The Supreme Court, as we have seen, acts as the guardian of the Constitution. It has the power of judicial review to interpret the Constitution and uphold the liberties of the people.
The Supreme Court of India is neither as powerful as the American Judiciary nor as powerless as the British Judiciary. The Supreme Court of India has defined its own powers in the famous case of A. K. Gopalan vs. the State of Madras.
It held, “in India the position of Judiciary is somewhere between the Courts of England and the United States”.
In England because there is unlimited legislative supremacy the Courts have no power to declare any acts of the Parliament as null and void; on the other hand in the United States of America the Supreme Court has assumed the power of a “Super-Legislature”.
Judicial Review has shifted the centre of gravity in America from the Congress to the Supreme Court. Therefore, the Supreme Court is attacked as a “citadel of conservatism” and often acts as “a clog in the wheel of progress”.
The makers of the Constitution of India were conscious of these two extremes. They neither provided a powerless Judiciary as in England nor an omnipotent and all powerful Judiciary as in America. Rightly, a balance is struck and as such the Supreme Court of India is a superb institution in the constitutional system of India.
It has limited power of judicial review. It acts as the guardian of the Constitution and stops and checks the arbitrary exercise of power either of the Union or the State Legislature. The Indian Judiciary, according to a foreign observer, “is not conceived as an additional Constitution-maker but as a body to apply express law”.
The Judiciary in India is neither a “Super-Legislature” nor “a clog in the wheel of progress”. Pandit Nehru expressed the role of Supreme Court in the following words: “Within limits no Judge and no Supreme Court can make itself a Third Chamber.
No Supreme Court and no Judiciary can stand in the judgment over the sovereign will of Parliament representing the will of the entire community.
If we go wrong here and there it can point it out, but in the ultimate analysis, where the future of the community is concerned no judiciary can come in the way”. The Supreme Court can declare the acts of the Parliament as unconstitutional if they violate the provisions of the Constitution. But the parliament can nullify a judgment of the Supreme Court by amending the Constitution.
Finally, right of amendment of the Constitution is vested in the Parliament of India. It has been rightly said that “the authority of the Supreme Court in India is more in the nature of a check on the abuse of authority by the Executive than on the Legislature”.
The Supreme Court of India has successfully acted as the guardian of the Constitution since 1950. It has pronounced monumental judgments in famous cases like A. K. Gopalan vs. the State of Madras, Dr. Pratap Singh vs. the State of Punjab, K. M. Menon vs., the State of Bombay, K. M. Nanavati vs. the State of Bombay, etc.
It acted with great courage when it declared the Zamindari Abolition Act of Bihar as ultra vires. The Parliament had to amend the Constitution in order to make the abolition of Zamindari valid. The working of the Supreme Court since 1950 has shown that its judges have acted with dignity, impartiality, and independence.
The role of the Supreme Court of India has been further widened due to emergence of the idea of public interest litigation. Under the principle of public interest litigation the petition can be filed in the court not only by the aggrieved party but by any conscious person or organisation to seek relief on behalf of the aggrieved party.
The Supreme Court took quite a liberal view and took the stand that matters could be raised even without formally filing a suit. Even letters or telegrams to the Supreme Court by socially conscious citizens or organisations and petitions may be treated as writ petitions. Former Chief Justice of India P. N. Bhagawati laid emphasis on public, litigation.
In 1982 the Supreme Court itself admitted in a case that “it is necessary to demonstrate judicial remedies, remove technical barriers against easy accessibility to justice and that it would readily respond even to a letter addressed by such individual acting pro bono publica”. No doubt, the Supreme Court has given various reliefs for the poor, uneducated, disabled and helpless people under the public interest litigation.