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article 21

Supreme Court of India

Maneka Gandhi vs Union Of India on 25 January, 1978

Author: M H Beg

Bench: Beg, M. Hameedullah (Cj), Chandrachud, Y.V., Bhagwati, P.N., Krishnaiyer, V.R. & Untwalia, N.L., Fazalali, S.M. & Kailasam, P.S.

Equality is a dynamic concept with many aspects and dimensions and it cannot be imprisoned Within traditional and doctrinaire limits. We must reiterate here what was pointed out by the majority in E. P. Royappa v. State of Tamil Nadu & Another (1) namely, that "from a positivistic point of view, equality is antithetic to arbitrariness. In fact equality and arbitrariness are sworn enemies; one belongs to the rule of law in a republic, while the other, to the whim and caprice of an absolute monarch. Where an act is arbitrary, it is implicit in it that it is unequal both according to political logic and constitutional law and is therefore violative of Article 14". Article 14 strikes, at arbi- trariness in State action and ensures fairness and equality of treatment. The principle of reasonableness, which legally as well as philosophically, is an essential element of equality or non-arbitrariness pervades Article 14 like a brooding omnipresence and the procedure contemplated by Article 21 must answer the best of reasonableness in order to be in conformity with Article 14. It must be "'right and just and fair" and not arbitrary, fanciful or oppressive; otherwise, it would be no procedure at all and the requirement of Article 21 would not be satisfied. How far natural justice is air essential element of procedure established by law.

The law is now settled that no article in Part III is an island but Part of a continent, and the conspectus of the whole part gives the direction and correction needed for interpretation of these basic provisions. Man is not dissectible into separate limbs and, likewise, cardinal rights in an organic constitution, which make man human have a synthesis. The proposition is indubitable that Art. 21 does not, in a given situation exclude Art. 19 if both rights are breached. It is a salutary thought that the summit court should not interpret constitutional rights enshrined in Part III to choke its life-breath or chill its elan vital by processes of legalism, overruling the enduring values burning in the bosoms of those who won our independence and drew up our founding document.

High constitutional policy has harmonised individual freedoms with holistic community good by inscribing exceptions to Art. 19(1) in Art 19(2) to (6). Even so, what is fundamental is the freedom, not the exception. More importantly, restraints are permissible only to the extent they have nexus with the approved object. No verbal labels but real values are the governing considerations in the exploration and adjudication of constitutional prescriptions and proscriptions. Governments come and go, but the fundamental rights of the people cannot be subject to the wishful value-sets of political regimes of the passing day.

Locomotion in some situation is necessarily involved in the exercise of the specified fundamental rights as an associated or integrated right. Travel, simpliciter, is peripheral to and not necessarily fundamental in Art. 19 Free speech is feasible without movement beyond country. [731 B] The delicate, yet difficult, phase of the controversy arrives where free speech and free practice of profession are inextricably interwoven with travel abroad.

In A. K. Gopalan's case (supra), what was at issue was whether the tests was valid procedure for deprivation of personal liberty by preventive detention must be found exclusively in Article 22 of the Constitutions or could we gather from outs de it also elements of any "due process of law" and use them to test the validity of a law dealing with preventive detention. Our Constitution-makers, while accepting a departure, from ordinary norms. by permitting making of laws for preventive detention without trial for special reasons in exceptional situations also provided quite elaborately, in Article 22 of the Constitution itself,' whit requirements such law, relating to preventive detention, must satisfy. The procedural requirements of such laws separately formed parts of the guaranteed fundamental rights. Therefore, when this Court was called upon to judge the validity of provisions relating to preventive detention it laid down, in Gopalan's case (supra), that the tests of "due process", with regard to such laws, are to be found in Article 22 of the Constitution, exclusively because this article constitutes a self-contained code for laws of this description. That was, in my view, the real ratio decidendi of Gopalan's case (supra). It appears to me, with great respect, that other observations relating to the separability of the subject matters of Articles 21 and 19 were mere obiter dicta. They may have appeared to the majority of learned Judges in Gopalan's case to be extensions of the logic they adopted with regard to the relationship between Article 21 and 22 of the Constitution. But, the real issue there was whether, in the face of Article 22 of theConstitution, which provides all the tests of procedural validity of alaw regulating preventive detention other tests could be im- ported from Article 19 of the Constitution or elsewhere into "procedure established by law". The majority view was that this could not be done. I think, if I may venture to conjecture what opinions learned Judges of this Court would have expressed on that occasion had other types of law or other aspects of personal liberty, such as those which confronted this Court in either Satwant Singh's case (supra) or Kharak Singh's case (supra) were before them, the same approach or the same language would not have been adopted by them. It seems to me that this aspect of Gopalan's case (supra) is important to remember if we are to correctly understand what was laid down in that case. I have already referred to the passages I cited in A. D. M. Jabaipur's case (supra) to show that, even in Gopalan's case (supra), the majority of judges of this Court took the view that (the ambit of personal liberty protected by Article 21 is wide and comprehensive. It embraces both substantive rights to personal liberty and the procedure provided for their deprivation. One can, however, say that no question of "due process-of law" can really arise apart from procedural requirements of preventive detention laid down by Article 22, in a case such as the one this Court considered in Gopalan's case (supra). The clear meaning of Article 22 is that the requirements of "due process of law", in cases of preventive detention, are satisfied by what is, provided by Article 22 of the Constitution itself. This article in- dicates the pattern of "the procedure established by law" for cases of preventive detention.

Questions, however, relating to either deprivation or restrictions of personal liberty, concerning laws falling outside Article 22 remained really unanswered, strictly speaking, by Gopalan's case. If one may so put it, the field of "due process" for cases of preventive detention is fully covered by Article 22, but other parts of that field, not covered by Article 22, are "unoccupied" by its specific provisions. I have no doubt that, in what may be called "unoccupied" portions of the vast sphere of personal liberty, the substantive as well as procedural laws made to cover them must satisfy the requirements of both Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution.

Articles dealing with different fundamental rights contained in Part III of the Constitution do not represent entirely separate streams of rights which do not mingle at many points. They are all parts of an integrated scheme in the Constitution. Their waters must mix to constitute that grand flow of unimpeded and impartial Justice (social,economic and political), Freedom (not only of thought, expression,belief, faith and worship, but also of association, movement, vacationor occupation as well as of acquisition and possession of reasonable property), of Equality (of status and of opportunity, which imply absence of unreasonable or unfair discrimination between individuals, groups and classes), and of Fraternity (assuring dignity of the individual and the unity of the nation), which our Con- stitution visualises. Isolation of various aspects of human freedom, for purposes of their protection, is neither realistic nor beneficial but would defeat the very objects of such protection.

We have to remember that the fundamental rights protected by Part III of the Constitution, out of which Articles 14, 19 and 21 are the most frequently invoked, form tests of the validity of executive as well as legislative actions when these actions are subjected to judicial scrutiny. We cannot disable Article 14 or 19 from so functioning and hold those executive and legislative actions to which they could apply as unquestionable even when there is no emergency to shield actions of doubtful legality. These tests are, in my opinion, available to us now to determine the constitutional validity of Section 10 (3) (c) of the Act as well as of the impugned order of 7th July, 1977, passed against the petitioner impounding her passport "in the interest of general public" and stating that the Government bad decided not to furnish her with a copy of reasons and claiming immunity from such disclosure under section 10(5) of the Act.

In order to apply the tests contained in Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution, we have to consider the objects for which the exercise of inherent rights recognised by Article '21 of the Constitution are restricted as well as the procedure by which these restrictions are sought to be imposed. Both substantive and procedural laws and actions taken under them will have to pass tests imposed by articles 14 and 19 whenever facts justifying the invocation of either of these articles may be disclosed. For example, an international singer or dancer may well be able to complain of an unjustifiable restriction on professional activity by a denial of a passport. In such a case, violations of both articles 21 and 19(1) (g) may both be put forward making it necessary for the authorities concerned to justify the restriction imposed by showing satisfaction of tests of validity contemplated by each of these two articles.

The tests of reason and justice cannot be abstract. They cannot be divorced from the needs of the nation. The tests have to be pragmatic. Otherwise, they would cease to be reasonable. Thus, I think that a discretion left to the authority to impound a passport in public interest cannot invalidate the law itself. We cannot, out of fear that such power will be misused,-refuse to permit Parliament to entrust even such power to executive authorities as may be absolutely necessary to carry out the purposes of a validly exercisable power. I think it has to be necessarily left to executive discretion to decide whether, on the facts and circumstances of a particular case, public interest will or will not be served by a particular order to be passed under a valid law subject, as it always is, to judicial supervision. In matters such as grant, suspension, impounding or cancellation of passports, the possible dealings of an individual with nationals and authorities of other States have to be considered. The contemplated or possible activities abroad of the individual may have to be taken into. account. There may be questions of national safety and welfare which transcend the importance of the individual's inherent right to go where he or she pleases to go. Therefore, although we may not deny the grant of wide discretionary power, to the executive authorities as un- reasonable in such cases, yet, I think we must look for and find procedural safeguards to ensure that the power will not be used for purposes extraneous to the grant of the power before we uphold the validity of the power conferred. We have to insist on procedural proprieties the observance of which could show that such a power is being used only to serve what can reasonably and justly be, regarded as a public or national interest capable of overriding the individual's inherent right of movement or travel to wherever he or she pleases in the modern world of closer integration in every sphere between the peoples of the world and the shrunk time-space relationship.

. In Satwant Singh Sawhney v. D. Ramarathnam, Assistant Passport Officer, Government of India, New Delhi & Ors.(1) this Court ruled by majority that the expression "personal liberty" which occurs in article 21 of the Constitution includes the right to travel abroad and that no person can be deprived of that right except according to procedure established by law. The Passport Act which was enacted by Parliament in 1967 in order to comply with that decision prescribes the procedure whereby an application for a passport may be granted fully or partially, with or without any endorsement, and a passport once granted may later be revoked or impounded. But the mere prescription of some kind of procedure cannot ever meet the mandate of article

The procedure prescribed by law has to be fair, just and reasonable, not fanciful, oppressive or arbitrary. The question whether the procedure prescribed by a law which curtails or takes away the personal liberty guaranteed by article 21 is reasonable or not has to be considered not in the abstract or on hypothetical considerations like the provision for a full-dressed hearing as in a Courtroom trial, but in the context, primarily, of the purpose which the Act is intended to achieve and of urgent situations which those who are charged with the duty of administering the Act may be called upon to deal with. Secondly, even the fullest compliance with the requirements of article 21 is not the journey's end because, a law which prescribes fair and reasonable procedure for curtailing or taking away the personal liberty guaranteed by article 21 has still to meet a possible challenge under other Provisions of the Constitution like, for example, articles 14 and 19.

in the Bank Nationalisation Case (R. C. Cooper v. Union of India) (1) the majority held that the assumption in A. K. Gopalan(2) that certain articles of the Constitution exclusively deal with specific matters cannot be accepted as correct. Though the Bank Nationalisation case(1) was concerned with the inter-relationship of article 31 and 19 and not ,of articles 21 and 19, the basic approach adopted therein as regards the construction of fundamental rights guaranteed in the different pro-visions of the Constitution categorically discarded the major premise of the majority judgment in A. K. Gopalan (supra) as incorrect. That is how a seven-Judge Bench in Shambhu Nath Sarkar v. State of West Bengal & Ors.(3) assessed the true impact of the ratio of the Bank Nationalisation Case (supra) on the decision in A. K. Gopalan (supra) in Shambhu Nath Sarkar(3) it was accordingly held that a law of preventive detention has to meet the challenge not only of articles 21 and 22 but also of article 19 (1 ) (d). Later, a five-Judge Bench in Haradhan Saha v. State of West Bengal & Ors.(4) adopted the same approach and considered the question whether the Maintenance of Internal Security Act, 1971 violated the right guaranteed by article 19(1) (d). Thus, the inquiry whether the right to travel abroad forms a part of any of the freedoms mentioned in article 19(1) is not to be shut out at the threshold merely because that right is a part of the guarantee of personal liberty under article 21. 1 am in entire agreement with Brother Bhagwati when he says :

"The law must, therefore, now be taken to be well 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 law, in so far as it abridges or takes away any fundamental right under article 19 would have to meet the challenge of that article."

Supreme Court of India

Francis Coralie Mullin vs The Administrator, Union ... on 13 January, 1981

Now it is necessary to bear in mind the distinction between 'preventive detention' and punitive detention', when we are considering the question of validity of conditions of detention. There is a vital distinction between these two kinds of detention. 'Punitive detention' is intended to inflict punishment on a person, who is found by the judicial process to have committed an offence, while 'preventive detention' is not by way of punishment at all, but it is intended to pre-empt a person from indulging in conduct injurious to the society. The power of preventive detention has been recognised as a necessary evil and is tolerated in a free society in the larger interest of security of the State and maintenance of public order. It is a drastic power to detain a person without trial and there are many countries where it is not allowed to be exercised except in times of war or aggression. Our Constitution does recognise the existence of this power, but it is hedged-in by various safeguards set out in Articles 21 and 22. Art. 22 in clauses (4) to (7), deals specifically with safeguards against preventive detention and any law of preventive detention or action by way of preventive detention taken under such law must be in conformity with the restrictions laid down by those clauses on pain of invalidation. But apart from Art. 22, there is also Art. 21 which lays down restrictions on the power of preventive detention. Until the decision of this Court in Maneka Gandhi. v. Union of India, a very narrow and constricted meaning was given to the guarantee embodied in Art. 21 and that article was understood to embody only that aspect of the rule of law, which requires that no one shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty without the authority of law. It was construed only as a guarantee against executive action unsupported by law. So long as there was some law, which prescribed a procedure authorising deprivation of life or personal liberty, it was supposed to meet the requirement of Art. 21. But in Maneka Gandhi's case (supra), this Court for the first time opened-up a new dimension of Art. 21 and laid down that Art. 21 is not only a guarantee against executive action unsupported by law, but is also a restriction on law making. It is not enough to secure compliance with the prescription of Article 21 that there should be a law prescribing some semblance of a procedure for depriving a person of his life or personal liberty, but the procedure prescribed by the law must be reasonable, fair and just and if it is not so, the law would be void as violating the guarantee of Art. 21. This Court expanded the scope and ambit of the right to life and personal liberty enshrined in Art. 21 and sowed the seed for future development of the law enlarging this most fundamental of Fundamental Rights. This decision in Maneka Gandhi's case became the starting point-the-spring-board-for a most spectacular evolution the law culminating in the decisions in M. O. Hoscot v.

State of Maharashtra,, Hussainara Khatoon's case, the first Sunil Batra's case and the second Sunil Batra's case. The position now is that Art. 21 as interpreted in Maneka Gandhi's case (supra) requires that no one shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except by procedure established by law and this procedure must be reasonable, fair and just and not arbitrary, whimsical or fanciful and it is for the Court to decide in the exercise of its constitutional power of judicial review whether the deprivation of life or personal liberty in a given case is by procedure, which is reasonable, fair and just or it is otherwise. The law of preventive detention has therefore now to pass the test not only of Art. 22, but also of Art. 21 and if the constitutional validity of any such law is challenged, the Court would have to decide whether the procedure laid down by such law for depriving a person of his personal liberty is reasonable, fair and just. But despite these safeguards laid down by the Constitution and creatively evolved by the Courts, the power of preventive detention is a frightful and awesome power with drastic consequences affecting personal liberty, which is the most cherished and prized possession of man in a civilised society. It is a power to be exercised with the greatest care and caution and the courts have to be ever vigilant to see that this power is not abused or misused. It must always be remembered that preventive detention is qualitatively different from punitive detention and their purposes are different. In case of punitive detention, the person concerned is detained by way of punishment after he is found guilty of wrong doing as a result of trial where he has the fullest opportunity to defend himself, while in case of preventive detention, he is detained merely on suspicion with a view to preventing him from doing harm in future and the opportunity that he has for contesting the action of the Executive is very limited. Having regard to this distinctive character of preventive detention, which aims not at punishing an individual for a wrong done by him, but at curtailing his liberty with a view to pre-empting his injurious activities in future, it has been laid down by this Court in Sampat Prakash v. State of Jammu and Kashmir "that the restrictions placed on a person preventively detained must, consistently with the effectiveness of detention, be minimal."

Now obviously, the right to life enshrined in Article 21 can not be restricted to mere animal existence. It means something much more than just physical survival. In Kharak Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh Subba Rao J. quoted with approval the following passage from the judgment of Field J. in Munn v. Illinois to emphasize the quality of life covered by Article 21:

"By the term "life" as here used something more is meant than mere animal existence. The inhibition against its deprivation extends to all those limbs and faculties by which life is enjoyed. The provision equally prohibits the mutilation of the body or amputation of an arm or leg or the putting out of an eye or the destruction of any other organ of the body through which the soul communicates with the outer world."

and this passage was again accepted as laying down the correct law by the Constitution Bench of this Court in the first Sunil Batra case (supra). Every limb or faculty through which life is enjoyed is thus protected by Article 21 and a fortiorari, this would include the faculties of thinking and feeling. Now deprivation which is inhibited by Article 21 may be total or partial, neither any limb or faculty can be totally destroyed nor can it be partially damaged. Moreover it is every kind of deprivation that is hit by Article 21, whether such deprivation be permanent or temporary and, furthermore, depriva-

tion is not an act which is complete once and for all: it is a continuing act and so long as it lasts, it must be in accordance with procedure established by law. It is therefore clear that any act which damages or injures or interferes with the use of, any limb or faculty of a person, either permanently or even temporarily, would be within the inhibition of Article 21.

But the question which arises is whether the right to life is limited only to protection of limb or faculty or does it go further and embrace something more. We think that the right to life includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it, namely, the bare necessaries of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter and facilities for reading, writing and expressing one-self in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing and commingling with fellow human beings. Of course, the magnitude and content of the components of this right would depend upon the extent of the economic development of the country, but it must, in any view of the matter, include the right to the basic necessities of life and also the right to carry on such functions and activities as constitute the bare minimum expression of the human-self. Every act which offends against or impairs human dignity would constitute deprivation protanto of this right to live and it would have to be in accordance with reasonable, fair and just procedure established by law which stands the test of other fundamental rights. Now obviously, any form of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment would be offensive to human dignity and constitute an inroad into this right to live and it would, on this view, be prohibited by Article 21 unless it is in accordance with procedure prescribed by law, but no law which authorises and no procedure which leads to such torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment can ever stand the test of reasonableness and non-arbitrariness: it would plainly be unconstitutional and void as being violative of Articles 14 and 21. It would thus be seen that there is implicit in Article 21 the right to protection against torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment which is enunciated in Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and guaranteed by Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This right to live which is comprehended within the broad connotation of the right to life can concededly be abridged according to procedure established by law and therefore when a person is lawfully imprisoned, this right to live is bound to suffer attenuation to the extent to which it is incapable of enjoyment by reason of incarceration. The prisoner or detenu obviously cannot move about freely by going outside the prison walls nor can he socialise at his free will with persons outside the jail. But, as part of the right to live with human dignity and therefore as a necessary component of the right to life, he would be entitled to have interviews with the members of his family and friends and no prison regulation or procedure laid down by prison regulation regulating the right to have interviews with the members of the family and friends can be upheld as constitutionally valid under Articles 14 and 21, unless it is reasonable, fair and just.

The same consequence would follow even if this problem is considered from the point of view of the right to personal liberty enshrined in Article 21, for the right to have interviews with members of the family and friends is clearly part of personal liberty guaranteed under that Article. The expression 'personal liberty' occurring in Article 21 has been given a broad and liberal interpretation in Maneka Gandhi's case (supra) and it has been held in that case that the expression 'personal liberty used in that Article is of the widest amplitude and it covers a variety of rights which go to constitute the personal liberty of a man and it also includes rights which "have been raised to the status of distinct Fundamental Rights and given additional protection under Article 19". There can therefore be no doubt that 'personal liberty would include the right to socialise with members of the family and friends subject, of course, to any valid prison regulations and under Articles 14 and 21, such prison regulations must be reasonable and non-arbitrary. If any prison regulation or procedure laid down by it regulating the right to have interviews with members of the family and friends is arbitrary or unreasonable, it would be liable to be struck down as invalid as being violative of Articles 14 and 21.

Now obviously when an under-trial prisoner is granted the facility of interviews with relatives and friends twice in a week under Rule 559A and a convicted prisoner is permitted to have interviews with his relatives and friends once in a week under Rule 550, it is difficult to understand how sub-clause (ii) of Clause 3(b) of the Conditions of Detention Order, which restricts the interview only to one in a month in case of a detenu, can possibly be regarded as reasonable and non-arbitrary, particularly when a detenu stands on a higher pedestal than an under-trial prisoner or a convict and, as held by this Court in Sampath Prakash's case (supra) restrictions placed on a detenu must "consistent with the effectiveness of detention, be minimal." We would therefore unhesitatingly hold sub-clause

(ii) of clause 3(b) to be violative of Articles 14 and 21 in so far as it permits only one interview in a month to a detenu. We are of the view that a detenu must be permitted to have atleast two interviews in a week with relatives and friends and it should be possible for a relative or friend to have interview with the detenu at any reasonable hour on obtaining permission from the Superintendent of the Jail and it should not be necessary to seek the permission of the District Magistrate, Delhi, as the latter procedure would be cumbrous and unnecessary from the point of view of security and hence unreasonable. We would go so far as to say that even independently of Rules 550 and 559A, we would regard the present norm of two interviews in a week for prisoners as furnishing a criterion of what we would consider reasonable and non-arbitrary.

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