Landmark Judgments Delivered by Justice P.N. Bhagwati

Prafullachandra Natwarlal Bhagwati (21 December 1921 – 15 June 2017) was the 17th Chief Justice of India, serving from 12 July 1985 until his retirement on 20 December 1986. He introduced the concepts of public interest litigation and absolute liability in India, and for this reason is held, along with Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer, to be a pioneer of judicial activism in the country. On 15th June 2017 his soul reached to meet almighty. This article is on account of his memory and the remarkable work done by him in his lifetime, which, if not the end, is surely the means to an end towards social justice.

Five Remarkable Judgments with precedents

Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, 1978 AIR 597; 1978 SCR (2) 681

Gandhi had challenged the Indian government after it did not issue her a passport. Bhagwati had then ruled that a person’s movements cannot be restricted and that she had full right to hold a passport.

S.P. Gupta v. President of India, AIR 1982 SC 149; 1981 Supp (1) SCC 87

Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India, 1984 AIR 802; 1984 SCR (2) 67

Not only did Bhagwati introduce the PIL concept, but he also ruled that a person did not need any ‘locus standi (the right or capacity to bring an action or to appear in a court) to knock the doors of a court on the issue of fundamental rights’. “If we want human rights to become meaningful for the large masses of people in the country, this is the only way in which it can be done,” he said.

Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, 1982 AIR 1325; 1983 SCR (1) 145

In the 1980 Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab case, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the death penalty. The apex court, however, said that it should be used only in the “rarest of rare” cases.

While the majority judgment opined that death penalty was a deterrent to murder, was Justice Bhagwati had a different take on the matter. Quoting George Bernard Shaw, he said: . “Murder and capital punishment are not opposites that cancel one another but similars that breed their kind.”

Minerva Mills Ltd. V. Union of India, 1980 AIR 1789; 1981 SCC (1) 206

Justice Bhagwati was also the lone dissenting judge in the 1980 Minerva Mill case. He upheld the 42nd Constitution amendment during Emergency, which was struck down by a majority verdict. In the case, the court had said that the power of the Parliament to amend the Constitution is limited by the Constitution.

Other Landmark Judgments


  • Union of India v. Godfrey Philips India Ltd., 1986 AIR 806.


  • Harman v. State of U.P., 1976 AIR 2071.


  • Rajendra Prasad Mathur v. Karnataka University, 1986 AIR 1440.


  • Mohammad Shryat, Ali v. Union of India, 1974 AIR 1631.


  • Bhag Singh v. Union Territory of Chandigarh, 1985 AIR 1576.


  • Baradakanta Mishra v. Mr. Justice gatiKrushna Mishra, 1974 AIR 2235.


  • Bihar Legal Sopport Society v. The Chief Justice of India, 1987 AIR 38.


  • Union of India v. Sankalchand Himatlal Sheth, AIR 1977 SC 2328.


  • State of Gujarat and anr. V. K.A. Patel and ors., (1973) 14 GLK 730.


  • Ashok Kumar Yadav v. State of Haryana, 1987 AIR 454.


  • Hussainara Khatron v. Home Secretary, AIR 1979 1360.


  • State of kerala v. K.T. Shaduli Yusuf, 1977 AIR 1627.


  • Santa Singh v. State of Punjab, 1976 AIR 2386.


  • State of Himachal Pradesh v. A Parent of a Student of Medical, 1985 AIR 910.


  • Advocate General of Bihar v. High Court Judicature of Patna, 1986 (2) LJ 50 SC


  • Nand Ballabh Pant v. State (Union Territory of Delhi), AIR 1977 SC 892.


  • Om Prakash and Ors. v. State of Madhya Pradesh, (1982) 3 SCC 224.


  • Chakareshwar Nath Jain v. State of U.P. AIR 1981 SC 2009.


  • Ramana Dayaram Shetty v. The International Airport, 1979 AIR 1628.


  • P. Varghere v. The Income Tax, 1981 AIR 1922.



  • Kasturi Lal Lakshmi Reddy v. State of J & K, 1980 AIR 1992

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