The Supreme Court of India: Role

The role of the Supreme Court as the custodian of

(a) the federal scheme as visualized by the framers of the Constitution,

(b) the Constitution itself,

(c) the fundamental rights as enshrined in the Constitution can hardly be ignored.

Article 131 (together with the treaties of the pre-commencement of the 1950 Constitution, under Article 280 and 290 as the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court) does decide the disputes between the Union and the States or between the States aim at safeguarding the federal scheme as visualised by the Constitution. In cases such as State of West Bengal v Union of India (1963), State of Bihar v union of India (1970), State of Rajasthan v Union of India (1978), State of Karnataka v Union of India (1978), State of Karnataka v State of Andhra Pradesh (2001) and State of Haryana v. State of Punjab (2002), the apex court gave its verdict within the framework of India's federal scheme. In the S.R. Bommai v Union of India, 1994, the apex court admitted that India is a federal state, administratively. The Supreme Court has invalidated numerous cases on the ground of their unconstitutionality.

Mention may be made, especially, to such cases: State of West Bengal v Union of India, (1963), State of Bihar v Union of India (1970), The Golaknath case (1967), the Bank Nationalization case (1970), The Kesavananda Bharati Case (1973). The Supreme Court of India has protected the fundamental rights. The right to life under Article 21 is not merely the right to live; it is the right to live with dignity, to live in a healthy environment: its scope extending to all civil human rights. In the Motiram v State of Madhya Pradesh case, 1978, the Supreme Court, in the Hussainara Khatoon case, 1979, sought to include reasonable fair and just conditions when acting on the procedure established by law under Article 21. Condemning the practice of using handcuffs and fetters as torture on the prisoners, defiling their dignity, vulgarising the society, and fouling the soul of the country's culture, the Supreme Court, in the Prem Shankar Shukla v Delhi Administration case; 1980 invoked Articles 14, 19 and 21 declaring the handcuffing as the violation of one's personhood, a decision which was reiterated in the Citizens for Democracy v State of Assam case 1995.

In Icchu Devi Choraria v Union of India, 1980, the Supreme Court declared personal liberty (Article 21) as most precious without which life itself would have been worth nothing. In yet another case Nilabati Behera v State of Orissa the guarantee of The qual protection of law under Article 14. The People's Union for Civil Liberties v Union of India, 1997, D.K. Basu v State of West Bengal, 1997, and Vishaka v State of Rajasthan, 1997 cases, the Supreme Court prohibited arbitrary interference and custodial torture as a clear violation of human dignity, and sexual harassment as against the civil rights of the people (Articles 14, 15, 19). The Supreme Court has expressed its concern about the pollution vis-vis ecology and environment in numerous cases. Some of these cases are M.C. Mehta v Union of India, 1988,Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v Union of India, 1996, Vettore Citizen's Welfare Forum v Union of India, 1996, S. Jagannath v Union of India, 1997, M.C. Mehta (Taj Trapezium Matter) v Union of India, 1997, M.C. Metha (Badkhal and Surajkund Lakes Matter) v Union of India,. 1997, Bittu Sehgal v Union of India, 2001, and M.C. Mehta v Union of India, 2002.

In the field of education and especially relating to the rights of the minority, the Supreme Court has given historic decisions, contributing immensely to these fields. Some such cases are Kerala Education Bill, 1957 (1959), The Ahmedabad St. Xavier Society v State of Gujarat, 1974, St. Stephen's College v university of Delhi, 1992, Mohini ]ain v State of Karnataka, 1992, Unni Krishnan v State of Andhra Pradesh, 1993,T.M.A, Pai Foundation v State of Karnataka, 2002, Islamic Academy of Education v State of Karnataka, 2003, and P.A. Inamdar v State of Maharashtra, 2005. The judicial review power and judicial activism of the Supreme Court have enhanced the position of the Indian judiciary.

The Supreme Court of India, being the highest judicial organ is, indeed, an important institution in our polity. Over the years, it has proved its worth by being the custodian of the Constitution, protector of our federal system and the defender of the fundamental rights of our people. Speaking about its role, Chief Justice P.N. Bhagwati says that the Supreme Court has opened its doors to public citizens, expanded the frontiers of fundamental rights, and even rewritten parts of the Constitution. It has emerged as a powerful and dynamic actor that shapes law, evolves policy, and plays a central determinative role in the governance of India.

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