This article is written by Shiwangi Singh, a law student from Banasthali University. This article deals with the events that led to the establishment of today’s Supreme Court of India, the dual form of government in Bengal, the repercussions it caused, and how its damages were cured. It talks about the establishment of new Supreme Courts in Bombay and Madras and also the events that led to the establishment of today’s Supreme Court in India.

It has been published by Rachit Garg.

Introduction

The Supreme Court of India is the custodian of the Constitution. It upholds and uplifts the rule of law and also ensures and protects citizens’ rights and liberties. It upholds our Indian Constitution. There were numerous events in the history of India that paved the way for the establishment of today’s Supreme Court of India. Many Acts were passed during British rule which demanded the setting up of a Supreme Court. Earlier, there was more than one Supreme Court, but eventually, only one apex was decided, which now resides in New Delhi.

The Supreme Court of India holds the place of highest judicial power in our country where the final appeal regarding any matter is made. Earlier, during the British reign, The Government of India Act, 1935 worked as our governing book, which was further replaced and our country adopted its own constitution on January 26, 1950, and declared itself a ‘Sovereign’ ‘Democratic’ ‘Republic’. The Supreme Court of India was established on this day, but it started to function two days after India became a Republic on January 28, 1950. The Chamber of Princes, which was present in the Parliament House, was the first residence of the Supreme Court, later, it moved into the current building in 1958. It was the Chamber of Princes in the Parliament premises where the opening ceremony of the Supreme Court of India was held. On 29 October 1954, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, laid the foundation stone of the Supreme Court building.

The British, according to their convenience, enacted the Government of India Act, 1935, which had provisions for forming a federal court in India, which would be vested with more judicial powers than the High Court, including original, appellate, and advisory jurisdiction. After the Constitution of India was adopted, this federal court resumed working as the Supreme Court of India, presided over by Hon’ble Justice Harilal Jekisundas Kania.

Article 124(1) of the Constitution states that there should be a Supreme Court in India that would consist of one Chief Justice of India along with seven additional judges. The parliament then passed a precedent for increasing the number of judges.

Importance of the Supreme Court in India

  • The Supreme Court is the Apex Court of India, also known as the highest appeal court, and is considered the last place of appeal where people can seek justice if they feel they are not satisfied with the judgement of the High Court.
  • Under Article 32 of the Constitution, one can directly seek a remedy through writs if they feel their fundamental rights are violated.
  • The Supreme Court has the power of judicial review on the matters mentioned in Article 13, which means it has the power to strike down any law formed by the executive or legislative wing if it finds that the law disobeys the Constitution of India.

The Regulating Act, 1773

The Regulating Act, 1773 also known as the East India Company Act, 1772, was an Act of the British Parliament introduced to establish a central administrative system in India to improve the governance of the East India Company’s rule in India. It was the stepping stone toward parliamentary control over the company. The British Government recognized the company’s political and administrative functions for the first time through this Act. Under this Act, the British East India Company had to carry out its administrative functions under the supervision of the British Parliament and submit its report regarding the revenue, civil, and military functions to the court of directors.

Political situations that led to Regulating Act, 1773

Robert CIive set up the dual system of government administration in Bengal after the Treaty of Allahabad (1765). The establishment of a dual form of government that persisted from 1765 to 1772 gave birth to many problems and led to the establishment of a corrupt government. Robert Clive introduced this system after he became the governor-general of Bengal in May 1765.

  • Under this double government system, the British East India Company set a very interesting form of government, which benefited them in many ways. The company earned both the Diwani which was collecting the revenue rights and the Nizamat which was halving the power to administer civil issues from two different sources which were – Diwani from the Mughal emperor and Nizamat from the Nawab of Bengal.
  • Diwani Rights means that the company has the right to collect revenues from three states, namely – Bihar, Bengal, and Odisha, and in return, the company would pay twenty-six lakh rupees to the Mughal emperor for these rights.
  • This period was full of corruption among the officials of the company who did private trading to fill their own pockets, collected revenues and oppressed the peasants.
  • The company went bankrupt and suffered a huge financial crisis, while the servants flourished greatly. The company’s income from both revenue and trade suffered a lot.
  • Trading businesses became too expensive for the merchants and local handloom businesses got hampered.

All these practices were required to be abolished, and new rules had to be made for better law and order. The Regulating Act held great importance as it looked after the company’s functioning.

Objectives of the Regulating Act

  • To completely abolish the dual form of administration in India.
  • To look over the matters that were concerned about the proper management of the company in India.
  • To redress the grievances caused by the dual form of the government.
  • To establish the Supreme Court in Calcutta.
  • To introduce the governor-general officials in all the British territories in India.
  • The court of directors situated in England would have a full grip on the functioning of the East India Company in India.
  • The company would serve the British Crown with utmost dignity and honesty.

Importance of Regulating Act

  • The Regulating Act of 1773 formed a supreme body for both the administration and judicial wings in India. The Supreme Court at Calcutta was the main hub established to manage judicial functions efficiently. The establishment of the Supreme Court at Calcutta resulted in proper management of judicial functions.
  • It also led to the establishment of an office for the governor-general at Fort Williams, Calcutta, who acted as the prime authority for managing the orders of the British Crown and administered them accordingly. The power to negotiate or declare war was in the hands of the governor-general of Bengal.
  • It provided powers to deal with the judicial issues of the East India Company, this system favoured a corrupt-free administration in India where no one could accept bribes or gifts from local people.

Faults in the Regulating Act

  • The governor-general was not provided with any veto power, and his decisions were often overruled by the members of the Council. He was held responsible for all the administrative decisions taken in India.
  • The Parliament was ineffective in analysing and keeping records of the report sent by the governor-general.
  • The Act was not much inclined towards the Indian people who paid revenue to the East India Company.
  • The powers were not strategically divided between the Supreme Court and the governor-general which often created tension between them.

How were the defects in the Regulating Act removed

  • The issue of jurisdiction of the Supreme Court got addressed, the company officials falling in the ambit of jurisdiction of the Supreme Court were removed and they were allowed to exercise power limited to Calcutta only.
  • The jurisdiction of revenue matters was given in the hands of the governor-general and not in the court’s jurisdiction.
  • In order to reduce the workload, the provincial matters were addressed by the governor-general and council instead of the Supreme Court.
  • Religious laws in the case of Hindus and Muslims were followed to deal with some particular cases.

Overall, this Act brought the concept of the Supreme Court to the apex along with the parliamentary administration of the East India Company. It regulated the working and kept a keen check on the functioning of the company.

Supreme Court of judicature at Fort William, Calcutta : the First Supreme Court in India before independence

Section 13 of the Regulating Act 1773 made a detailed provision for the establishment of a Supreme Court of judicature at Fort William, in Calcutta. This Supreme Court consisted of a chief justice and three other judges of higher rank but inferior to the chief justice. The British King appointed the judges. A barrister working for five years was qualified for the appointment as a Supreme Court judge. The judges held office under the orders of the crown and could also be removed by the crown.

Sir Elijah Impey was the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Calcutta. The judges at the Supreme Court of India had the same powers and authority as the judges that sat in the court of the King’s Bench in England. They followed common laws and rules in both places.

The Supreme Court of Calcutta was the first British court consisting of lawyer judges in India. It was the first court that was fully independent in its jurisdiction and the company had no say in its decision-making after the process; it was a completely free wing and also worked diligently in carrying out its process. Its jurisdiction was extensive, covering large areas and a greater deal of matters happening around. It had control over Madras, Bengal, and Bombay. It had five kinds of jurisdiction namely- 

  1. civil, 
  2. equity, 
  3. criminal, 
  4. admiralty, and 
  5. ecclesiastical jurisdictions.

It had its own way of process and practice and did all the things required for the administration of justice.

The civil jurisdiction of the court was of two types- territorial and personal. In Calcutta, the Supreme Court had territorial jurisdiction, which meant all the matters happening within the presidency of Calcutta fell under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. This Supreme Court held the same power to form laws, and pass orders as the High Court of Chancery in Great Britain had at that time.

The criminal jurisdiction of the Supreme Court was extensive and covered all the British matters that arose in Kolkata and within the territories of Bengal, Bihar, and Orrisa. Only the British officials and the servants who were employed with the company were covered under this jurisdiction, other natives were not part of the court’s jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court in India followed the rules of the English Courts. It worked as a court of Oyer and Terminer, and Gaol Delivery in and for the town of Calcutta, the factory of Fort William, and the other factories in Calcutta. The court cannot hold a trial for the Governor-General and the members of his council or the judges of the Supreme Court except if it is a very high criminal case of betraying its own country or felony. The mercy petitions were transferred to the Crown Court in England on the recommendations of the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court regulated the civil and maritime cases that occurred on the high seas at that time.

The Supreme Court had the same jurisdiction over the British subjects in India as the ecclesiastical courts in England at that time.

The Act of Settlement of 1781 

This Amending Act of 1781 was brought up to rectify the defects caused by the Regulating Act of 1773. A huge amount of tension was present between the Supreme Court and the Governor-General, therefore this Act was passed to reduce the power of the Supreme Court and enhance the power of the Governor-General and his council members again. The servants and staff who worked under the company and fell under the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction now were exempted from its jurisdiction. Now, the court’s jurisdiction became limited to Calcutta. After the implementation of this Act, the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction on the matters of revenue, the government became independent of the control of the Court in the matter of revenue. The Governor-General and his council members gained power over judicial matters as appeals were now made to them instead of provincial courts. This Act strengthened the position of the Council so that they could easily govern according to their convenience and exercise control over India.

The main positive change brought by this Act was to protect the customs and traditions of the local people. The Act stated that all the matters arising among the people regarding land disputes, succession of property to the next heir, and all sorts of contracts and dealings between any parties will be decided as per their personal law. If there is a case between a Hindu and a Muslim then the case would be decided by following the law of the defendant.

The Supreme Court was given the authority to make rules and regulations according to the prevailing conditions and demands of the people, who would deal with their matters according to this law. Therefore, the laws were set according to their way of living. The laws formed were put in front of the British crown, who could accept, reject, or correct them.

Supreme Courts in Bombay and Madras 

The Supreme Courts at Madras and Bombay were established by King George III in 1800 and 1823 respectively. Earlier, Madras and Bombay had a recorder’s court whose judicial function was similar to that of the Supreme Court of Calcutta. But the recorder’s court did not function always which created a lag, and hence, it was replaced by Supreme Court.

These two new Supreme Courts had the same powers, jurisdiction, functions, and limitations as that of the Supreme Court at Calcutta. The Act of 1823 clearly mentioned in Section 17 that the newly established Supreme Courts at Madras and Bombay would have the power to administer, carry out duties, and hold powers of the same magnitude as the Supreme Court at Fort William in Calcutta. This provision bestowed equal power and framed them in an equal place without altering any power or duty of the newly formed Supreme Courts.

These Supreme Courts functioned for a long period of time until 1862, when the high court came into force in all these three places through the Indian High Courts Act, 1861.

Supreme Court of India post-independence

On January 26, 1950, the Constitution of India came into force and the Supreme Court of India came into being. The legal proceedings started two days later, on January 28. The inauguration ceremony took place in the Parliament building at the Chamber of Princes, the same place where the Federal Court of India once functioned. The inaugural proceedings started at 9:45 a.m. and were presided over by the judges of the Federal Court – Chief Justice Harilal Kania and Justices Saiyid Fazl Ali, M. Patanjali Sastri, Mehr Chand Mahajan, Bijan Kumar Mukherjea, and S.R. Das.

Several other Chief Justices of the High Court attended the inauguration ceremony. Attorney General of India, and many Advocate Generals of Bombay, Madras, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar were present.

After its inauguration, on January 28, 1950, the Supreme Court commenced its sittings in a part of the Parliament House. Later, it moved to the current building in 1958.

Significant events in the history of the Supreme Court

  • 26 January, 1950 – The Constitution of India came into force and marked the establishment of the Supreme Court of India. Justice Harilal Jekisundas Kania held office as the first Chief Justice of India.
  • 28 January, 1950 – The Supreme Court of India gets officially inaugurated and starts functioning from the Chamber of Princes in Parliament House.
  • 19 May, 1950 – A.k Gopalan v. the State of Madras, was the very first case in which the Supreme Court interpreted Article 21 and held that if the personal liberty of a person is taken away by the State according to the procedure established by law, then no authority can challenge such actions.
  • 27 July, 1950 – Champakam Dorairajan v. the State of Madras, the Court held that providing reservations in educational institutions violates Article 15(1). This judgement acted as the catalyst for the First Amendment to the Constitution.
  • 1958 – Supreme Court moved to its present residing building.
  • 1960 – The strength of the judges increased to 14.
  • 3 February, 1964 – Justice S.M. Sikri gets appointed as a Supreme Court judge. He was the first Supreme Court judge who was chosen directly from the bar and promoted as a judge. Since then, there have been only five direct elevations, namely Justices SC Roy, Kuldip Singh, Santosh Hegde, Rohinton Nariman, UU Lalit, and L Nageswara Rao.
  • 22 January, 1971 – Justice S.M. Sikri took charge as the Chief Justice of India, and became the first Chief Justice of India to be elevated directly from the Bar.
  • 24 April, 1973 – Keshavananda Bharati v. the State of Kerala, was a landmark judgement in the legal history of India where 13 sitting judges of the Supreme Court, by a majority of 7:6 stated that Parliament has the power to amend any part of the constitution, including Part III, which consists of fundamental rights, but any new provisions should be brought in light of the Constitution, it should not impinge or distort the basic structure of our constitution.
  • 26 April, 1973 – Justice A.N. Ray replaced three senior judges, Justice K.S. Hegde, Justice A.N. Grover, and Justice J.M. Shelat was appointed as the Chief Justice of India.
  • 3 May, 1973 – Supreme Court Bar Association of India observed ‘Bar Solidarity Day’ in protest against the appointment of Justice Ray as CJI, announcing the bar association to abstain from all kinds of court works.
  • 17 July, 1973 – Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer assumes office as a Supreme Court judge.
  • 23 November, 1973 – EP Royappa v. State of Tamil Nadu, it was a judgement that received a mixed response. P.N. Bhagwati strongly disapproved of the “reasonable classification test” as the test for equality under Article 14. Instead, he put forward the new doctrine which said that Article 14 “strikes against arbitrariness in state actions” and the concept of equality is “a dynamic concept with many aspects and dimensions that cannot be put within traditional and doctrinaire limits.”
  • 28 April, 1976 – It marked the shame of emergency, ADM Jabalpur v. SS Shukla, is considered one of the darkest days of Indian democracy as a Constitution bench of the highest court of the land, by a majority of 4:1 ruled that while an emergency is proclaimed, the right to move to high court under Article 226 for Habeas Corpus challenging illegal detention by the state will stand suspended.
  • 25 January, 1978 – Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, the court held that as per Article 21, the procedure established by law must be fair, just, reasonable, and not fanciful, oppressive, or arbitrary.
  • 15 September 1979 – Tukaram v. State of Maharashtra, famously known as the Mathura rape case, the Supreme Court reversed the order passed by the Bombay High Court stating that the victim had consented to sexual intercourse. This decision created an uproar which further led to a lot of amendments in penal provisions related to rape.
  • 9 May, 1980 – In Bachan Singh v. the State of Punjab, the Supreme Court confirmed the constitutionality of the death penalty.
  • 6 October, 1989 – Justice Fathima Beevi takes charge as a Supreme Court judge, and becomes the first woman judge of the Supreme Court.
  • 8 June, 2000 – The first judge from the Dalit community who held the Supreme Court office was Justice KG Balakrishnan.
  • 2 February, 2012 – Supreme Court cancelled 2G spectrum licences allotted to various telecom companies.
  • 24 March, 2015 – The Supreme Court declared Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 as unconstitutional.
  • 30 July, 2015 – the court opened its doors for the first time at 2:30 am in the morning to hear the plea filed by Yakub Menon to stay his execution, however, the court eventually rejected the plea.
  • 2020 – Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma, the daughters shall have coparcenary rights irrespective of whether their father was alive when the Hindu Succession Amendment Act, 2005 came into force.
  • 2021 – Laxmibai Chandaragi v. the State of Karnataka, the Court stated that the consent of the family is not required once the two adults with their consent decide to marry. The Court noticed that educated young boys and girls are choosing their life partners which shows how they are not keeping themselves bound to the traditional norms of society. The consent of the family, community, or clan holds no importance once the two adults agree to enter wedlock together with their own consent.

Can Supreme Court be present in more than one place

The Supreme court is the Apex Court and there can only be a single Apex Court in any country. The name itself suggests that a supreme power can only be present in one place which would control the activities of other subordinate courts. If the supreme authority is present in multiple places, then it would create tension in making uniform laws and passing uniform judgments. Today, the judgments passed by the Supreme Court are followed in every court across the country. If there would have been multiple Supreme Courts then this uniformity of following laws and judgments would definitely get hampered.

The issues taken to the Supreme Court could be transferred to a larger judge bench for better decision making but creating multiple Supreme Courts would create a clash of judgments.

Recently the Government has also clarified the rumours which stated that more branches of the Supreme Court are opening in Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata. The Press Information Bureau (PIB) stated in a tweet that this claim is fake, and no such decision has been taken by the government.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court is the body of the highest appeal where the last proceedings of any matter can be taken. It gives equal opportunity to everyone to seek justice. The Acts mentioned above paved a way for its establishment. The Regulating Act brought central administration and Parliament control with the Supreme Court acting as a supreme judicial body. The Act of the Settlement also tried to curb the defects of the Regulating Act. Both the acts were pioneers of new reform, however, both held certain drawbacks, as well. But today, the Supreme Court stands at the top of our judicial wing and functions diligently and also regulates the laws for the lower to function according to the current situation prevailing.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Who was the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court at Fort William, Calcutta?

Sir Elijah Impey was the first chief justice of the supreme court at Fort William, Calcutta.

What are the functions of the Supreme Court

The functions of the Supreme Court are:

  • The Supreme Court has the authority to give a final verdict against an appeal from other courts like the High Court or District Courts.
  • It acts as an institution that looks over the matters of different governmental bodies, central government, or state government.
  • Article 141 states that any laws passed by the Supreme Court shall be followed by the lower courts in similar cases.
  • The Supreme Court can also take matters or cases and deal on its own accord by taking cognizance of a public issue. This power of the court is known as ‘suo moto’, which means ‘on its own motion’.

Under which article can someone directly move to the Supreme Court?

Article 32 of the Indian Constitution gives the right to individuals to seek justice when they feel that their right has been ‘unduly deprived’.

When was the first day the Supreme Court began to function after the constitution of India came into force?

On January 28, the Supreme Court began to function, this day marks the establishment of the Supreme Court.

Who was the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court after the constitution came into force?

Justice Harilal Jekisundas Kania assumed the office as the first Chief Justice of India.

Who was the first governor-general of Bengal?

Warren Hasting was the first governor-general of Bengal appointed in the year 1773.

What are Nizamat rights and Diwani rights?

Nizamat rights are the judicial and policing rights, while Diwani rights are the rights to collect revenue.

References 

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