Supreme Court of India

Supreme Court of India

Seal of the Supreme Court
Established 1 October 1937
(Federal Court of India)
26 January 1950
Country India
Location Bhagwan Das Road, Tilak Marg, New Delhi, India, 110001
Coordinates 28°37′20″N 77°14′23″E / 28.622237°N 77.239584°E / 28.622237; 77.239584Coordinates: 28°37′20″N 77°14′23″E / 28.622237°N 77.239584°E / 28.622237; 77.239584
Motto यतो धर्मस्ततो जयः॥ (Yato dharmas tato jayah) Whence law (dharma), thence victory. (Sanskrit)
Composition method Collegium System
Authorized by Constitution of India
Judge term length 65 years of age
Number of positions 31 (30+1)
Chief Justice of India
Currently T.S. Thakur

The Supreme Court of India is the highest judicial forum and final court of appeal under the Constitution of India, the highest constitutional court, with the power of constitutional review.[1]

It comprises the Chief Justice of India and 30 other judges. It has original, appellate and advisory jurisdictions.

As the final court of appeal of the country, it takes up appeals primarily against verdicts of the High Courts of various States of the Union and other courts and tribunals.

The Supreme Court has extensive original jurisdiction for the protection of fundamental rights of citizens. It also acts as the court to settle disputes between various governments in the country. As an advisory court, it hears matters which may specifically be referred to it under the Constitution by the President of India. It also may take cognisance of matters on its own (or 'suo moto'), without anyone drawing its attention. It was first set up in Calcutta for administration of justice.

The law declared by the Supreme Court becomes binding on all courts within India.[2]


In 1861 the Indian High Courts Act 1861 was enacted to create High Courts for various provinces and abolished Supreme Courts at Calcutta, Madras and Bombay and also the Sadar Adalats in Presidency towns which had acted as the highest court in their respective regions. These new High Courts had the distinction of being the highest Courts for all cases till the creation of Federal Court of India under the Government of India Act 1935. The Federal Court had jurisdiction to solve disputes between provinces and federal states and hear appeal against judgements of the High Courts.[2]

The Supreme Court of India came into being on 28 January 1950.[3] It replaced both the Federal Court of India and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council which were then at the apex of the Indian court system.

Supreme Court initially had its seat at Chamber of Princes in the Parliament building where the previous Federal Court of India sat from 1937 to 1950. The first Chief Justice of India was Sir H J Kania. In 1958, the Supreme Court moved to its present premises.[3] Originally, Constitution of India envisaged a Supreme Court with a Chief Justice and seven Judges; leaving it to Parliament to increase this number.[4] In formative years, the Supreme Court met from 10 to 12 in the morning and then 2 to 4 in the afternoon for 28 days in a year.[5]

Court building and architecture

Central Wing of the Court where the Chief Justice's courtroom is located

The building is shaped to symbolise scales of justice with its centre-beam being the Central Wing of the building comprising the Chief Justice’s court, the largest of the courtrooms, with two court halls on either side. The Right Wing of the structure has the bar - room, the offices of the Attorney General of India and other law officers and the library of the court. The Left Wing has the offices of the court. In all there are 15 court rooms in the various wings of the building.[2][3][6]

The foundation stone of the supreme court's building was laid on 29 October 1954 by Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India. The main block of the building has been built on a triangular plot of 17 acres and has been designed in an Indo-British style by the chief architect Ganesh Bhikaji Deolalikar, the first Indian to head the Central Public Works Department. The Court moved into the building in 1958. In 1979, two new wings - the East Wing and the West Wing - were added to the complex. 1994 saw the last extension.[3]

Mother and Child Sculpture

On 20 February 1980, a black bronze sculpture of 210 centimeter height was installed in lawn of the Supreme Court. It portrays Mother India in the form of the figure of a lady, sheltering the young Republic of India represented by the symbol of a child, who is upholding the laws of land symbolically shown in the form of an open book. On the book, a balance is shown, which represents dispensation of equal justice to all. The sculpture was made by the renowned artist Chintamoni Kar[2]


The design of the Court's seal is reproduced from the wheel that appears on the abacus of the Sarnath Lion capital of Asoka with 24 spokes. The inscription in Sanskrit "yatodharmastato jayah"(यतो धर्मस्ततो जयः) means "whence law (dharma), thence victory". It is also referred to - as the wheel of righteousness, encompassing truth, goodness and equity.[2]

Constitution of the court

Supreme Court building with the sculpture in the foreground


The registry of the Supreme Court is headed by the Secretary-General who is assisted by 8 registrars, several additional and deputy registrars, etc., with 1770 employees in all (221 gazetted officers, 805 non-gazetted and 744 Class IV employees)[7] Article 146 of the Constitution deals with the appointments of officers and servants of the Supreme Court registry.[8][9]

Supreme Court advocates

Main article: Advocates-on-Record

Supreme Court Rules, 2013[10] entitle only those advocates who are registered with the supreme court, called 'Advocates-on-Record' to appear, act and plead for a party in the court. Those advocates who are designated as 'Senior Advocates' by the Supreme Court or any of the High Courts can appear for clients along with an Advocate-on-Record. Any other advocate can appear for a party along with or under instructions from an Advocate-on-Record.


Size of the court

As originally enacted, the Constitution of India provided for a Supreme Court with a Chief Justice and 7 judges. 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 the original 8 in 1950 to 10 in 1956, 13 in 1960, 17 in 1977, 26 in 1986 and 31 in 2008 (current strength). As the number of the judges has increased, they sit in smaller benches of two or three (referred to as a division bench) [11]— coming together in larger benches of five or more (referred to as a constitution bench) when required to settle fundamental questions of law. A bench may refer a case before it to a larger bench, should the need arise.[12]


A citizen of India[13] who has been

is eligible to be recommended for appointment, a judge of the supreme court.

Court demographics

I am proud to be an Indian. India is the only country where a member of the minority Parsi community with a population of 1,67,000, like myself, can aspire to attain the post of the Chief Justice of India. These things do not happen in our neighbouring countries.

Former Chief Justice of India, S. H. Kapadia[14][15]

In practice, judges of the supreme court have been selected so far, mostly from amongst judges of the high courts. Barely six - Justices S. M. Sikri, S. Chandra Roy, Kuldip Singh, Santosh Hegde, R. F. Nariman, U. U. Lalit and L. Nageshwara Rao have been appointed to the supreme court directly from the bar (i.e. who were practising advocates).[16][17]

The supreme court saw its first woman judge when Justice M. Fathima Beevi was sworn into office in 1989.[18] The sixth and the most recent woman judge in the court is Justice R. Banumathi.[19][20] In 2000 Justice K. G. Balakrishnan became the first judge from the dalit community. In 2007 he also became the first dalit Chief Justice of India. In 2010, Justice S. H. Kapadia coming from a Parsi minority community became the Chief Justice of India.[14][21]

Judicial independence

The Constitution seeks to ensure the independence of Supreme Court Judges in various ways.

Appointments and the Collegium

As per the Constitution, as held by the court in the Three Judges' Cases - (1982, 1993, 1998), a judge is appointed to the Supreme Court by the President of India on the recommendation of the collegium  — a closed group of the Chief Justice of India, the four most senior judges of the court and the senior-most judge hailing from the high court of a prospective appointee.[22] This has resulted in a Memorandum of Procedure being followed, for the appointments.

Judges used to be appointed by him on the advice of the Union Cabinet. After 1993 (the Second Judges' Case), no minister, or even the executive collectively, can suggest any names to the President,[23][24] who ultimately decides on appointing them from a list of names recommended only by the collegium of the judiciary. Simultaneously, as held in that judgment, the executive was given the power to reject a recommended name. However, according to some, the executive has not been diligent in using this power to reject the names of bad candidates recommended by the judiciary.[25][26][27]

The collegium system has come under a fair amount of criticism.[24] In 2015, the Parliament passed a law to replace the collegium with a National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC). This was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, in the Fourth Judges' Case, as the new system would undermine the independence of the judiciary.[28] Putting the old system of the collegium back, the court invited suggestions, even from the general public, on how to improve the collegium system, broadly along the lines of - setting up an eligibility criteria for appointments, a permanent secretariat to help the collegium sift through material on potential candidates, infusing more transparency into the selection process, grievance redressal and any other suggestion not in these four categories, like transfer of judges.[29] This resulted in the court asking the government and the collegium to finalize the Memorandum of Procedure incorporating the above.[30]

Once, in 2009, the recommendation for the appointment of a judge of a high court made by the collegium of that court, had come to be challenged in the supreme court. The court held that who could become a judge was a matter of fact, and any person had a right to question it. But who should become a judge was a matter of opinion and could not be questioned. As long as an effective consultation took place within a collegium in arriving at that opinion, the content or material placed before it to form the opinion could not be called for scrutiny in court.[31]

The position of Chief Justice of India is attained on the basis of seniority amongst the judges serving on the court.[32]


Supreme Court judges retire at the age of 65. However, there have been suggestions, including from the judges of the Supreme Court of India, to provide for a fixed term for the judges there including the Chief Justice of India.[33]


Article 125 of the Indian Constitution leaves it to the Indian Parliament to determine the salary, other allowances, leave of absence, pension, etc. of the Supreme Court judges. However, the Parliament cannot alter any of these privileges and rights to the judge's disadvantage after his appointment.[34] A judge gets 90,000 per month, the Chief Justice earns an additional 10,000.[35]


A judge of the Supreme Court can be removed under the Constitution only on grounds of proven misconduct or incapacity and by an order of the President of India, after a notice signed by at least 100 members of the Lok Sabha (House of the People) or 50 members of the Rajya Sabha (Council of the States) is passed by a two-third majority in each House of the Parliament.[36][37]


A person who has retired as a Judge of the Supreme Court is debarred from practising in any court of law or before any other authority in India.

Power to review its own judgements

Further information: Review petition

Article 137 of the Constitution of India lays down provision for power of the Supreme Court to review its own judgments. As per this Article, subject to the provisions of any law made by Parliament or any rules made under Article 145, the Supreme Court shall have power to review any judgment pronounced or order made by it.[38]

Under Order XL of the Supreme Court Rules, that have been framed under its powers under Article 145 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court may review its judgment or order but no application for review is to be entertained in a civil proceeding except on the grounds mentioned in Order XLVII, Rule 1 of the Code of Civil Procedure.

Powers to punish for contempt

Under Articles 129 and 142 of the Constitution the Supreme Court has been vested with power to punish anyone for contempt of any court in India including itself. The Supreme Court performed an unprecedented action when it directed a sitting Minister of the state of Maharashtra, Swaroop Singh Naik,[39] to be jailed for 1-month on a charge of contempt of court on 12 May 2006. This was the first time that a serving Minister was ever jailed.[40][41]


The Constitution of India under Article 145 empowers the Supreme Court to frame its own rules for regulating the practice and procedure of the Court as and when required (with the approval of the President of India). Accordingly, "Supreme Court Rules, 1950" were framed. The 1950 Rules were replaced by the Supreme Court Rules, 1966.

[42] In 2014, Supreme Court notified the Supreme Court Rules, 2013 replacing the 1966 Rules effective from 19 August 2014.[10]

Reporting and citation

Supreme Court Reports is the official journal of Reportable Supreme Court Decisions. It is published under the authority of the Supreme Court of India by the Controller of Publications, Government of India, Delhi.[43] In addition, there are many other reputed private journals that report Supreme Court decisions. Some of these other important journals are: SCR (The Supreme Court Reports), SCC(Supreme Court Cases), AIR (All India Reporter), SCALE, etc.

Facilities on the campus

Legal-aid,[44][45][46] court-fee vendors, first-aid post, dental clinic, physiotherapy unit and pathology lab; rail-reservation counter, canteen, post office and a branch and 3 ATMs of UCO Bank, Supreme Court Museum[7] can be availed by litigants and visitors.

Landmark judgments

Land reform

After some of the courts overturned state laws for redistributing land from zamindar (landlord) estates on the ground that the laws violated the zamindars' fundamental rights, the Parliament passed the 1st amendment to the Constitution in 1951, followed by the 4th amendment in 1955, to uphold its authority to redistribute land. The Supreme Court countered these amendments in 1967 when it ruled in Golaknath v. State of Punjab[47] that the Parliament did not have the power to abrogate fundamental rights, including the provisions on private property. The 25th amendment to the Constitution in 1971 curtailed the right of a citizen to property as a fundamental right and gave authority to the government to infringe private property, which led to a furore amongst the zamindars.

Emergency (1975-1977)

The independence of judiciary was severely curtailed[48] during the Indian Emergency (1975-1977) of Indira Gandhi. The constitutional rights of imprisoned persons were restricted under Preventive detention laws passed by the parliament. In the case of Shiva Kant Shukla Additional District Magistrate of Jabalpur v. Shiv Kant Shukla, popularly known as the Habeas Corpus case, a bench of five seniormost judges of Supreme court ruled in favour of state's right for unrestricted powers of detention during emergency. Justices A.N. Ray, P. N. Bhagwati, Y. V. Chandrachud, and M.H. Beg, stated in the majority decision:[49]

(under the declaration of emergency) no person has any locus to move any writ petition under Art. 226 before a High Court for habeas corpus or any other writ or order or direction to challenge the legality of an order of detention.

The only dissenting opinion was from Justice H. R. Khanna, who stated:

detention without trial is an anathema to all those who love personal liberty... A dissent is an appeal to the brooding spirit of the law, to the intelligence of a future day, when a later decision may possibly correct the error into which the dissenting Judge believes the court to have been betrayed.[49]

It is believed that before delivering his dissenting opinion, Justice Khanna had mentioned to his sister: "I have prepared my judgment, which is going to cost me the Chief Justice-ship of India."[50] In January 1977, Justice Khanna was superseded despite being the most senior judge at the time and thereby Government broke the convention of appointing only the senior most judge to the position of Chief Justice of India. Justice Khanna remains a legendary figure among the legal fraternity in India for this decision.

The New York Times, wrote of this opinion: "The submission of an independent judiciary to absolutist government is virtually the last step in the destruction of a democratic society; and the Indian Supreme Court's decision appears close to utter surrender."

During the emergency period, the government also passed the 39th amendment, which sought to limit judicial review for the election of the Prime Minister; only a body constituted by Parliament could review this election.[51] Subsequently, the parliament, with most opposition members in jail during the emergency, passed the 42nd Amendment which prevented any court from reviewing any amendment to the constitution with the exception of procedural issues concerning ratification. A few years after the emergency, however, the Supreme court rejected the absoluteness of the 42nd amendment and reaffirmed its power of judicial review in the Minerva Mills case (1980).

Post-1980: an assertive court

After Indira Gandhi lost elections in 1977, the new government of Morarji Desai, and especially law minister Shanti Bhushan (who had earlier argued for the detenues in the Habeas Corpus case), introduced a number of amendments making it more difficult to declare and sustain an emergency, and reinstated much of the power to the Supreme Court. It is said that the Basic Structure doctrine, created in Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, was strengthened in Indira Gandhi's case and set in stone in [Minerva Mills v. Union of India].[52]

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,[53] 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.

Recent important cases

Among the important pronouncements of the Supreme Court post 2000 is the Coelho case [I.R. Coelho v. State of Tamil Nadu (Judgment of 11 January 2007)]. A unanimous Bench of 9 judges reaffirmed the basic structure doctrine. It held that a constitutional amendment which entails violation of any fundamental rights which the Court regards as forming part of the basic structure of the Constitution, then the same can be struck down depending upon its impact and consequences. The judgment clearly imposes further limitations on the constituent power of Parliament with respect to the principles underlying certain fundamental rights. The judgment in Coelho has in effect restored the decision in Golak Nath regarding non-amendability of the Constitution on account of infraction of fundamental rights, contrary to the judgment in the Kesavananda Bharati case.

Another important decision was of the five-judge Bench in Ashoka Kumara Thakur v. Union of India; where the constitutional validity of Central Educational Institutions (Reservations in Admissions) Act, 2006 was upheld, subject to the "creamy layer" criteria. Importantly, the Court refused to follow the 'strict scrutiny' standards of review followed by the United States Supreme Court. At the same time, the Court has applied the strict scrutiny standards in Anuj Garg v. Hotel Association of India (2007) ()

2G spectrum scam

Further information: 2G spectrum scam

The Supreme Court declared allotment of spectrum as "unconstitutional and arbitrary" and quashed all the 122 licenses issued in 2008 during tenure of A. Raja (then minister for communications & IT), the main official accused in the 2G scam case.[54]

Black money

Further information: Indian black money

The government refused to disclose details of about 18 Indians holding accounts in LGT Bank, Liechtenstein, evoking a sharp response from a Bench comprising Justices B Sudershan Reddy and S S Nijjar. The court ordered Special investigation team (SIT) to probe the matter.[55][56] Lack of enthusiasm made the court create a special investigative team (SIT).[57]

Minority reservations

The Supreme Court refused to stay the Andhra Pradesh High Court judgement quashing 4.5% sub-quota for minorities under OBC reservation quota of 27%.[58]

Online/Postal Ballot For Indians Citizens Living Abroad (NRIs)

Three judge bench presided by Honorable Chief Justice Altamas Kabir issued notice to the Centre and the Election Commission of India (EC) on the PIL filed by a group of NRIs for online/postal ballot for the Indian citizens living abroad.[59][60]

Recognition of transgender as 'third gender' in law

In April 2014, Justice KS Radhakrishnan declared transgender to be the 'third gender' in Indian law, in a case brought by the National Legal Services Authority (Nalsa) against Union of India and others.[61][62][63] The ruling said:[64]

Seldom, our society realises or cares to realise the trauma, agony and pain which the members of Transgender community undergo, nor appreciates the innate feelings of the members of the Transgender community, especially of those whose mind and body disown their biological sex. Our society often ridicules and abuses the Transgender community and in public places like railway stations, bus stands, schools, workplaces, malls, theatres, hospitals, they are sidelined and treated as untouchables, forgetting the fact that the moral failure lies in the society's unwillingness to contain or embrace different gender identities and expressions, a mindset which we have to change.

Justice Radhakrishnan said that transgender people should be treated consistently with other minorities under the law, enabling them to access jobs, healthcare and education.[65] He framed the issue as one of human rights, saying that, "These TGs, even though insignificant in numbers, are still human beings and therefore they have every right to enjoy their human rights", concluding by declaring that:[64]

(1) Hijras, eunuchs, apart from binary gender, be treated as "third gender" for the purpose of safeguarding their rights under Part III of our Constitution and the laws made by the Parliament and the State Legislature.

(2) Transgender persons' right to decide their self-identified gender is also upheld and the Centre and State Governments are directed to grant legal recognition of their gender identity such as male, female or as third gender.

Relief to over 35,000 public servants

In B.Prabhakara Rao vs. State of A.P. involved sudden reduction in age of superannuation from 58 years to 55 years of over 35,000 public servants of State Government, public sector undertakings, statutory bodies, educational institutions and Tirupathi-Tirumalai Devasthanams (TTD). They lost first round of litigation in the Supreme Court. Realising the mistake, fresh legislation was brought restoring the original age of superannuation of 58 years but providing that the benefit of new legislation would not extend to those whose reduction of age of superannuation had been upheld. In challenge to this law, Subodh Markandeya argued that all that was required was to strike down naughty “not” – which found favour with the Supreme Court bringing relief to over 35,000 public servants.[66][67]


Corruption and misconduct of judges

2008 saw the Supreme Court embroiled in several controversies, from serious allegations of corruption at the highest level of the judiciary,[68] expensive private holidays at the tax payers expense,[69] refusal to divulge details of judges' assets to the public,[70] secrecy in the appointments of judges',[71] to refusal to make information public under the Right to Information Act.[72] The Chief Justice K. G. Balakrishnan invited a lot of criticism for his comments on his post not being that of a public servant, but that of a constitutional authority.[73] He later went back on this stand.[74] The judiciary has come in for serious criticisms from former Presidents of India Pratibha Patil and A. P. J. Abdul Kalam for failure in handling its duties.[75] Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has stated that corruption is one of the major challenges facing the judiciary, and suggested that there is an urgent need to eradicate this menace.[76]

The Cabinet Secretary of the Indian government introduced the Judges Inquiry (Amendment) Bill 2008 in Parliament for setting up of a panel called the National Judicial Council, headed by the Chief Justice of India, that will probe into allegations of corruption and misconduct by High Court and Supreme Court judges.[77][78]

Pendency of cases

According to Supreme Court newsletter, there are 58,519 cases pending in the Supreme Court, out of which 37,385 are pending for more than a year, at the end of 2011. Excluding connected cases, there are still 33,892 pending cases.[79] As per the latest pendency data made available by the Supreme Court, the total number of pending cases in the Supreme Court as on 1 April 2014 is 64,330, which includes 34,144 Admission matters (miscellaneous) and 30,186 Regular Hearing matters.[80] Recently, in May, 2014, former Chief Justice of India, Justice R.M. Lodha, proposed to make Indian judiciary work throughout the year (instead of the present system of having long vacations, specially in the higher courts) in order to reduce pendency of cases in Indian courts; however, as per this proposal there is not going to be any increase in the number of working days or working hours of any of the judges and it only meant that different judges would be going on vacation during different periods of the year as per their choice; but, the Bar Council of India rejected this proposal mainly because it would have inconvenienced the advocates who would have to work throughout the year.[81]

See also


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