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EVOLUTION AND EXPOUNDING OF ARTICLE 21


**Pratham & Rohit Anant Sahay

A.K. GOPALAN V.STATE OF MADRAS


Article 21 lays down that no person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty
except according to the procedure established by law. It was this procedure established by
law that was first questioned and interpreted by the Supreme Court of India in the case of
A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras1.
In the case of A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras2 the validity of the Preventive Detection
Act. 1950 was challenged. The main question was whether Art. 21 envisaged any procedure
laid down by a law enacted by the legislature, or the procedure should be fair and reasonable.
On behalf of the Appellant, an attempt was made to persuade the Supreme Court to hold that
the courts can adjudicate upon the reasonableness of the Preventive Detection Act, 1950, or
for that matter any law depriving a person hi personal liberty. Three arguments were
presented from the Appellant side and the arguments were:
(1) The word law in Art. 21 does not mean merely enacted law but incorporates principle
of natural justice so that a law to deprive a person of his life or personal liberty cannot
be valid unless it incorporates these principles laid down by it.
(2) The reasonableness of the law of preventive detention ought to be judged under Art.
19.
(3) The expression procedure established by law introduces into India the American
concept of procedural due process which enables the Courts to see whether the law
fulfils the requisite elements of a reasonable procedure.
Thus, in this case an attempt was made to win for a detenu better procedural safeguards
than were available to him under the relevant detention law and Art. 22. But the attempt
failed as the Supreme Court rejected all these arguments.

1
2

A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 27


Supra note 1

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Impact of A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras


NATURAL JUSTICE
The majority in this case held that the word law in Art. 21 could not be read as
meaning rules of natural justice. These rules were vague and indefinite and the Constitution
could not be read as laying down a vague standard. Nowhere in the Constitution was the
word law used in the sense of abstract law or natural justice. The word law was used in the
sense of lex and not jus. The expression procedure established by law would therefore mean
the procedure as laid down in an enacted law.
Only Fazl Ali, J. dissented from this opinion and held that the principle of natural
justice was part of the general law of the land and so it should be read accordingly in Art. 21.
RELATION BETWEEN ARTICLES 21, 22 AND 19
The petitioners attempted to establish a link between Article 21, 22 and 19. The
majority rejected this attempt of the petitioners and pointed out that the word personal liberty
in Art. 21 in itself had a comprehensive content and, ordinarily, if left alone, would include
not only freedom various freedoms guaranteed under Art. 19. However, Art. 19 must be held
to deal with few specific freedoms mentioned. Similarly, Art. 21 should be held as excluding
freedom dealt with in Art. 19. Thus a law depriving personal liberty had to conform with
Arts. 20 to 22 and not with Art. 19 and Art. 19 could be invoked only when a law directly
attempted to control a right mentioned therein.
This approach of the judiciary meant that Art. 21 and 19 are exclusive freedoms and
one cannot overlap others ambit. On the other hand the minority held that Art. 19(d) did
control Arts. 21 and 22, and, therefore, the reasonableness of the Act should be justifiable
under Art. 19(5).

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DUE PROCESS OF LAW
The U.S. Constitution lays down inter alia that no person shall be deprived of his life,
liberty or property, without due process of law. 3
It was contended in A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras4 that the expression procedure
established by law in Art. 21 was synonymous with the American concept procedural due
process and, therefore, the reasonableness of any law affecting any persons life or personal
liberty, should be justiciable in order to assess whether the person affected was given a right
of fair hearing. The Supreme Court, however, rejected this contention stating that absence of
words due process of law is itself evident to prove difference in view of constitution-makers
with that of American view.
However, Faiz Ali, J., disagreed with the majority view on this point as well. He
interpreted the phrase procedure established by law in Art. 21 as implying procedural due
process, meaning thereby that no person could be condemned unheard.
Thus, the Supreme Court ruling meant to deprive a person of his life or his personal liberty:
(1) there must be a law;
(2) it should law down a procedure; and
(3) the executive should follow this procedure while depriving a person of his life or
personal liberty.
This judgement was highly criticized and K. Subba Rao, former Chief Justice of India,
said about this case that, The preponderance of view among the jurists is that it is wrongly
decided. It has in effect destroyed one of the greatest of the fundamental rights, i.e., personal
liberty.5
Fazl Ali, J., in his minority opinion has taken a much more liberal view of Art. 21. It took
nearly three decades for his view to be vindicated in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India.6

V Amendment, The U.S. Constitution


Supra note 1
K. Subba Rao, Some Constitutional Problems, 115, (Bombay: University of Bombay, 1970)
6
Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 597
4
5

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Journey from Gopalan to Maneka: 1950 1977
A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras7 held the field for almost three decades, i.e., 1950 to
1977. This case settled two major in points in relation to Art. 21. One, Arts. 19, 21 and 22 are
mutually exclusive and independent of each other. Two, a law affecting life or personal
liberty of a person could not be declared unconstitutional merely because it lacked natural
justice or due process. The legislature was free to lay down any procedure for this purpose.
As interpreted in A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras8, Art. 21 provided no protection or
immunity against competent legislative action. Art. 21 gave a carte blanche to a legislature to
enact a law or to provide for arrest of a person without much procedural safeguards. It gave
final say to the legislature to determine what was going to be procedure to curtail the personal
liberty of a person in a given situation and what procedural safeguards he would enjoy.
EFFECT ON ARTICLES 19, 21 AND 22
In A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras9 , the Supreme Court delinked Art. 19 from Arts.
21 and 22. This view led to anomalous decision at times. It was because of this view that the
court refused to view the validity of detection of the Appellant under Preventive Detention
Act, 1950 in the case of Ram Singh v. Delhi10. Though, in course of time this view softened
and in R.C. Cooper v. Union of India11, also popularly known as Bank Nationalization case,
the Supreme Court applied Art. 19(1)(f)12 to a law enacted under Art. 31(2), to view the
validity of the law. Before this case these two articles where considered mutually exclusive of
each other. This case had such an impact on the view of the Supreme Court regarding the
mutually exclusiveness of fundamental rights that in the case of Sambhu Nath Sarkar v. State
of West Bengal13 that the bench said that the majority view of Bank Nationalization14 case
impliedly held the majority view of A.K. Gopalan15 case incorrect.

Supra note 1
Id.
9
Ibid.
10
Ram Singh v. Delhi, AIR 1951 SC 270
11
R.C. Cooper v. Union of India, AIR 1970 SC 564
12
Omitted by the Constitution (Forty-forth Amendment) Act, 1978
13
Sambhu Nath Sarkar v. State of West Bengal, AIR 1973 SC 1425
14
Supra note 11
15
Supra note 1
8

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In Bannett Coleman Co. v. Union of India16 the Supreme Court declared that if a law
affected freedom of speech, its reasonableness becomes assessable with reference to Art.
19(2) even though it was not enacted directly to control the freedom of speech. Therefore, the
view of the Supreme Court in Gopalan case17 that only laws which directly fall within the
ambit of Art. 19 will be questioned for reasonableness under restrictions laid down in Art. 19
was no longer tenable.

Finally, in the case of West Bengal v. Ashok Dey18 Supreme Court linked Arts. 19, 21
and 22. Other cases before Maneka Gandhi19 case in which the Supreme Court linked Arts.
19, 21 and 22 under different situations are Haradhan Saha v. State of West Bengal20, John
Martin v. State of West Bengal21 and P.L. Lakhanpal v. Union of India22.

MANEKA GANDHI V. UNION OF INDIA: THE NEW APPROACH


Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India,23 is a land mark case of the post emergency period.
This case shows how liberal tendencies have influenced the Supreme Court in interpreting
Fundamental Rights, particularly, Art. 21. This case showed that Art. 21 as interpreted in
Gopalan24 case could not play any role in providing any protection against any harsh law
seeking to deprive a person of his life and personal liberty. In fact this case has acted as a
catalytic agent for the transformation of the judicial view on Art.21.
The court has reinterpreted Art.21 and practically overruled Gopalan case which can
be regarded as highly creative judicial pronouncement on the part of Supreme Court. Since
Maneka Gandhi case the Supreme Court has given Art. 21, broader and broader interpretation
so as to imply many more fundamental rights. In course of time, Art.21 has proved to be very
fruitful source of rights of the people.

16

Bannett Coleman Co. v. Union of India, AIR 1973 SC 106


Supra note 1
18
West Bengal v. Ashok Dey, AIR 1972 SC 1660
19
Supra note 6
20
Haradhan Saha v. State of West Bengal, AIR 1974 SC 2154
21
John Martin v. State of West Bengal, AIR 1975 SC 775
22
P.L. Lakhanpal v. Union of India, AIR 1967 SC 1507
23
Supra note 6
24
Supra note 1
17

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In Maneka Gandhi case, order under S. 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act which authorizes
the passport authority to impound passport if it deems it necessary to do so in the interest of
the sovereignty and integrity of India, security of India, friendly relations of India with any
foreign country, or in the interest of general public was challenged. Maneka Gandhis
passport was impounded by the Central Government under Passport Act in the interest of
general public. She filed a writ petition challenging the order on the ground of violation of
her fundamental rights under Art.21. One of the major grounds of challenge was that the
order impounding the passport was null and void as it had been made without affording her
an opportunity of being heard in her defence. The leading opinion in Maneka Gandhi case
was pronounced by Justice Bhagwati.
The Court reiterated the proposition that Art. 14, 19, and 21 are not mutually
exclusive. This means that a law prescribing a procedure for depriving a person of personal
liberty has to meet the requirement of Art. 19. Also, the procedure established by law in Art.
21 must answer the requirement of Art. 14 of the Constitution of India.
The expression personal liberty in Art. 21 was given an expansive interpretation. The
court emphasized that the expression personal liberty is of widest amplitude covering a
variety of rights which go to constitute the personal liberty of man. The expression ought not
to be read in a narrow and restricted sense so as to exclude those attributes of personal liberty
which are specifically dealt with in Art. 19. The attempt of the Court should be to expand the
reach and ambit of the fundamental rights rather than attenuate their meaning and content by
the process of judicial construction, and hence right to travel abroad falls under Art. 21.
The most significant aspect of the case is the reinterpretation of the expression
procedure established by law used in Art. 21. Art. 21 would no longer mean that law could
prescribe some semblance of procedure, however arbitrary or fanciful, to deprive a person of
his personal liberty. It now means that a procedure must satisfy certain requisites in the sense
of being just, fair and reasonable. The process cannot be arbitrary, unfair or unreasonable.
Thus, the procedure in art.21 must be right and just and fair and not arbitrary, fanciful and
oppressive. The Court reached it decision by holding that Arts. 21, 19 and 14 are mutually
inclusive.

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IMPACT OF MANEKA GANDHI
The reincarnation of Art.21 which Maneka Gandhi25 case brought has been exerting a
deep impact on contemporary constitutional jurisprudence. Maneka Gandhi case completely
overrides the Gopalans view which had held the field for nearly three decades. Since
Maneka Gandhi case, the Supreme Court has again underlined the theme that Arts. 14, 19 and
21 are not mutually exclusive, but they sustain, strengthen and nourish each other.26 It has
brought the Fundamental right of life and personal liberty into prominence which is now
regarded as the heart Fundamental Rights.
In quite a few cases in the post-Maneka era, the Supreme Court has given content to
the concept of procedural fairness in relation to personal liberty. By establishing a nexus
between Art. 14, 19 and 21, it is now clearly established that the procedure contemplated by
the Art. 21 must answer the test of reasonableness. Thus, Art. 21 emerged as the Indian
version of the American concept of due process of law and has come to the source of many
substantive rights and procedural safeguards to the people.
The Court has observed that Art.21, though couched in negative language, confers the
Fundamental Rights to life and personal liberty and has also deeply influenced the
administration of criminal justice and prison administration. In a number of cases the
Supreme Court has expounded several propositions with a view to humanize the
administration of criminal justice in all its aspect. Art.21 has also proved to be a very
productive source of several fundamental rights over and above those mentioned in the
Constitution in Arts. 14 to 31.

PRESENT VIEW OF ARTICLE 21


Art.21 assures every person right to life and personal liberty. The term life has been
given a very expansive meaning. The term personal liberty has been given very wide
amplitude covering a variety of rights which go to constitute personal liberty of citizens. Its
deprivation shall be only being as per the procedure prescribed in the relevant law, but the
procedure has to be fair just and reasonable.

25
26

Supra note 6
T.V. Vatheeswaran v. State of Tamil Nadu, AIR 1983 SC 361(2)

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LIFE
The expression life in Art.21 has been interpreted by Supreme Court rather liberally
and broadly. Over time, the court has been giving an expansive interpretation to it.
In Francis Coralie,27 the Supreme Court has held that the expression life in Art.21
does not connote merely physical or animal existence but embraces something more. It
include right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it, the bare necessity of
live such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter over their head.
The Supreme Court in Shantisar Builders v. Narayanan Khimalal Totame, 28 held that
right to life would include right to food, clothing, decent environment and reasonable
accommodation to live in. Therefore, the concept of life has been expansively interpreted in
recent years implying a host of Fundamental Rights there from.
PERSONAL LIBERTY
This expression is of widest amplitude and it includes various kinds of rights like
Right to locomotion, Right to travel abroad, Rights of a prisoner to speedy trail, 29 Rights to
defence before Advisory Board to take legal aid where the employer is represented by a
lawyer. 30
In the light of decisions of the Supreme Court, the word life and personal liberty are
liberally interpreted and now being invoked almost as a residuary right. On account of
expanding interpretation, now the right to pollution free water air, right to food clothing,
environment, protection of cultural heritage, right to every child to a full development, right
of person to reside in hilly areas to have access to road 31 and right to education,32 have all
found their way into this Article.
PROCEDURE ESTABLISHED BY LAW
The court emphasized that a procedure must be right and just and fair and not
arbitrary, fanciful and oppressive otherwise it will be no procedure at all and the requirement
27

Francis Coralie v. Union of India, AIR 1981 SC 746


Shantisar Builders v. Narayanan Khimalal Totame, AIR 1990 SC 630
29
Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary, AIR 1979 SC 1360
30
A.K. Roy v. Union of India, AIR 1982 SC 710
31
State of Himachal Pradesh v. Umed Ram, AIR 1986 SC 847
32
MohiniJain v. State of Karnataka, AIR1992 SC 1858
28

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of Art. 21 would not be satisfied. Accordingly the Court suggested certain modifications in
the Special Court Bill 1978. The Court suggested that there should be provision for
transferring case from one Special Court to another which is necessary to avoid trail of an
accused by a judge who may be biased against him.
The Court further emphasised that there is a duty of the State to preserve law and
order. It is the duty of the state to see that the rule of law enunciated by the Art.21 is available
to the greatest number. In Olga Tellis case,33 the Supreme Court has again emphasised that
the procedure prescribed by the law for the deprivation of rights conferred by Art.21 must be
fair, just and reasonable. It must conform to the norms of justice and fair play. Procedure
which is unfair or unjust or attracts the vice of unreasonableness, there by vitiating the law
which prescribe that procedure and consequently, the action taken under it.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE AFTER MANEKA GANDHI


Maneka Gandhi34 case is having a profound but beneficial impact on the
administration of criminal justice in India. Administration of Criminal Justice is a State
matter. Fortunately by reinterpreting Art. 21 in Maneka Gandhi case and by giving up the
sterile approach of Gopalans35 case, the Supreme Court has found a potent tool to seek
improve matters, and to fill the vacuum arising from governmental inaction and apathy to
undertake reform, in the area of criminal justice.
The key to this judicial activism is the phrase procedure established by law in Art.21
which does not mean any procedure laid down in the statute but just, fair and reasonable
procedure and that the term law in Art.21 envisages not any law but a law which is right, just,
fair, and not arbitrary, fanciful or oppressive.

33
34
35

Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corp., AIR 1986 SC 180


Supra note 6
Supra note 1

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FAIR TRAIL
Conducting a fair trial for those who are accused of criminal offences is cornerstone
of democracy. It is beneficial for both to the accused and as well as to the society. A
conviction resulting from an unfair trail is contrary to our concept of Justice. 36

EXPANDING HORIZON OF ARTICLE 21 POST-MANEKA GANDHI JUDGEMENT


A very interesting development in the Indian Constitution jurisprudence is the
extended dimension given to Art. 21 by the Supreme Court in the post-Maneka era.
The Supreme Court has asserted that in order to treat a right as a Fundamental Right,
it is not necessary that it should be expressly stated in the Constitution as a Fundamental
Right. Political, social and economic changes in the country entail the recognition of new
rights. The law in its eternal youth grows to meet the demand of the society. 37
Since Maneka Gandhi38 case, Art. 21 has proved to be multi-dimensional. The aspect
of Art. 21 is brought out by the following judicial pronouncements. This extension in the
dimensions of Art. 21 has been made possible by giving an extended meaning to the word life
and liberty in Art. 21. These two words in Art. 21 are not to be read narrowly. These are
organic terms which are be construed meaningfully.
The right to life enshrined in Art. 21 has been liberally interpreted so as to mean
something more than survival and mere animal existence or animal existence. It therefore
includes all those aspects of life which go to make a mans life meaningful, complete and
worth living. Art. 21 is to be read not only with directive principles but also fundamental
duties.
QUALITY OF LIFE
A grand step was taken by the Supreme Court in expanding the scope of Art. 21, when it
argued that life in Art. 21 does not mean merely animal existence but living with human
dignity.39 The Supreme Court has thus given very extensive parameters to Art. 21. In

36

State of Punjab v. Baldev Singh, AIR 1999 SC 2378


Professor M.P. Jain, Indian Constitutional Law, p. 1225 (Ruma Pal, J. & S. Pal, eds., ed. 6, Gurgaon: LexisNexis, 2012)
38
Supra note 6
39
Supra note 27
37

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Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India40 the Supreme Court expanded the horizon of Art.
21 and held that right to life includes right to live with human dignity, free from exploitation
and to have equal opportunity. The judicial approach with time thus has led to two very
important results, viz:
(1) Many Directive Principles which, as such, are not enforceable have been activated
and has become enforceable.
(2) The Supreme Court has implied a number of fundamental rights from Art. 21.
In course of time, Art. 21 has come to be regarded as the heart of Fundamental Right. 41
Art. 21 has enough of positive content in it and it is not merely negative in its reach. 42 Over
time, since Maneka Gandhi43, the Supreme Court has been able to imply several Fundamental
Rights out of Art. 21. This has been possible by reading Art. 21 along with some Directive
Principles. Art. 21 has thus emerged into a multi-dimensional Fundamental Right.
RIGHT TO LIVELIHOOD
In the beginning the Supreme Court was of the view that the right to life in rt. 21
would not include livelihood. In re Sant Ram44, a case in pre-Maneka era, the Supreme Court
ruled that right to livelihood would not fall within the expression life in Art. 21.
The Supreme Court reiterated this this proposition in several cases even in postManeka era. The cases in which re Sant Ram45 case was reiterated in post-Maneka era are
A.V. Nachane v. Union of India46 and Begulla Bapi Raju v. State of Andhra Pradesh47.
But then the view of the Supreme Court underwent a change. With the defining of the
word life in Art. 21 in a broad and expansive manner, the Court came to hold that the right o
life guaranteed by Art. 21 includes the right to livelihood.48 The Supreme Court has argued in

40

Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India, AIR 1984 SC 802


Unni Krishna v. State of Andhra Pradesh, AIR 1993 SC 2178
42
P. Rathinam v. Union of India, AIR 1994 SC SC 1844
43
Supra note 6
44
Re Sant Ram, AIR 1960 SC 932
45
Id.
46
A.V. Nachane v. Union of India, AIR 1982 SC 1126
47
Begulla Bapi Raju v. Stae of Andhra Pradesh, AIR 1983 SC 1073
48
Board of Trustees of the Port of Bombay v. Dilipkumar R. Nandkarni, AIR 1983 SC 109
41

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the Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corp. 49 that the right to livelihood is born out of the
right to life, as no person can live without the means of living, i.e., the means of livelihood.
SLUM DWELLERS
In Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corp.50, the Supreme Court has made a
significant pronouncement on the impact of Art. 21 on urbanization. In this case the Supreme
Court accepted the plea that the right to life guaranteed by Art. 21 includes the right to
livelihood. The Supreme Court ruled that the eviction of persons from pavement or a slum
not only results in deprivation of shelter but would also inevitably lead to deprivation of their
means of livelihood which means deprivation of their life.
The Supreme Court emphasized that the Constitution does not put an absolute
embargo on the deprivation of life or personal liberty but such a deprivation must be
according to the procedure, in the given circumstances, just, fair and reasonable.

RIGHT TO SHELTER
In Shantisar Builders v. Narayan Khimlal Totame51 the Supreme Court has ruled that
the right to life is guaranteed in any civilized society. That would take within its scope the
right to food, the right to clothing, the right to decent environment and a reasonable
accommodation to live in. The difference between the need of an animal and a human being
for shelter has to be kept in view. For an animal, it is the bare protection of the body; for a
human being it has to be a suitable accommodation which would allow his to grow in all
aspect physical, mental and intellectual.
This concept was further expounded in the case of Chameli Singh v. State of Uttar
Pradesh52. In the case of U.P. Avas Evam Vikas Parishad 53 case the Supreme Court stated
that the right to shelter is a Fundamental Right, which springs from the right to residence
assured in Art. 19(1)(e) and right to life under Art. 21 of the Constitution.

49

Supra note 32
Id.
51
Supra note 28
52
Chameli Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1996 SC 1051
53
U.P. Avas Evam Vikas Parishad v. Friends Co-op. Housing Society Ltd., AIR 1996 SC 114
50

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RIGHT TO ENVIRONMENT
Apart from several personal rights, the Supreme Court has made a signal contribution
to the welfare of the people by using Art.21 for the improvement of the environment. In
Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar,54 the Apex Court held that enjoyment of pollution free
environment is included in the right to life under Art.21. Also in the case of A.P. Pollution
Control Board v. M.V.Nayudu,55 the Supreme Court has made very valuable suggestions for
the improvement of adjudicatory machinery under the various environmental laws.
The Supreme Court has accepted the doctrine of public trust which rests on the
premise that certain natural resources like air, sea, water are means for general use and cannot
be restricted to private ownership. The state is a trustee, and general public is a beneficiary to
such resources. These resources are gift of nature and State as a trustee is duty bound to
protect them. 56

RIGHT AGAINST NOISE POLLUTION


The Supreme Court has recognized that the noise constitute a real and present danger
to peoples health and laid down certain tests for permissible limits. The Court ruled that no
one shall sound any instrument or use any amplifier in night between 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. except
in public emergencies. The peripheral noise level of privately owned sound system should not
exceed by more than 5dB (A) the ambient air quality standard specified for the area in which
they are used. No horn should be allowed to be used at night in residential areas except in
exceptional circumstances. The state shall make provision for seizure and confiscation of
loudspeakers, amplifiers, and other such equipments as are found to be creating noise beyond
the permissible limits. The Supreme Court also stated that these words would remain in force
until modified by Supreme Court itself or superseded by appropriate legislation. 57
The Supreme Court observed that noise pollution often takes shelter behind Art.
19(1)(a) pleading freedom of speech and expression. The Court held that nobody can claim
Fundamental Right to create noise by amplification of sound of his speech by using
54

Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar, AIR 1991 SC 420


A.P.Pollution Control Board v. M.V.Nayudu,AIR 1999 SC 812
56
M.C.Mehta v. Kamal Nath, (1997) 1 SCC 388
57
Noise Plooution (V) In Re, AIR 2005 SC 316
55

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loudspeakers. By amplifying ones speech with aid of artificial devices, a person cannot
expose an unwilling listeners free life guaranteed under Art.21. Art.19(1)(a) cannot be
pressed into service for defeating the Fundamental Right guaranteed under Art.21. 58
RIGHT TO MEDICAL CARE
In Parmananda Katara v. Union of India59 the Supreme Court pronounced that
preservation of life is of paramount importance. Once life is lost, status quo ante cannot be
restored. It is the duty of the doctors to preserve the life without any discrimination.
In Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samiti v. State of West Bengal60 the Supreme Court
ruled that the Constitution envisages establishment of a welfare state, and in a welfare state,
the primary duty of the government is to provide to provide adequate medical facilities for
the people. The Supreme Court has insisted that government hospitals and the medical
officers employed therein are duty bound to extend medical assistance for preserving human
life. Failure, by a government hospital to provide timely medical treatment to a needy person
violates his right to life guaranteed by Art. 21.
RIGHT AGAINST SEXUAL HARASSMENT
The Supreme Court ensured that the female workers are not sexually harassed by their
male co-workers at their work places. In Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan61 the Supreme Court
has declared sexual harassment of a working woman at her place of work as amounting to
violation of rights of gender equality and right to life and liberty which is a clear violation of
Arts. 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution.
Rape has been held to be a violation of a persons fundamental rights guaranteed
under Art. 21. The Supreme Court held that rape is a crime against basic human rights and is
also violative of the victims right to life contained in Art. 21.62

58

Forum, Prevention of Envn. & Sound Pollution v. Union of India, AIR 2005 SC 3136
Parmananda Katara v. Union of India, AIR 1989 SC 2039
60
Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samiti v. State of West Bengal, AIR 1996 SC 2426
61
Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan, AIR 1997 SC 3011
62
Chairman, Railway Board v. Chandrima Das, AIR 2000 SC 988
59

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RIGHT TO REPUTATION
The Supreme Court held that right to reputation is a facet of the right to life of a
citizen under Art. 21.63 It has been reiterated that since right to reputation is a persons
valuable asset and is a facet of his right under Art. 21 that the court has inherit power to grant
interim bail pending the disposal of the regular bail. 64
RIGHT TO DIE
Life is not mere living but living in health. Health is not the absence of illness but a
glowing vitality. 65 Every human is being born into this world has a "right to life," it logically
follows that every human being has a right to end their life or a "right to die". Because death
is a part of life, a person's right to life logically assumes a right to not have that life. Thus,
any law upholding a person's right to life has inherent within that same law a person's right to
die, otherwise it would not be a right to life in the true sense of the term.
The Court has demonstrated, while interpreting Article 21 of the Constitution, that
every person is entitled to a quality of life consistent with his human personality. The right to
live with human dignity is the fundamental right of every Indian citizen. 66 The right to life
including the right to live with human dignity would mean the existence of such a right up to
the end of natural life. This also includes the right to a dignified life up to the point of death
including a dignified procedure of death. In other words, this may include the right of a dying
man to also die with dignity when his life is ebbing out.
RIGHT TO PRIVACY
The Constitution does not grant in specific and express terms any right to privacy as
such, right to privacy is not enumerated as a fundamental right in the Constitution. However,
such right has been culled by the Supreme Court from Art. 21 and several other provisions of
the Constitution read with the Directive Principles of State Policy. 67 In Govind v. State of
Madhya Pradesh68 the Supreme Court accepted a limited fundamental right to privacy as an

63

State of Bihar v. Lal Krishna Advani, AIR 2003 SC 3357


Sukhwant Singh v. State of Punjab, (2009) 7 SCC 559
65
P.Rathinam v. Union of India, 1994 AIR 1844
66
Vikram Deo Singh Tomar v. State of Bihar, [1988] 1 SCC 734
67
Kharak Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1963 SC 1295
68
Govind v. State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 1975 SC 1378
64

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emanation from Arts. 19(a), 19(d) and 21. In R. Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu69 for the
first time the Supreme Court stated that the right to privacy has acquired a constitutional
status with time. Finally, in the case of PUCL v. Union of India70 the Supreme Court
accepted that right to privacy is a fundamental right enshrined under Art. 21 of the
Constitution and it can be curtailed only under just, fair and reasonable condition.
Also, in another case of PUCL v. Union of India71 the Supreme Court held that
tapping of a persons telephone without any reasonable cause is infringement of a persons
right to privacy under right to life and liberty under Art. 21.
RIGHT OF MEDICAL CONFIDENTIALITY
IN X. v. Hospital Z72 the Supreme Court argued that a lady proposing to marry a
person is entitled to all the human rights which are available to humans. The right to life
guaranteed under Art. 21 would positively include the right to be told that a person, with
whom she was proposed to be married, was the victim of a deadly disease, which was
sexually communicable. Moreover, when two fundamental rights clash, viz., right to privacy
and right to live a healthy life, the right which would advance the public morality or public
interests, would alone be enforced through the process.
RIGHT OF LEGAL AID
In Madhav Hayawandanrao Haskot v. State of Maharashtra73 the Supreme Court
held that an accused who cannot afford legal action is entitled for legal aid at the cost of the
State. Also, held in the case of Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar74 the Supreme Court
held that a prisoner shall not be imprisoned for a period longer than the sentence pronounced
by the court else it will led to deprivation of the prisoners right to life to life and liberty
under Art. 21.

69

R. Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu, AIR 1995 SC 264


PUCL v. Union of India, AIR 1991 SC 207
71
PUCL v. Union of Inida, AIR 1997 SC 568
72
X. v. Hospital Z, AIR 1999 SC 495
73
Madhav Hayawandanrao Haskot v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1978 SC 1548
74
Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar, AIR 1979 SC 1369
70

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RIGHT AGAINST CUSTODIAL VIOLENCE
In the case of Anil Yadav v. State of Bihar75, popularly known as Bhagalpur Blinding
case, the Supreme Court held that the prisoners also have right to life with human dignity and
no violence can be inflicted on them else it will be infringement of their rights under Art. 21
of the Constitution.
Also, the Supreme Court pronounced that monetary or pecuniary compensation is an
appropriate and indeed an effective and sometime perhaps the only suitable remedy for
redressal of the established infringement of the fundamental right to life of a citizen by the
public servants and the State is victoriously liable for their acts.76 Also, in D.K. Basu v. State
of West Bengal77 the Supreme Court laid down detailed guidelines to be followed by the
central and the state investigating and securities agencies an all cases of arrest and detention.
RIGHT TO APPEAL
It was held by the Supreme Court in the case of Dilip S. Dahanukar v. Kotak
Mahindra Co. Ltd.78 that Right to prefer an appeal being a constitutional right in terms of
Article 21 of the Constitution of India, no condition could have been imposed in respect
therefore or for suspension of sentence.
RIGHT AGAINST PUBLIC HANGING
In Attorney General of India v. Lachman Devi79, it has been held that the execution of
death sentence by public hanging is barbaric and violative of Article 21. It may be true that
the crime of which the accused have been found to be guilty is barbaric, but a barbaric crime
does not have to be visited with a barbaric penalty such as public hanging.

75

Anil Yadav v. State of Bihar, (1982) 2 SCC 195


D.K. Basu v. State of West Bengal, (1997) 1 SCC 416
77
Id.
78
Dilip S. Dahanukar v. Kotak Mahindra Co. Ltd., 2006 CriLJ 3653
79
Attorney General of India v. Lachma Devi, (1989) SCC (CRI) 413
76

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CONCLUSION
Article 21 of the Constitution says, No person shall be deprived of his life or
personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.
Maneka Gandhis case is not only a landmark case for the interpretation of Article 21
but it also gave an entirely new viewpoint to look at the Chapter III of the Constitution. Prior
to Maneka Gandhis decision, Article 21 guaranteed the right to life and personal liberty only
against the arbitrary action of the executive and not from the legislative action. Broadly
speaking, what this case did was extend this protection against legislative action too.
In Maneka Gandhis case, the meaning and content of the words personal liberty
again came up for the consideration of the Supreme Court. In this case the Supreme Court not
only overruled A.K. Gopalans case but also widened the scope of words personal liberty
considerably. Bhagwati, J. observed:
The expression personal liberty in Article 21 is of widest amplitude and it covers a
variety of rights which go to constitute the personal liberty of man and some of them have
raised to the status of distinct fundamental rights and given additional protection under
Article 19.
With respect to the relationship between Art. 19 and Art. 21, the Court held that Art. 21 is
controlled by Art. 19, i.e., it must satisfy the requirement of Art. 19. The Court observed:
The law must therefore now be settled that Article 21 does not exclude Article 19 and
that even if there is a law prescribing a procedure for depriving a person of personal liberty,
and there is consequently no infringement of the fundamental right conferred by Article 21
such a law in so far as it abridges or takes away any fundamental right under Article 19
would have to meet the challenges of that Article.
Thus a law depriving a person of personal liberty has not only to stand the test of
Article 21 but it must stand the test of Art. 19 and Art. 14 of the Constitution.

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Thus with the above brief preview of article 21 it is clear that it has a
multidimensional interpretation. Any arbitrary, whimsical and fanciful act of the part of any
state depriving the life or personal liberty would be against article 21 of the Indian
constitution.
Hence to conclude, it may be said that Maneka Gandhis case, gave the term personal
liberty widest possible interpretation and gave effect to the intention of the drafters of the
Constitution. This case, while adding a whole new dimension to the concept of personal
liberty, extended the protection of Art. 14 to the personal liberty of every person and
additional protection of Art. 19 to the personal liberty of every citizen.

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