionally protected in the Fundamental Rights chapter of the Indian Constitution) have also been expanded and more fiercely protected. These new interpretations have opened the avenue for litigation on a number of important issues. It is interesting to note that the pioneer of the expanded interpretation of Article 21, Chief Justice P N Bhagwati, was also one of the judges who heard the ADM Jabalpur case, and held that the Right to Life could not be claimed in Emergency situations.

Golden Jubilee

In November 1999, the golden jubilee of the Supreme Court was observed. Some of the activities during the jubilee were:

* Launching of the Web site of Supreme Court of India by the Honourable Chief Justice of India.
* Introduction of a commemorative stamp by the Ministry of Communications, Government of India.
* Felicitation by the Prime Minister of India.
* Release of a stamp and a coin by His Excellency, the Vice-President of India.

There was also a function on January 28, 2000, to commemorate 50 years of the Supreme Court, attended by, among others:

* Hon'ble Mr. Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, Chief Justice of Pakistan, Islamabad, Pakistan
* Hon. Mr. Sonam Tobgye, Chief Justice, Royal Court of Justice, Thimphu, Bhutan
* Hon. Mr. Mohamed Rasheed Ibrahim, Chief Justice, High Court of Maldives, Male.
* Hon'ble Mr. Ismail Mahomed, Chief Justice of South Africa
* Hon. Mr. A.R. Gubbay, Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Zimbabwe
* Hon. Mr. Francis L. Nyalali, Chief Justice, Court of Appeal, Tanzania
* Hon. Mr. Yong Pung How, Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Singapore
* Hon. Mr. MMSW Ngulube, Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Zambia
* Hon. Mr. A.G. Pillay, Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Mauritius
* Hon. Mr. Justice V. Alleear, Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Seychelles
* Hon. Mr. G.J.C. Strydom, Chief Justice of the Republic of Namibia
* Hon. Mr. Sarath N. Silva, Chief Justice of Sri Lanka

This function was presided over by His Excellency, the President of India.

itting Judges of the Court

# K. G. Balakrishnan-Honourable Chief Justice of India
# B. N. Agarwal
# Arijit Pasayat
# S. B. Sinha
# S. H. Kapadia
# C. K. Thakker
# Tarun Chatterjee
# P. K. Balasubramanyam
# P. P. Naolekar
# Altamas Kabir
# R. V. Raveendran
# Dalveer Bhandari
# Markandey Katju
# H. S. Bedi
# V. S. Sirpurkar
# B. Sudershan Reddy
# P. Sathasivam
# G. S. Singhvi
# Aftab Alam
# J. M. Panchal
# Mukundakam Sharma
# Cyriac Joseph

Past Chief Justices of India

#H. J. Kania
#M. P. Sastri
#Mehr Chand Mahajan
#B. K. Mukherjea
#Sudhi Ranjan Das
#Bhuvaneshwar Prasad Sinha
#P. B. Gajendragadkar
#A. K. Sarkar
#K. Subba Rao
#K. N. Wanchoo
#M. Hidayatullah
#J. C. Shah
#V. Balakrishna Eradi
#S. M. Sikri
#A. N. Ray
#Mirza Hameedullah Beg
#Y. V. Chandrachud
#P. N. Bhagwati
#R. S. Pathak
#E. S. Venkataramiah
#S. Mukharji
#Ranganath Misra
#K.N. Singh
#M. H. Kania
#L. M. Sharma
#M. N. Venkatachaliah
#A. M. Ahmadi
#J. S. Verma
#M. M. Punchhi
#A. S. Anand
#S. P. Bharucha
#B. N. Kirpal
#G. B. Pattanaik
# V. N. Khare
#Rajendra Babu
#R. C. Lahoti
#Y. K. Sabharwal


External links

* [ Official website]
* [ Joginder Kumar Vs State Of Up, 1994, Habeas Corpus]
* [ Basic Structure of Constitution]
* [ Supreme Court Appeal]
* [ Latest Supreme Court judgments]
* [ OpenJudis - Free Database of Supreme Court cases from 1950]
* [ Indian Supreme Court Cases / Judgements / Legislation / Case Law]
* [,000600010001.htm Discussion on finality of Supreme Court of India judgements on HindustanTimes]
* Justice B.N. Srikrishna, "Skinning a Cat", (2005) 8 SCC (Jour) 3, available at (a critique of judicial activism in India).
* [,77.239584&q=28.622237,77.239584&spn=0.002208,0.00537&t=h Satellite picture by Google Maps]
* [ / Environmental Cases in Supreme Court]

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