HVPS Law College

Expanding New Horizons of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution with the special reference of MANEKA GANDHI V/S UNION OF INDIA Case Law

The Founding fathers of the Indian Constitution were primarily concerned with ensuring the effective enforcement of fundamental rights rather than simply providing different types of fundamental rights. They established mechanisms for enforcement, such as Article 32 (Supreme Court) and Article 226 (High Court), to provide constitutional protection to every citizen of India. Modern Constitutionalism in India has been recognized as a process of judicial law-making guided by judicial conscience.

In the case of Seaford Court Estates Ltd. vs. Asher, Lord Denning emphasized that judges cannot shift blame to the draftsmen when defects appear in the law. Judges should not alter the substance of an Act but should rectify any flaws present.

Likewise, when interpreting Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the Fundamental Right to Life and Personal Liberty, the judiciary has offered a new perspective on Part III of the Constitution. The Maneka Gandhi Case is a landmark case that significantly expanded the scope of Article 21, broadening the ambit of the Fundamental Right to Life and Personal Liberty.

Before the Maneka Gandhi Case, the concept of ‘PERSONAL LIBERTY’ was first addressed by the Supreme Court of India in the case of A.K. Gopalan. The petitioner in this case had been detained under the Preventive Detention Act of 1950.

A.K. Gopalan, a communist leader, had been under detention since December 1947. Although his ordinary law conviction was later overturned on March 1, 1950, he remained in Madras jail. Gopalan was served with an order under Section 3(1) of the Preventive Detention Act, 1950, which empowered the Central or State governments to detain individuals to prevent actions detrimental to national defense, foreign relations, national security, state security, public order, or essential support and services. Gopalan filed a writ petition under Article 32, seeking a writ of Habeas Corpus against his detention. However, he was prohibited from disclosing the grounds for his arrest or detention under Section 14 of the Preventive Detention Act, 1950, even in the court of law. Gopalan claimed that the detention order violated Article 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution, as well as Article 22.

The Supreme Court of India, while rejecting Gopalan’s arguments, held that Article 22 of the Indian Constitution is a self-contained code and that his detention was in accordance with the established legal procedures. The Court concluded that it did not violate the provisions of Article 14, 19, and 21. However, it acknowledged that legislative and executive actions could easily infringe upon the rights granted by law.

In the post-Maneka Gandhi Case period, the Supreme Court of India once again considered the meaning and content of ‘PERSONAL LIBERTY.’ In this case, the central government had impounded the passport of Maneka Gandhi under Section 10(3)(C) of the Passport Act, 1967.

Maneka Gandhi, who had been issued a passport under the Passport Act, 1967, received a letter from the regional passport officer in New Delhi on July 2, 1977. The letter requested her to surrender her passport within seven days, without providing any reason other than the interest of the general public. Dissatisfied with the arbitrary action of the executive, Maneka Gandhi filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution, seeking the enforcement of her rights under Articles 14, 19(1)(D), and 21. She contended that the steps taken by the passport office were arbitrary and violated her rights.

The Supreme Court delivered a significant judgment on January 25, 1978, which transformed the Indian Constitution and expanded Article 21 significantly. The judgment aimed to fulfil the goal of establishing India as a welfare state, as envisioned in the preamble.

The judgment emphasized that the fundamental rights enshrined in Part III of the Constitution are not separate or mutually exclusive. Any law depriving a person of their personal liberty must be tested against one or more fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19. The concept of reasonableness must be applied to procedures, and principles of natural justice, such as Audi Alteram partem, must be upheld. The judgment clarified that even in the absence of explicit provisions, certain rights related to human values are protected by fundamental rights. For instance, freedom of the press is covered under Article 19(1) (a) even though it is not explicitly mentioned. The right to travel abroad is a fundamental freedom guaranteed under Article 21, but it can be curtailed through a procedure established by law.

Finally, the judgment overruled the A.K. Gopalan case, establishing a close relationship between the provisions of Article 14, 19, and 21. It concluded that every law must pass the test of these provisions, underscoring their interdependence.





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