TOP 20 Landmark Supreme Court Judgements in India

TOP 20 Landmark Supreme Court Judgements in India

Download FREE LegalStix App

TOP 20 Landmark Supreme Court Judgements in India: Shaping the Constitution and Transforming Lives


Table of Contents                       

1.       Introduction

2.       A.K. Gopalan Case (1950)

o    Narrow Interpretation of Article 21

3.       Shankari Prasad Case (1951)

o    Parliament's Power to Amend Fundamental Rights

4.       Berubari Union case (1960)

o    Parliament's Power to Transfer Territory

5.       Golaknath case (1967)

o    Amendment of Fundamental Rights

6.       Kesavananda Bharati case (1973)

o    Defining the Basic Structure of the Constitution

7.       Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain case (1975)

o    Applying the Basic Structure Doctrine

8.       Maneka Gandhi case (1978)

o    Right to Personal Liberty and Right to Go Abroad

9.       Minerva Mills case (1980)

o    Strengthening the Basic Structure Doctrine

10.   Waman Rao Case (1981)

o    Limitation on the Application of Kesavananda Bharati Judgement

11.   Shah Bano Begum case (1985)

o    Upholding the Right to Alimony for Muslim Women

12.   MC Mehta and Union Of India (1986)

o    Scope of Article 32 and Absolute Liability

13.   Indra Sawhney and Union of India (1992)

o    Reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs)

14.   S. R. Bommai case (1994)

o    Curbing the Misuse of Article 356

15.   Vishaka and State of Rajasthan (1997)

o    Addressing Sexual Harassment at the Workplace

16.   Samatha and State of Andhra Pradesh (1997)

o    Protection of Tribal and Forest Land

17.   Lily Thomas v Union of India (2000)

o    Voidability of Second Marriage without Divorce

18.   I.R Coelho and State of Tamil Nadu (2007)

o    Examination of Laws in the 9th Schedule

19.   Pedophilia case (2011)

o    Restoring Justice for Victims of Child Abuse

20.   Aruna Shanbaug Case (2011)

o    Allowing Passive Euthanasia with Guidelines


1. Introduction

The Supreme Court of India, as the highest judicial authority in the country, has played a crucial role in shaping the Indian Constitution and transforming the lives of its citizens. Through landmark judgements, the Supreme Court has set precedents that have not only influenced the interpretation of existing laws but have also established new legal principles and concepts.

In this article, we will delve into 20 of the most significant Supreme Court judgements in India, exploring their relevance, impact, and contribution to the Indian legal system. These judgements have been instrumental in safeguarding fundamental rights, upholding the principles of justice, and ensuring the rule of law in India.

2. A.K. Gopalan Case (1950)

In the A.K. Gopalan case, the Supreme Court contended that there was no violation of Fundamental Rights enshrined in Articles 13, 19, 21, and 22 under the provisions of the Preventive Detention Act, as long as the detention was as per the procedure established by law. This judgement took a narrow view of Article 21, which guarantees the right to life and personal liberty.

3. Shankari Prasad Case (1951)

The Shankari Prasad case dealt with the amendability of Fundamental Rights, specifically challenging the validity of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court held that the Parliament's power to amend under Article 368 includes the power to amend the Fundamental Rights guaranteed in Part III of the Constitution.

4. Berubari Union case (1960)

The Berubari Union case revolved around the Parliament's power to transfer the territory of Berubari to Pakistan. The Supreme Court examined Article 3 in detail and held that the Parliament cannot make laws under this article to execute the Nehru-Noon agreement. As a result, the 9th Amendment Act was passed to enforce the agreement.

5. Golaknath case (1967)

The Golaknath case raised questions about the amendment of Fundamental Rights. The Supreme Court contended that Fundamental Rights are not amenable to Parliamentary restrictions under Article 13, and amending the Fundamental Rights would require the establishment of a new Constituent Assembly. This judgement emphasized that Article 368 provides the procedure to amend the Constitution but does not confer on Parliament the power to amend the Constitution.

6. Kesavananda Bharati case (1973)

The Kesavananda Bharati case is a landmark judgement that defined the basic structure of the Constitution. The Supreme Court held that while no part of the Constitution, including Fundamental Rights, is beyond the Parliament's amending power, the "basic structure of the Constitution" cannot be abrogated even by a constitutional amendment. This principle empowers the judiciary to strike down any amendment passed by Parliament that is in conflict with the basic structure of the Constitution.

7. Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain case (1975)

In the Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain case, the Supreme Court applied the theory of basic structure and struck down Clause (4) of Article 329-A, which was inserted by the 39th Amendment in 1975. The Court held that this clause, which aimed to protect the Prime Minister from electoral malpractices, was beyond the Parliament's amending power as it destroyed the Constitution's basic features.

8. Maneka Gandhi case (1978)

The Maneka Gandhi case dealt with the issue of whether the right to go abroad is a part of the Right to Personal Liberty under Article 21. The Supreme Court held that the right to go abroad is indeed included in the Right to Personal Liberty. The Court also ruled that the mere existence of an enabling law is not enough to restrict personal liberty; such a law must also be "just, fair, and reasonable."

9. Minerva Mills case (1980)

The Minerva Mills case further strengthened the Basic Structure doctrine. The judgement struck down two changes made to the Constitution by the 42nd Amendment Act of 1976, declaring them violative of the basic structure. The Supreme Court emphasized that the Constitution, not the Parliament, is supreme.

10. Waman Rao Case (1981)

In the Waman Rao case, the Supreme Court reiterated the Basic Structure doctrine. The Court also drew a line of demarcation, stating that the Kesavananda Bharati judgement should not be applied retrospectively to reopen the validity of any amendment to the Constitution that took place prior to April 24th, 1973.

11. Shah Bano Begum case (1985)

The Shah Bano Begum case is a milestone case for Muslim women's fight for rights. The Supreme Court upheld the right to alimony for a Muslim woman and stated that the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 is applicable to all citizens irrespective of their religion. However, this judgement sparked a political controversy, leading to the government overturning it by passing the Muslim Women (Protection on Divorce Act), 1986.

12. MC Mehta and Union Of India (1986)

The MC Mehta case addressed three issues: the scope of Article 32, the rule of Absolute Liability, and the issue of compensation. The Supreme Court held that its power under Article 32 is not restricted to preventive measures but also encompasses remedial measures when rights are violated. The Court further established that industries engaged in hazardous or inherently dangerous activities must follow the principle of Absolute Liability. Additionally, the Court emphasized that the amount of compensation must be correlated to the magnitude and capacity of the industry to act as a deterrent.

13. Indra Sawhney and Union of India (1992)

In the Indra Sawhney case, the Supreme Court examined the scope and extent of Article 16(4), which provides for the reservation of jobs in favor of backward classes. The Court upheld the constitutional validity of 27% reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) with certain conditions, such as the exclusion of the creamy layer, no reservation in promotion, and ensuring that the total reserved quota does not exceed 50%.

14. S. R. Bommai case (1994)

The S. R. Bommai case aimed to curb the blatant misuse of Article 356, which relates to the imposition of President's Rule on states. The Supreme Court held that the power of the President to issue a Proclamation under Article 356 is not absolute and can be subject to judicial review. This judgement sought to prevent the arbitrary use of President's Rule and protect the principles of federalism.

15. Vishaka and State of Rajasthan (1997)

The Vishaka case addressed the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace. The Supreme Court provided a set of guidelines known as the "Vishaka Guidelines" for employers and responsible persons or institutions to prevent sexual harassment. These guidelines were treated as law until appropriate legislation was enacted.

16. Samatha and State of Andhra Pradesh (1997)

In the Samatha case, the Supreme Court nullified all mining leases granted by the Andhra Pradesh State government in the Scheduled areas and directed the cessation of all mining operations. The judgement declared that forest land, tribal land, and government land in scheduled areas could not be leased to private companies or non-tribals for industrial operations. Such activity is only permissible for government undertakings and tribal people.

17. Lily Thomas v Union of India (2000)

The Lily Thomas case addressed the issue of the validity of a second marriage without divorcing the first wife, even if the man had converted to Islam. The Supreme Court held that such a second marriage is void unless the first marriage has been dissolved according to the Hindu Marriage Act. This judgement aimed to prevent bigamy and uphold the sanctity of marriage.

18. I.R Coelho and State of Tamil Nadu (2007)

The I.R Coelho case 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 contains a list of acts and laws that were initially immune from judicial review. However, the Supreme Court ruled that acts and laws mentioned in the 9th Schedule before April 24th, 1973, are protected from review, while any attempts to amend or add more acts to the schedule will undergo scrutiny by the judiciary.

19. Pedophilia case (2011)

In the Pedophilia case, the Supreme Court restored the conviction and sentence of two UK nationals who were acquitted by the Bombay High Court in a paedophilia case. The Court emphasized that the sexual abuse of children is one of the most heinous crimes and should be treated as such.

20. Aruna Shanbaug Case (2011)

The Aruna Shanbaug case revolved around the right to die with dignity. The Supreme Court ruled that individuals have the right to die with dignity and allowed for passive euthanasia with guidelines. This judgement was prompted by the tragic case of Aruna Shanbaug, who had been in a vegetative state for 42 years.

(to be continued)


If you are considering online coaching for CLAT UGPGJudiciary, or certification coursesLegalStix Law School is a reputable online platform that offers comprehensive and high-quality classes. With experienced faculty and a track record of success, LegalStix Law School provides a reliable and effective online learning experience. Choose the mode of coaching that suits you best and embark on your journey towards a successful legal career.

Additional Information: LegalStix Law School is a leading provider of online coaching for CLAT UGPGJudiciary, or certification coursesLegalStix Law School. With a team of experienced faculty and a comprehensive curriculum, LegalStix Law School ensures that students receive top-quality education and guidance for their legal aspirations. Enroll in LegalStix Law School's online classes for a convenient and effective learning experience.

Loading Result...

Download FREE LegalStix App

Get instant updates!

Request a callback
Register Now