Most Important Landmark Supreme Court Cases and Their Significance

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Landmark Supreme Court Cases and Their Significance


The Indian Supreme Court has played a pivotal role in shaping the country’s legal landscape and upholding the principles enshrined in the Constitution. This article explores seven landmark cases in Indian legal history and their far-reaching significance. Each case tackles crucial issues ranging from individual rights and freedoms to constitutional amendments, leading to groundbreaking judgments that have had a lasting impact on India’s legal system.

A.K Gopalan vs. State of Madras (1950)


AK Gopalan, a Communist leader, was detained in 1950 under the Preventive Detention Law in Madras. He challenged his detainment through a writ of Habeas Corpus, contending that certain provisions of the Act violated Articles 13, 19, and 21 of the Indian Constitution.


The Supreme Court ruled that Gopalan’s detention was lawful as he was held in accordance with the established legal process. The Court took a narrow view of Article 21, emphasizing that if a person’s freedom is curtailed under the law, it does not necessarily infringe upon the provisions of Articles 14, 19, and 21. However, it declared Section 14 of the Act void, finding it unconstitutional and violative of fundamental rights. This case established the importance of due process and individual liberties in detention cases.

Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalavaru vs. State of Kerala (1973):


Kesavananda Bharati, the head of Edneer Mutt, challenged the Land Reforms Amendment Act, 1969, introduced by the Kerala state government. The case dealt with the limitations on Parliament’s power to amend the Indian Constitution.


The 13-judge Constitutional bench, by a narrow 7:6 ratio, delivered a landmark judgment that outlined the basic structure doctrine of the Constitution. It asserted that while Parliament could amend any part of the Constitution, it could not abrogate the Constitution’s basic structure through amendments. This case set a precedent for protecting the Constitution’s core principles and preserving India’s democratic framework.

Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India (1977):


In 1977, the passport of Maneka Gandhi, daughter-in-law of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was impounded by the government. Maneka Gandhi challenged this order, asserting her right to personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution.


Although the court did not reverse the government’s order, the judgment had significant implications. The seven-judge bench reaffirmed the importance of personal liberty as a fundamental right, becoming a critical precedent in fundamental rights cases. This case marked a shift in legal jurisprudence, with the Supreme Court taking a more active role in upholding constitutional values and individual freedoms.

Shayara Bano vs Union of India & Others (2017):


Shayara Bano was divorced through instantaneous triple talaq, a controversial practice in the Muslim community. She challenged the constitutional validity of triple talaq, polygamy, and nikah-halala, claiming that they violated various constitutional articles.


The Supreme Court, in a historic decision, declared instant triple talaq as unconstitutional, providing a legal ban with up to three years of imprisonment for husbands. This judgment marked a significant step towards gender equality and women’s rights within the Muslim community.

SR Bommai vs. Union of India (1994):


S.R. Bommai, the former Chief Minister of Karnataka, challenged the dismissal of his state government under Article 356, known as President’s Rule. He argued that the President’s power to dismiss a state government should be subject to certain restrictions.


The Supreme Court’s nine-judge Constitution Bench ruled that the President’s power to dismiss a state government was not absolute. It required approval from both Houses of Parliament and allowed only the suspension of the Legislative Assembly. This judgment put an end to arbitrary dismissals of state governments under Article 356, emphasizing constitutional checks and balances.

Navtej Singh Johar vs. Union of India (2018):


Navtej Johar and others from the LGBT community challenged Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalized consensual same-sex relationships. They sought decriminalization and recognition of the fundamental rights of LGBT individuals.


The Supreme Court unanimously struck down Section 377, decriminalizing consensual same-sex relationships and upholding the fundamental rights of LGBT individuals. This landmark judgment recognized the importance of personal autonomy and equality, marking a significant step towards LGBTQ+ rights in India.

Indra Sawhney and Others vs. Union of India & Others:


The case addressed the reservation system in India, specifically whether economic backwardness should be considered for reservations in addition to social and educational backwardness.


The Supreme Court mandated that a maximum limit of 50% be placed on reservations based on caste and upheld the provision for separate reservations for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in central government positions, with the exclusion of the “creamy layer.” Furthermore, the ruling clarified that reservations in job appointments should not extend to promotions. This judgment established the structure for the reservation system in India, with the aim of fostering social justice while addressing apprehensions about an overabundance of quotas.


These landmark Supreme Court cases in India have had a profound impact on the country’s legal and social landscape. They have shaped constitutional interpretations, clarified fundamental rights, and reinforced the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and equality. Each case reflects the evolving nature of the Indian judiciary and its commitment to upholding the Constitution’s values while adapting to contemporary challenges.

Frequently asked questions

What is the basic structure doctrine established in Kesavananda Bharati vs. State of Kerala?

The basic structure doctrine, established in the Kesavananda Bharati case, emphasizes that while the Indian Parliament has the power to amend the Constitution, it cannot alter its basic structure. The doctrine protects the core principles and values of the Constitution, ensuring that they remain intact through amendments.

How did the Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India case impact individual rights in India?

The Maneka Gandhi case reaffirmed the importance of personal liberty as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. It emphasized that the government’s actions must adhere to the principles of fairness and due process, setting a precedent for protecting individual rights.

What were the key outcomes of the Shayara Bano vs. Union of India case?

In the Shayara Bano case, the Supreme Court declared instant triple talaq as unconstitutional, providing a legal ban with potential imprisonment for husbands. This decision marked a significant step toward gender equality and women’s rights within the Muslim community.

What is the significance of the Navtej Singh Johar vs. Union of India case in relation to LGBTQ+ rights?

The Navtej Singh Johar case was significant as it unanimously struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, decriminalizing consensual same-sex relationships. The judgment recognized the fundamental rights and personal autonomy of LGBTQ+ individuals, marking a historic step towards LGBTQ+ rights in India.

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