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The Valorous Voyage Of Indian Judiciary

"All Rights Secured To The Citizens Under The Constitution Are Worth Nothing And Mere Bubble, Except Guaranteed To Them By An Independent And Virtuous Judiciary"

On 28 January 1950, a mere two days after India proclaimed itself a Sovereign Democratic Republic, the Supreme Court of India emerged, signaling the unification and integration of the nation's judicial system. Following its inauguration, the Supreme Court initially held sessions within a portion of the Parliament House before moving to its present location in 1958. The Court began with a bench of eight judges, a number that has since grown over the years to reach the current count of 34.

The first Chief Justice of India, Harilal Kania, emphasized the interplay of different parts of the Constitution, highlighting the unique role the Court would play in interpreting these dynamics. Over the past seven decades, the Indian judiciary, comprising the Supreme Court, high courts, and subordinate judiciary, has served as the nation's moral compass. It has fearlessly addressed political power, safeguarded citizens' rights, resolved disputes between the central and state governments, delivered justice impartially to all strata of society, and crucially, defended democracy during pivotal moments.

Innovation remains essential for any dynamic public institution to evolve alongside changing times and fulfill people's aspirations. The Indian judiciary is no exception. The Constitution, adopted 75 years ago, established a separation of powers that granted each state organ Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary distinct independence. While the framers emphasized accountability for the Legislature and Executive, they uniquely placed the Judiciary on a different pedestal. They entrusted the men and women on the Bench with upholding the Constitution's spirit and supremacy. The Court's interpretations have been studied globally, upholding the Constitution's primacy and shaping fundamental concepts like the "Basic Structure."

The Indian judiciary began asserting its role as the guardian of the Constitution in landmark cases like AK Gopalan v. State of Madras, where it interpreted Article 21. Notably, the Champakam Dorairajan v. State of Madras case led to the first amendment of the Constitution by ruling against reservations in educational institutions under Article 15(1). The judiciary displayed its interpretive prowess in cases like Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan, KM Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra, and Maneka Gandhi v. UOI, contributing to the development of parliamentary powers, the end of jury trials, and the inception of Public Interest Litigation (PIL). The judiciary also engaged with complex issues such as the death penalty (Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab) and Directive Principles of State Policy (Minerva Mills v. UOI).

Notably, the "Second Judges case" in 1993 birthed the Collegium system, asserting the Chief Justice's primacy in judge appointments. This was followed by increased representation, the exploration of secular concepts, protection of divorced Muslim women's rights (Mohammed Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano), environmental responsibility (MC Mehta v. UOI), and acceptance of reservations (Indra Sawhney v. UOI). The Vishaka guidelines demonstrated the judiciary's role in addressing workplace sexual harassment.

Despite challenges like judicial appointments, corruption allegations, pendency, and accountability concerns, the judiciary has been at the forefront of legal innovation. It enabled live streaming of proceedings, brought the Chief Justice under RTI, and initiated digital reforms. The e-Courts Mission Mode project aimed to transform courts into paperless entities. Virtual courts emerged during the pandemic, along with e-filing systems, e-Sewa Kendras, and technology-driven process serving through NSTEP.

In its pursuit of justice, the judiciary assumed legislative and executive functions as well, issuing guidelines and establishing committees for administration. While accountability remains a concern, the judiciary's role in safeguarding liberty and equality remains impressive. The court's activism has filled gaps where the legislative and executive lagged, with liberty and equality thriving due to its proactivity. The judiciary's role has been bolstered by an independent bar, vigilant civil society, and a proactive media. Enhancing other constitutional and statutory bodies could ease the judiciary's burden, while its continued evolution remains vital for upholding the Constitution and ensuring justice for India's diverse populace.

Undoubtedly, the Supreme Court of India has evolved into a beacon of justice, embracing the power of information and communication technology for effective administration. The COVID-19 pandemic presented an unprecedented challenge, prompting the judiciary to innovate rapidly. With unwavering determination, the Court introduced the FASTER system, enabling secure and instant communication between the Court and prisons. Plans for live streaming Court proceedings and virtual participation were set in motion, fostering transparency and accessibility.

Several High Courts, including those of Gujarat, Orissa, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Patna, and Madhya Pradesh, embraced virtual proceedings, enabling media and interested parties to join in. This proactive response demonstrated the judiciary's adaptability, ensuring that justice never ceased, even amidst a global crisis. The Integrated Case Management Information System (ICMIS) introduced in 2017 streamlined case management, further highlighting the Court's commitment to innovation.

Former Chief Justice N.V. Ramana's proposal for the National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation (NJIC) marks a significant step toward enhancing judicial infrastructure and addressing systemic challenges. The e-Courts Mission Mode project underscores the government's dedication to transforming courts into digital, paperless entities. Through the Wide Area Network (WAN) Project, courts across the country are interconnected, ensuring seamless communication using various technologies. The Case Information Software (CIS), built on Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS), serves as the foundation for e-court services.

Innovative concepts such as virtual courts for petty traffic offenses, e-filing systems, and e-Sewa Kendras have emerged, bridging the digital divide and expediting legal proceedings. The launch of the 'Judgment & Order Search' portal and the National Service and Tracking of Electronic Processes (NSTEP) further facilitates access to legal information and ensures efficient process serving.

Beyond its core role of judicial review, the Supreme Court has ventured into legislative and executive realms, offering guidelines in cases like Visakha and Common Cause. This proactive stance often arises from the urgency of the moment or the limitations of other branches of government. While the judiciary's accountability is crucial, it's equally essential to scrutinize the performance of the legislative and executive bodies.

The safeguarding of liberty, equality, and the rule of law in India owes much to the Indian judiciary's vigilant activism. The Court's ability to interpret the Constitution dynamically and adapt to emerging challenges has not only enriched the Constitution's scope but also guided the nation through periods of both acclaim and criticism. The judiciary's journey echoes the evolution of India as a democracy, complete with triumphs, setbacks, and enduring resilience.

The Supreme Court's role in India's legal history goes beyond being a mere interpreter of laws; it has often acted as a trailblazer, setting significant precedents that have profoundly impacted society. Its dynamic approach to interpreting the Constitution has led to landmark judgments that have expanded individual rights and reshaped societal norms.

For instance, the Court's ruling in the Sabarimala case, emphasizing that "Devotion cannot be subjected to gender discrimination," reverberated across the nation. By declaring gender equality an integral part of the Constitution's basic structure, the Court not only validated the rights of women but also set a precedent for redefining entrenched practices in religious places.

In 2018, the Supreme Court's historic decision to decriminalize homosexuality by striking down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code marked a watershed moment for LGBTQ+ rights. This ruling acknowledged the inherent dignity of individuals and their right to choose their partners without fear of persecution, contributing significantly to India's journey toward a more inclusive society.

The Court's consistent efforts to strike down archaic laws that perpetuated inequality continued with the abolition of a 150-year-old law that criminalized adultery. This judgment not only upheld the principles of gender equality but also highlighted the Court's commitment to aligning legal provisions with contemporary notions of justice.

However, the Supreme Court's activism extends beyond its role in shaping social dynamics. It has catalyzed reforms in various sectors, from the police to education and prisons. Its interventions have propelled the government to initiate much-needed changes, creating a more just and equitable society.

The introduction of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was a groundbreaking move that democratized access to justice. The Court's acceptance of PILs empowered ordinary citizens to bring issues of public importance before the judiciary, thereby becoming a potent instrument for social transformation. It enabled the Court to address human rights violations, environmental concerns, and governance failures, making justice accessible to all.

As the Indian judiciary strives to uphold the rule of law and justice, it faces its own challenges, including the perennial issue of backlog and accountability. However, it is important to recognize that the Indian judiciary operates in a complex socio-political landscape, and its achievements cannot be isolated from these realities.

In its journey of growth, the Supreme Court has demonstrated resilience, adaptability, and the ability to introspect and evolve. While critiques and concerns about overreach and accountability are essential for a healthy democracy, it's equally vital to acknowledge the Court's contributions in safeguarding individual freedoms, promoting equity, and fostering societal progress.

In the grand narrative of India's democratic journey, the Supreme Court is not just a legal institution but a guardian of the Constitution, a beacon of justice, and a symbol of hope. As the nation faces new challenges and aspirations, the Court's continued commitment to dynamic interpretation, innovation, and evolution will undoubtedly shape the course of Indian democracy for decades to come.

In conclusion, the Supreme Court of India, with its rich history and transformative influence, stands as a pillar of Indian democracy. From its inception to its embrace of technological advancements, the Court's journey is a testament to its commitment to justice, innovation, and constitutional principles. As India continues to evolve, the judiciary remains a steadfast guardian of rights, an interpreter of laws, and an agent of social change, shaping the nation's path towards progress, equality, and justice for all.

"If we want truth and justice to rule our global village, there must be no hypocrisy. If there is no truth, then there will be no equality. No equality, no justice. No justice, no peace.

No peace, no social justice, only darkness

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.PVS Sailaja, Assistant Professor, Dr Br Ambedkar College Of Law, Hyderabad
Awarded certificate of Excellence
Authentication No: AG323734008929-25-0823

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