A list of Landmark Cases that changed the judicial landscape in India since Independence that everyone must know of.
India has always proved to be rather dramatic and somewhat profane in its legal approach and has framed laws on every aspect that a layman can possibly imagine. We have the bulkiest constitution in the world & one of the biggest legal frameworks. But the idea of Justice has been reinterpreted & has evolved over time from case to case, with not just the involvement of a handful of law making officials but through a collective learning and understanding of socio-legal norms in a very heterogeneous society.
Here are some cases which have left great marks on the society’s ideal form of justice system.
Champakam Dorairajan v. State of Madras, 1951
The first ever-amendment to the constitution was instituted by this case.
This case concerned the admission of backward classes to educational institutions and led B.R. Ambedkar, the then law minister, to pilot the first-ever amendment to the Constitution. The Supreme Court had struck down the Communal Government Order, which provided Caste based reservation in Government Jobs and Colleges. The Supreme Court held that the order violates Article 16 (2) of the Constitution. Since then the idea of reservation has been in debate for both Admission to Colleges & Employment in Government Jobs.
K.M. Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra, 1960
This famous trial abolished the Jury system from India.
The crime of passion, where Commander Kawas Maneckshaw Nanavati murdered his wife’s lover, marked the end of jury trials in India when the officer was let off. This case was finally decided by the Bombay High Court.
Golaknath v. State of Punjab, 1967
Fundamental rights were made immune from amendments.
The Supreme Court made fundamental rights immune from amendment until Parliament reasserted its authority in 1971 by amending Articles 13 and 368 of the Constitution.
Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, 1973
SC laid down Basic Structure Doctrine.
This is one of the paramount cases of Indian Legal Framework. In 1971, the Parliament empowered itself to amend any part of the Constitution. The 13 Judge Bench laid down the concept of Basic Structure. However, the Supreme Court laid down that such amendments could not destroy the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution.
Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, 1978
That procedure must be fair & reasonable.
The case caused a huge uproar over the definition of freedom of speech. The court ruled that the procedure must be fair and the law must not violate other fundamental rights.
While explaining the expression ‘Procedure Established by Law’ under Article 21, held that the procedure in Article 21 has to be fair, just and reasonable, not fanciful, oppressive or arbitrary. In simpler terms the idea of Freedom is same as the literal meaning of Freedom but only if one does all the acts that are not in contravention to the process of law.
Minerva Mills v. Union of India, 1980
Harmony and balance between fundamental rights and directive principle is an essential feature of the basic structure of the constitution
The Supreme Court applied the ‘basic structure’ theory, saying that social welfare laws could not curb fundamental rights. The Supreme Court held the ‘Harmony and balance between fundamental rights and directive principle as an essential feature of the basic structure of the constitution’.
Indira Sawhney v. Union of India, 1992
Reservation to not exceed 50 per cent.
This case is also known as Mandal Commission Case. The court has held that barring any extraordinary situations, reservation should not exceed 50 per cent. The Supreme Court upheld the implementation of recommendations made by the Mandal Commission. It also defined as the “creamy layer” criteria.
St. Stephen’s College v. University of Delhi, 1992
The identity of St. Stephen’s College as a minority-run institution was put under the scanner as it was receiving grant-in-aid from the Government. The issue being that who could be held accountable for the acts of a college which is granted aid by the Government. The court ruled that grants could not change the minority character of an institution.
Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu, 1994
The case decided that the right to privacy subsisted even if a matter became one of public record. The right to be let alone is part of personal liberty. The right to life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the constitution includes right to privacy. It is a ‘right to be left alone. For instance if one tries to publish any information which is private & might result in huge hue & cry in the public, but has complete authority to do so, then such act could not be made accountable for the person who does so.
Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan, 1997
Sexual Harassment at work place recognised.
For the first time, sexual harassment, including sexually coloured remarks and physical contact, was explicitly and legally defined as an unwelcome sexual gesture. It stated that every instance of sexual harassment is a violation of fundamental rights.
Court defined Sexual Harassment at work place and laid down the guidelines that have to be followed at the work place against sexual harassment. This case became the starting point for empowering women who have faced difficulties at their work place.
Samatha v. State of AP, 1997
The Supreme Court said government land, tribal land, and forest land in scheduled areas could not be leased to non-tribal or private companies for mining or industrial operations.
Such activity can only be undertaken by tribal communities or by a government undertaking.
Rupan Deol Bajaj v. K. P. S. Gill, 1998
K.P.S. Gill, former chief of Punjab Police, was fined Rs 2.5 lakh in lieu of three months’ rigorous imprisonment for slapping senior IAS officer Rupan Deol Bajaj on the posterior.
Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, 1980
The Supreme Court upheld the Constitutional validity of the death penalty under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code read with Section 354 of Cr.pc.
Nandini Satpathi v. P.L. Dani, 1978
The police must inform the accused that he has a right to call a lawyer before answering any of their questions.
Hussainara khatoon v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar, 1979
The Supreme Court talked about speedy trials The Court recognised the right to speedy trial and the right to legal aid services.
Sheela barse v. Union of India, 1986
The Court held that right to legal aid is a fundamental right under article 14 and Article 21 of the constitution
M. C. Mehta v. Union of India, 1987
The Supreme Court evolved the concept of ‘Absolute Liability’.
The Court held that where an enterprise is engaged in a hazardous or inherently dangerous activity and harm results to anyone on account of an accident in the operation of such hazardous or inherently dangerous activity resulting, the body was to be held liable.
NALSA v. Union of India, 2014
Third Gender rights were recognised.
The Supreme Court affirmed the Constitutional rights and freedom of the Transgender community and recognised their status as the ‘Third Gender’.
Naz Foundation v. Govt of NCT of Delhi, 2009
The Delhi High Court declared Section 377 of IPC, which criminalises Homosexuality in India, as unconstitutional and violative of fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution. Later on in Suresh Kumar Kaushal & Anr. v. NAZ Foundation & Others, the Supreme Court of India struck down the decision of the Delhi High Court and held that Section 377 of IPC does not suffer from any constitutional infirmity and has left on the legislature to deal with the legality of the Section.