The Supreme Court on Saturday expressed regret for a 1976 judgment that said a citizen's right to life and liberty could be suspended during the Emergency, which lasted from June 1975 to March 1977.
A bench comprising justices Aftab Alam and Asok Kumar Ganguly, while upholding the decision of the Assam governor to commute the death sentence of a murder convict to life imprisonment, said, "Instances of this court's judgment violating human rights of the citizens may be extremely rare but it cannot be said that such a situation can never happen ...we can remind ourselves of the majority decision of the constitution bench of this court in additional district magistrate Jabalpur v Shivakant Shukla."
This was the case in which the judgment included the observation that fundamental rights under the Constitution ceased to exist during an Emergency.
Justice Ganguly said, "There is no doubt that the majority judgment of this court in the case violated the fundamental rights of a large number of people in this country."
The verdict was delivered by chief justice A N Ray and justices M H Beg, Y V Chandrachud and P N Bhagwati (all of the last three became chief justices later). One judge, however, dissented: justice H R Khanna.
The judgment effectively directed the high courts not to entertain writ petitions for protecting fundamental rights.
The damage was later undone by the 44th constitutional amendment, passed by the Janata Party government which came to power after the Emergency ended, and which said a person's right to life and personal liberty stayed intact even during the Emergency.