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Top Landmark Judgements of Supreme Court of India that Changed India

Top Landmark Judgements of Supreme Court of India that Changed India

Edited By Sansar Singh Chhikara | Updated on May 13, 2024 03:40 PM IST

Landmark judgments are pronounced by the Judges of the Supreme Court or High Courts in India. These landmark judgements of Supreme Court of India set a precedent in law or determine a major new legal principle or judicial concept or affect the interpretation of the existing law in a significant manner. Landmark judgments are one the most important part of law entrance exams conducted such as CLAT, AILET, and SLAT. Questions related to landmark judgments are also asked in competitive exams such as UPSC Civil Services, RBI legal officers etc. In law entrance exams, several questions are directly asked on various landmark judgments of the Supreme Court of India that have shaped the Constitution of India and various transforming laws. Law aspirants should thoroughly read important landmark judgments. Here in this article, you can find all the top landmark judgments of the Supreme Court of India and landmark judgements that changed India, landmark civil cases in India, famous supreme court cases India and more.
Also read | Legal Maxims for Law Aspirants

Top Landmark Judgements of Supreme Court of India that Changed India
Top Landmark Judgements of Supreme Court of India that Changed India

What is a landmark judgment?

A landmark judgment is a court's decision that establishes a significant new legal principle or concept or in a way changes the interpretation of an existing law. The current Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud in the case of Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (retd.) Vs. Union of India and ors. , (2017) 10 SCC 1 said, "...When histories of nations are written and critiqued, there are judicial decisions at the forefront of liberty. Yet others have to be consigned to the archives, reflective of what was, but should never have been." In brief, landmark judgments of the Supreme Court of India and high courts of India are the decisions that entail historical, socio-economic, cultural and political significance.

How to identify whether a particular judgment is important or not?

Often the landmark judgments are pronounced by the Supreme Court of India. The High Courts may also give landmark judgments if they are not reviewed by the top Court. Also, most of the landmark judgments are pronounced by the constitutional benches of the Supreme Court.

Law aspirants will find a plethora of landmark cases in India available on the internet but covering all judgements will be a difficult task. Therefore, it is important to identify the famous constitutional cases in India and study them.

  • Landmark judgments are generally delivered by the constitutional bench (a bench of 5 or more judges). Single or two-bench judgments may not be very much important unless they interpret a law, or provision of India’s Constitution.

  • For law aspirants, judgments related to their entrance exam syllabus are more significant. For example, CLAT syllabus mentions Constitutional law, contract law, family law, criminal law, etc. In this regard, judgments on the Right to Privacy, Right to Marriage, and Right to abortion for unmarried women are a few examples.

  • Judgments that are the talk of the town are generally asked in the exam. As it is presumed that the candidates will have knowledge about the recent developments and landmark cases in Indian constitution.

Also check - Relationship Between Constitutional Law and Administrative Law

Here are some important Landmark judgments

Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum (1985)

The court held: Extended Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code to provide maintenance to a divorced Muslim woman.

Shreya Singhal v. Union of India

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act (IT Act), which violated freedom of speech and expression, declaring it to be unconstitutional.

M.C. Mehta v Union of India (1986)

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India initiated the ‘Absolute Liability Principle' stating that in the case of industries like Shriram that are engaged in inherently dangerous activities, the rule of absolute liability will be applied, i.e., any industry involved in hazardous activities that causes harm to the environment or the people through any accident would be held absolutely liable.

Mohini Jain v State of Karnataka (1992)

Court held: Laid down that right to education is an integral part of the Right to Life under Article 21.

Indira Sawhney v Union of India (1992)

Court held: Upheld the implementation of the recommendations of the Mandal Commission Report. It defined the “creamy layer” and mentioned that reservations could not exceed 50% of the total available seats.

R. Bommai v Union of India (1994)

The Power of the president to issue a Proclamation under Article 356 is not an absolute power. The Court also held that “Secularism” was part of the Indian Constitution before the word “Secular” was added in the preamble. The Court also declared “secularism” as part of the basic structure of the Constitution. The Court also declared that the “Preamble indicates the basic structure of the constitution”.

Rajgopal v State of Tamil Nadu (1994)

Significance: Laid down that the right to privacy is implicit in the right to life and liberty guaranteed to the citizens of this country by Article 21. It mentioned that the right to privacy is a ‘right to be let alone'.

Also check - Important Amendments for CLAT

Sarla Mudgal v Union of India (1995)

The case is related to the issue of Bigamy, the conflict between personal laws, and a strong need for a uniform civil code in the country. The court held that the second marriage of a Hindu man after being converted to Islam, will be invalid if the first marriage has not been dissolved.

Vishakha v State of Rajasthan (1997)

Court defined “Sexual Harassment at the workplace” and laid down the guidelines that have to be followed at the workplace against sexual harassment.

Samatha v State of Andhra Pradesh (1997)

The Court laid down that government land, tribal land, and forest land in scheduled areas could not be leased to non-tribals or private companies for mining or industrial operations.

Chairman, Railway Board v. Chandrima Das (2000)

The Court laid down that the right to life is also available to non-citizens of India who visit India for tourism or otherwise.

A. Inamdar v State of Maharashtra (2005)

The Supreme Court stated that “neither the policy of reservation can be enforced by the state nor any quota of admissions is carved out in private educational institutions”.

Om Prakash v Dil Bahar (2005)

The Court held that a rape accused could be convicted on the sole evidence of the victim, even if medical evidence did not prove rape.

Trimex International Ltd v Vedanta Aluminium Ltd (2010)

The Court held that once a contract is concluded orally or in writing, the mere fact that a formal contract has not been prepared by the parties doesn’t affect either the acceptance of the contract so entered into or the implementation thereof.

Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v Union of India (2011)

This case is one of the most famous and intriguing cases of the decade which discusses euthanasia and an individual’s right to die. The right to life is a sacred fundamental right that consists of a plethora of other rights such as the right to livelihood, the right to a clean environment, etc.

Lily Thomas v Union of India (2013)

Significance: Ruled that any Member of Parliament, Member of the Legislative Assembly, or Member of a Legislative Council convicted of a crime with more than a two-year sentence will be disqualified as an elected representative on the date of conviction.

People’s Union for Civil Liberties v Union of India (2013)

Significance: Directed the Election Commission to introduce - None of the above options on EVMs and ballot papers so that people could also register a negative vote in the election.

Supreme Court Advocates on Record v Union of India (2015)

Significance: Struck down National Judicial Appointment Commission Act and 99th Constitutional Amendment as unconstitutional and void.

NALSA V. Union of India, 2014

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India affirmed the constitutional rights and freedom of transgender and recognized them as the third gender.

Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, 2015

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act (IT Act), which violated freedom of speech and expression, declaring it to be unconstitutional.

Aarushi Talwar case in 2008

The involved in the double murder of 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar and her 45-year-old domestic servant in Noida, Haryana. The case got heavy media coverage. Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, parents of the murdered girl were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by Sessions court.

Jessica Murder case in 2006

A model in New Delhi working as a bartender was shot dead. The prime accused Manu Sharma who son of Congress MP Vinod Sharma was initially acquitted in February 2006. But later, in December 2006 was sentenced to life imprisonment by a fast-track hearing by the Delhi High Court. This Supreme Court of India approved the sentence.

M. Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra in 1960

In this case, Commander Kawas Maneckshaw Nanavati murdered his wife’s lover Prem Ahuja. It marked the end of a jury trial in India when the officer was let off. The SC overturned the High Court’s decision and held Nanavati not guilty of murder.

Indra Sawhney v. Union of India in 1992

The SC upheld the implementation of recommendations which is made by the Mandal Commission. It also defines the “creamy layer” criteria and restated that the quota could not exceed 50%.

Rameshwar Prasad V/s Union of India in 2005

In this case, the petitioner challenged the constitutional validity of a notification. The notification ordered the closure of the Legislative Assembly of the state of Bihar on the ground that attempts were being made to get a majority by illegal means. It also laid claim to form the government in the state if continued would lead to tampering with constitutional provisions. The Supreme Court held that the notification was unconstitutional.

State of Tamil NaduV/s Suhas Katti in 2004

This was the first case involving a sentence under the Information Technology Act 2000 which is related to the posting of offensive messages through the Internet. In this case, a family friend of a woman who is divorced was suspected of posting her number on messenger groups which made her to be harassed by vulgar messages. Later the accused friend was convicted and sentenced.

Also check - What is Arbitration in Law

Best Bakery case in 2006

In 2006 a Special Court in Mumbai was formed which gave conviction to nine out of the seventeen accused. The case is related to fourteen deaths in an arson attack in 2002 on the Best Bakery in Vadodara. After a local court acquitted all 21 accused a retrial was ordered in 2004.

Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan in 1997

This was a case of Public Interest Litigation against Rajasthan state and Union of India by other women groups and Vishaka. The judgment also gives the basic definition of sexual harassment at workplaces along with guidelines to deal with it. This judgement says that every instance of sexual harassment can be considered as a violation of fundamental rights.

Samatha v. State of Andra Pradesh in 1997

The Supreme Court said that tribal land, forest land and government land in scheduled areas cannot be leased to non-tribal for mining or industrial or private companies. Such activities can only be done by any government undertakings or by tribal people.

Jamaat-e-Islami v. Hind Union of India in 1995

High Court banned an association due to its illegal activities. But, when this was brought to the SC, decision was reversed due to lack of evidence.

R. Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu in 1994

The case decided that even if a matter became one of public record the right to privacy should be subsisted. Thus right to be let alone is considered as part of personal liberty.

Champakam Dorairajan v. State of Madras in 1951

The verdict of this case led to the first amendment of the Constitution. The Supreme Court had struck down the Communal Government Order, which provided Caste based reservation in the Government Jobs and Colleges. The Supreme Court has held that the order violates Article 16 (2) of the Constitution.

Kesavananda Bharati V. State of Kerala, 1973

The 13 Judge Bench laid down the concept of Basic Structure and also held that the Basic Structure of the Constitution cannot be amended.

Minerva Mills v. Union of India in 1980

The SC again applied the basic structure theory, saying that social welfare laws could not curb fundamental rights.

Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain, 1975

The 39th Constitutional Amendment was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The 39th Amendment introduced Article 392A to the Constitution of India, which provided that the appointment of the Prime Minister and Speaker cannot be challenged in any court of the country. The Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional because it violate the basic structure of the Constitution.

A.D.M Jabalpur v. S. Shukla

The order issued by the president under Article 359, Suspending the right of access to the courts for the enforcement of rights under Articles 14, 21 and 22 was held valid. The Court held that the right to move court under Articles 14, 21 and 22 would be suspended during the emergency.

Sheela Barse v. Union of India, 1988

The Court held that the right to legal aid is a fundamental right under Article 14 and Article 21 of the Constitution.

Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum, 1985

Muslim Women have the right to claim maintenance under Section 125 of Cr.PC. The Remedy under Section 125 is available to wives (including a divorced wife), irrespective of the religion to which they belong.

In Re: The Berubari Union And ... vs Unknown, March 1960

It was held that the preamble is not part of the Constitution. This judgement was overruled by 13 Judge Bench in the KeshvanandaBharti case and it was held that the “Preamble is part of the Indian Constitution”.

Justice K.S.Puttaswamy(Retd) vs Union Of India. 2017

The court stated that the Right to Privacy is an inherent and integral part of Part III of the Constitution which guarantees fundamental rights. The conflict in this area mainly arises between an individual’s right to privacy and the legitimate aim of the government to implement its policies and a balance needs to be maintained while doing the same.

Mithu v. State of Punjab, 1983

The Supreme Court invalidated Section 303 of the Indian Penal Code, which provided for a mandatory death sentence for a murder committed by a life convict.

Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab. 1979

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

The police must inform the accused that he has a right to call a lawyer before answering to any of their questions.

Hussainarakhatoon v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar, 1979

The Supreme Court talked about the Speedy Trial. The Court recognized the right to a speedy trial and the right to legal aid services.

M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath, 1996

The Concept of Public Trust Doctrine was laid down. The state is the trustee of all the natural resources, which are meant by nature for public use and enjoyment. These resources cannot be converted into private property. The State being the trustee of natural resources is under the legal obligation to protect such natural resources.

Naz Foundation v.Govt of NCT of Delhi, 2009

The Delhi High Court declared Section 377 of IPC, which criminalizes 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 Delhi High Court and held that Section 377 of IPC does not suffer from any constitutional infirmity and has left the legislature to deal with the legality of the Section.

I. C. Golaknath & Ors vs State Of Punjab & Anrs. (1967)

The questions, in this case, were whether the amendment is a law; and whether Fundamental Rights can be amended or not. SC contented that Fundamental Rights are not amenable to the Parliamentary restriction as stated in Article 13 and that to amend the Fundamental Rights a new Constituent Assembly would be required. Also stated that Article 368 gives the procedure to amend the Constitution but does not confer on Parliament the power to amend the Constitution.

Waman Rao Case (1981)

The SC again reiterated the Basic Structure doctrine. It also drew a line of demarcation as April 24th, 1973 i.e., the date of the Kesavananda Bharati judgment, and held that it should not be applied retrospectively to reopen the validity of any amendment to the Constitution which took place prior to that date.

I.R Coelho and State of Tamil Nadu 2007

This judgment 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 of the Indian Constitution contains a list of acts and laws which cannot be challenged in a court of law. The Waman Rao ruling ensured that acts and laws mentioned in the IX schedule till 24 April 1973, shall not be changed or challenged, but any attempt to amend or add more acts to that schedule will suffer close inspection and examination by the judiciary system.

Frequently Asked Question (FAQs)

1. How many landmark Judgements are there in India?

There are a plethora of landmark judgements that changed India. It is not possible to put a number to landmark judgments.

2. What are the landmark Judgements of courts in India?

Landmark judgements are the judgements ruled in cases that lead to a significant change in the scheme and course of legality in India.

3. What is the landmark Judgement of 2023?

On May 1, 2023,  Constitution Bench led by Justice S.K. Kaul  ruled that Supreme Court has the power to directly grant divorce under Article 142 of the Constitution.

4. What is the 125 landmark judgement?

Bhagwan Dutt vs. Kamla Devi (1975) is the 125 landmark judgement

5. Which is the longest Judgement in India?

In the case of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, the Supreme Court of India heard the case for 68 days and gave a judgment of over 800 pages.

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