Book Review: 10 Judgements that Changed India.

Zia Mody’s Book on Ten judgments that changed India, talks about 10 pivotal judgements that were responsible for a change in Indian judicial system. It describes how the 10 judgements were made, taking into the account of their historical background and socio-cultural circumstances. It is an authoritative writing yet it can be understood even by a lay person. It is a persuasive read for anyone who is interested to know about our legal system and its history.

Zia Mody who is an Indian legal consultant has succeeded in showing us that there is no supreme authority than the Supreme Court itself and they are the final interpreters of the law. No other institution can overrule them on their ultimate decision. Zia Mody has done a mammoth task of choosing such important judgement’s which have played an important role in one’s life.

All the judgements have explored vital themes like custodial deaths, right to life, reservation policies, environments jurisprudence, religious laws and soon and so forth. All the chapters have constitutional concepts explained in a modest way. It shows a journey of the evolution of Constitution post independence era of democracy and talks about the ultimate protector of constitution as Supreme Court.

The book starts off with the Keshavananda Bharti Case. This case was responsible in establishing the basic doctrine structure of India. This case also removed Right to Property from the crux of Fundamental Right. The basic structure doctrine propagated as a safeguard against the usurpation of Constitution. It has also explained that Parliament vote cannot undermine the fundamental rights granted by Constitution.

The Second case is about the expanding the meaning of right to life and personal liberty. The Olga Tellis case in the book brought in a new perspective of whether a person who has a right to live has a right to livelihood also.  It explains how the judiciary has evolved by directing the state to provide proactive policies for the needy people or destitute. It also showed the impact on an international forum.

One of the cases like Union Carbide Corporation case, the court has dealt with the issue seeking outside court’s help. It exposed the Achilles Heel of Indian Policies in those days. But the judgement brought about a change regarding the safety measures a company is compelled to undergo and any disaster which occurs must be compensated by them. But the question in this case arises when how the value of a human life is judged and compensated. It also brought an awareness regarding the environmental aspect, which was ignored till that time.

The most impressive part of this book is that it doesn’t directly give the resultant of the case, but explains the history of its precedents and how they were responsible in bringing about a change in the judgment. It describes the judgements happened in the past and how it helped the judges to amend them and give landmark judgments according to the present situation.

The case of Aruna Shanbaug dealt with whether the court should consider euthanasia as legal or not. Euthanasia is causing death of incurable or terminally ill patients. They reviewed the Section 309 and Section 306 which tells that attempt and abet to suicide is illegal. The precedents of this case started with Maruti Dubal case where the court agreed that there was nothing unnatural about the desire to die. It concluded that a person who commits suicide need treatment more than imprisonment.

In P.Rathinam case a question was raised regarding the constitutionality of penalising suicide. The court in this case, struck down Section 309 as being void and ineffectual.  This lasted till a case on Gian Kaur came to the forefront. The court amended its decision on Section 309 stating that constitutional right to life did not include right to die and henceforth Section 309 is constitutionally valid and effective. It highlighted the difference between the desirability of law and constitutionality of law. Due to Aruna Shanbaug case, passive euthanasia was declared as legal and only with the consent of family members and doctor’s report with certain guidelines.

The book also talks about how in the absence of Uniform Civil Code system, Law or the judiciary protected the rights of Muslim women. This was the case of Shah Bano, who was divorced from her husband and filed a petition for alimony from her husband. The Supreme Court made landmark judgement without hurting the religious sentiment of the people and guaranteed Rights to Muslim Women to claim their alimony under Code of Criminal Procedure or the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act. The author also emphasis on the Supreme Court becoming the protector of human rights as well.

Women were also the reason for some of the landmark decisions made by the Supreme Court. The cases which dealt with women issues were Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India case (1978); Vishaka vs. State of Rajasthan Case (1997); Shah Bano vs. Mohammed Ahmed Khan (1985) Case and Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug vs. Union of India Case. Women acted as central figures in moulding the judgements of India.

The myth that judiciary is powerless in front of the Parliament has been broken down through these judgements. The cases and the judgements are presented in such a manner that a layperson who is not aware of our legal structure can easily comprehend by reading it. The rights which we enjoy today are resultant of some of these judgments. It has a profound impact on the democracy of India. It recognises the independence and importance of judiciary in a democratic nation. Each case has its own Constitutional angle. It is a must read book for anyone who desires to know about the evolution of Indian legal system, history of the laws prevailing in present day and the implication and importance of the Supreme Court as the Ultimate Interpreter of the Indian Constitution.

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