Supreme Court of India
Posted by: Vandana (IP Logged)
Date: June 6, 2006 06:26PM
The Supreme Court of India is the highest court of the land as established by Part V, Chapter IV of the Constitution of India.
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 takes writ petitions in cases of serious human rights violations or if a case involves any 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. The Central Wing of the building is 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.
The Supreme Court has original, appellate and advisory 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.
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 (Enlargment of Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction) Act, 1970.
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.
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 of India stunned everyone when it directed a sitting maharashtra Minister to be jailed for 1 month on charge of contempt of court on May 12 2006. This was the first time that a serving Minister was ever jailed. 
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.
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 nonjusticiable.
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". This doctrine was applied famously to the 39th Amendment, which attempted to pass legislative judgment over the election of Indira Gandhi in 1971. The Supreme Court won laurels for its courageous stand in exposing this amendment as being against the concept of rule of law and an attempt to undermine democracy.
The doctrine was however sought to be later overruled by Parliament during the 1975–77 Emergency period in January 1977 when it passed the Forty-Second Amendment which prevented any court from reviewing any amendment to the constitution with the exception of procedural issues concerning ratification. It was also during this period that the Supreme Court suffered its darkest moment, when it refused to uphold civil liberties from Executive tyranny during the Emergency in the case of Additional District Magistrate of Jabalpur v. Shiv Kant Shukla. Only Justice H R Khanna dissented holding that basic human rights could not be violated even in Emergency situations, and was promptly ignored for the post of Chief Justice, despite being the seniormost judge then. J Khanna still remains a legendary figure among the legal fraternity in India for having dared to dissent.
Eventually, in an attempt to put an end to such confrontations, Parliament passed another amendment that stripped the Supreme Court of many of its powers. This was later reversed in 1980. The Supreme Court reaffirmed its power of judicial review in the Minerva Mills case. 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.