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Article 21 in the Indian Constitution

Article 21 has been interpreted multiple times in the Indian constitution.


A constitution has to survive from decades to decades but due to changing times, the society Mentality/moral changes. Because of this, Article 21 has been interpreted over and over again.

From life to death, along with basic necessities like “Ghar, Kapda, Makaan”, Article 21 discusses Freedom, Dignity, Pollution free Environment, and much more.

Article 21 is available for both Citizens and non-citizens of the country that says, “None shall be deprived of life and personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”

Let us discuss further, how case-by-case life and personal liberty’s meanings have changed so far.

 Procedure Established by Law

Article 21 is mainly inspired by the American Constitution. Their provision says, “No man shall be deprived of life and personal liberty except according to Due Process of Law” which means that the court has the power to control Legislative and Executive actions.

They can question the following laws—

Substantive Laws – These laws decide what should be the laws of the constitution.

Procedural Laws – These laws decide how Substantive Laws will be implemented and followed.

If any country has “Due Process of Law”, their courts have the power to ask the following two questions:

  1. Do you have the power to make this law?
  2. Do these laws are Natural Justice Principles compliant?


If both answers are negative, then the court has the power to declare this part of the law invalid.

That is the reason, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar wanted Indian Constitution’s Article 21 to use the “Due Process of Law” phrase but Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer, an Indian lawyer and member of the Constituent Assembly of India, which was responsible for framing the Constitution of India, mentioned that in future when we’ll need to bring Social Legislations then “Due Process of Law” will create a problem. That is why we used Procedure Established by Law that focuses on Procedural and Executive Laws.

 History of Article 21

Procedure Established by Law was finally used in Article 21. Hereafter, we received protection from “Arbitrary Executive Action” which means those Arbitrary Executive Actions that were not Just, Fair, and Reasonable, we could challenge only those.

This was back in 1978, but we still had not gotten Protection from Arbitrary Legislative Action till 1978 as it brought Maneka Gandhi case. This case elaborated the scope of Article 21.

 Personal Liberty

It can be understood by the following case:

  1. A.K Gopalan V. State of Madras

AIR 1950 SC 27

In this case, a petition was filed via the applicant A. K. Gopalan, who changed into a Communist Leader underneath Article 32 (1) of the Constitution of India for a writ petition of habeas corpus in opposition to his detention in the Madras Jail. In the petition, he has given numerous dates showing how he has been under detention. He was sentenced to imprisonment, however; the convictions had been set apart. While he was under detention under one of the other orders of the Madras State Government, he served with an order made under Section 3 (1) of the Preventive Detention Act, 1950.

He challenged the legality of the order and contended that the equal contravenes the provisions of Articles 13, 19, and 21 of the Constitution of India. Besides, it affirmed that this Act had not been under Article 22 of the Constitution. He had additionally challenged the validity of the order on the ground that its miles were issued with a mala fide goal.

In this situation, the Court had interpreted Article 21 extraordinarily and went directly to confirm that the expression system established through regulation supposed any process which became laid down within the statute by the equipped legislature that could deprive a person of his lifestyle or personal liberty. It changed into similarly avowed that it turned into not permissible for the Courts to include inside the Article such a concept as herbal justice or the due system of regulation or reasonableness. Therefore, the Court had declared that the technique couldn’t be challenged although it has been no longer reasonable or now not regular with herbal justice.

A narrow Interpretation of Article 21 was made in the above case.

  Article 21 includes both Life and Right to Privacy

Life includes multiple human rights like Environment, Health, Dignity, Livelihood, Education, and Privacy Information. Around 14-15 human rights are included in Life.

How Supreme Court Interpreted Life

People think if they have the right to do something then they certainly have a right to not do something. Elaborating it further, the question is, if they have the Right to live, then do they have the right to die?

The same question was discussed in case #P. Rathinam V. Union of India.

  1. Rathinam V. Union of India, the primary case that the Supreme Court of India determined in appreciation of Section 309, IPC. The provision criminalized an attempt to devote suicide. Suicide is usually described as ‘the motion of killing oneself deliberately.

This is the simplest segment in the Indian Penal Code in which punishment might be meted for an unsuccessful act most effective and never for a successful one. In different words, suicide isn’t a criminal offense, its attempt is.

The important difficulty that the Court faced whether Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code violates Articles 21 and 14 of the Constitution and whether Article 21 includes the ‘Right to die. Some of the opposite essential questions that the Court mentioned were-

  •         Is suicide immoral?
  •         Does suicide produce unfavourable sociological outcomes?
  •         Is suicide against public policy?
  •         Does the commission of suicide harm the monopolistic energy of the State to take existence?
  •         The Supreme Court held Section 309, IPC to be violating Article 21. The Court discovered that Section 309 of our Penal Code merits to be effaced from the statute of book to humanize our penal legal guidelines. It is a merciless and irrational provision, and it can bring about punishing a person who has suffered agony and might undergo ignominy due to the fact he became failing to commit suicide.


  •         The Court also remarked that ‘existence’ in Article 21, includes the Right to stay with human dignity and no longer mere animal existence. Therefore, the right to live brings in its trail, the right no longer to stay a compelled existence. A person cannot be compelled to revel in a right to life to his detriment or disliking.


  •         The Court besides discovered that Section 309 does not violate Article 14 because the argument that the section treats distinctive attempts to devote suicide through the equal measure is concerned, it is inaccurate. The sentence can be tailored relying on the nature, extent, and gravity of the try as the Section handiest offers for a maximum punishment of twelve months or imposing exceptional only.


  •         Further, the Court additionally clarified that suicide isn’t in opposition to public policy. Whenever an offense is devoted, the perpetrator is punished to guard the society against the depredations of a risky person. But, in the case of suicide, the person isn’t always harming others, and consequently, the query of protecting society does no longer rises.


Further, the Supreme Court said Section 309 must be made invalid as Article 21 comprises of Right to die.

But in current times, the law that is followed is given by #Gian Kaur V. State of Punjab.

In the above case, the Supreme Court said, in Indian Constitution waiver of Fundamental Rights is not allowed. If you have the right to life you cannot give it away which also means the Right to die is not protected in Article 21 and Section 309 is invalid.

 Right to Privacy

The right to privacy does not exist as a separate Fundamental Right. We always infer it in Article 21.

 #Kharak Singh V. State of UP

In the above case, the Supreme Court said, Right to life does not only mean mere Animal Existence. If there is any unauthorized disturbance, then it is a violation of Privacy.

The Supreme Court of India declared the relevant provisions that allowed police to make domiciliary visits to ‘habitual criminals’ or people, probably to make ordinary criminals unconstitutional. The police would go to Kharak Singh’s residence at unusual hours, regularly waking him up from his sleep. The Court reasoned the visits infringed the petitioner’s right to lifestyles, that could only be confined through law and not orders which include the Uttar Pradesh Police Regulations. However, the Court rejected the petitioner’s claim that the shadowing of routine criminals infringed his right to privacy because this right is no longer identified as an essential right under India’s Constitution.

The petitioner, Kharak Singh, had been charged with violent robbery as a part of an armed gang in 1941. He was saved due to loss of proof, but a ‘records sheet’ was opened concerning him under the Uttar Pradesh Police Regulations. These rules provided surveillance powers, together with powers of domiciliary visits, for ordinary offenders or human beings likely to become criminals.

The petitioner argued that those regulations had violated his right to life with dignity under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which includes privacy. He additionally argued that the measures violated personal liberties assured under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution.

The six judges as the bench of the Supreme Court gave concurring critiques, hanging down the relevant provisions of the Uttar Pradesh Police Regulations as unconstitutional.

The bench of the Judges concluded the case by considering the laws of the Indian Constitution and the psychological effects. Also, it was considered that shadowing with the aid of the police constituted a restriction in this freedom of motion.

#PUCL V. Union of India also called as “Telephone Tapping Case”

The Supreme Court of India held that Indian citizens have a right under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution to acquire records of approximately political applicants. The People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) challenged the validity of a 1951 law, which stated that political applicants had been not bound to disclose any facts not required under the regulation. The Court reasoned that the availability of basic facts about the candidates allows the electorate to make a knowledgeable selection and also paves the manner for public debates on the reserves and demerits of applicants.

In the above case, the Supreme Court clearly stated the Right to Privacy as a Right to life’s part. Till it is under Public Emergency or Public Safety, you can not infringe the Right to Privacy.

 Right to Life with Dignity

The joining of the idea of ‘human respect’ in the Universal Declaration was the summit of a critical verifiable advancement of the idea.

Strikingly, it had defenders like Immanuel Kant (Mcrudden)– Kant’s comprehension of human pride caused that people to be treated as closures and not just unfortunate chores.

Due essentially to its centrality in both the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the idea of ‘human respect’ presently assumes a focal part in common liberties talk.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) both express that all common liberties are from the human individual’s innate poise.

All the more, mostly, respect has progressively passed into vernacular use in an assortment of altogether different settings and conditions.


For “Right to live with Dignity” to be fulfilled under Article 21, It needs to pass through the following three steps:

  1.     It should recommend a strategy.


  1. The technique should withstand a trial of at least one of the Fundamental Rights presented under Article 21 which might be pertinent in a circumstance.


  1. It should likewise be obligated to be tried regarding Article 14.

India has perceived the Right to live with poise and excellent quality and a human character.


Impact of Emergency on Article 21

Through Article 359 President has the power to suspend Article 21. That is the sole reason, Article 21 was suspended three times i.e., during the Chinese attack in 1962, during the Pakistan attack in 1971, and during the Internal emergency in 1976.

Following are the most enhanced cases of Emergency:

#ADM Jabalpur V. Shivkant Shukla

It all started with a judgment handed via the Allahabad High Court on June 12, 1975, through Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha. In the State of Uttar Pradesh v. Raj Narain. The petitioner challenged Indira Gandhi’s election to the Lok Sabha and the subsequent win of Rae Bareli within the U.P. She was accused of corruption by Justice Sinha on 12 June and ruled her election void, which means that she was ineligible for an election or maintain an office for the subsequent six years. She appealed to the Supreme Court for a conditional life by apex court.

Due to the Supreme Court’s issue of her political control, she became dysfunctional within the count of balloting or speak in Lok Sabha. She advised the President Fakruddin Ali Ahmad to claim an Emergency consistent with Clause (1) of Article 352 of the Indian Constitution, which he did on 26 June 1975. The Government stated that there was a full-size emergency whereby India’s stability became liable to inner disruptions.

Under preventive detention laws, each person who is perceived to be a political danger to the authorities or someone who may want to publicly say out his/her political opinion openly must be taken into custody without trial. This caused the arrest under MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act) of many politicians, which includes Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Morarji Desai, Jay Prakash Narayan, and Lal Krishna Advani because most of these leaders proved to be a political danger to Indira Gandhi.

They then lodged petitions in separate High Courts to contest the detention. In favour of those petitions, most of the High Courts gave their verdicts, which brought the Indira Gandhi authorities to transport to the Supreme Court for this to be counted.

This became the Additional District Magistrate Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla case, which is once in a while referred to as the Habeas Corpus (to produce the body) Case, and each time someone is convicted, there is often a writ filed before the Supreme Court. At the time of the announcement of the Emergency, this decision was not known as a Constitutional Right under Article 21.

In the above case, the Supreme Court said, during Emergency Article 21 can be suspended. Then came the 44th Amendment that amended Article 359.

The above case was concluded by stating, Article 21 cannot be suspended during an Emergency.

The emergency is often referred to as “Black Day” for the Indian Constitution and Democracy.

Maneka Gandhi V. Union of India AIR 1978 SC 597

Maneka Gandhi issued a passport on the 1st of July 1976 underneath the erstwhile Passport Act 1967. She obtained a letter dated 2nd of July 1977, from the Passport Officer domestically in charge of Delhi, speaking to her that it was decided by the Union authorities to impound her passport beneath Section 10 (three) of the Passport Act 1967 “in the public hobby”. The minister was instructed to give her passport within one week from the receipt of that letter.

A letter was addressed to the Regional Passport Officer via Maneka Gandhi with a request to furnish a duplicate of the motives for sending the order under the act. The reply was sent with the aid of the Union Government, by the Ministry of Affairs at the 6th of July 1977 stating the purpose for impounding the passport is “within the interest of most of the people” and to not offer a copy of the list of reasons for the making of the order.

Maneka Gandhi, consequently, filed a writ Petition challenging the motion of the Government of India, in impounding the stated passport and refusing the country’s motives for doing the same.

The landmark judgment was introduced on the 25 of January 1978 and it altered the face of the Indian Constitution. The ratio of the judgment materially extended the scope of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution drastically. The choice turned into unanimous with a few dissent on several factors, however, no primary conflict of opinion ensued.

Now Supreme Court says that if there is any law that wants to curtail personal liberty, that law needs to be passed through the Test of Reasonability which means that procedure must be Just, Fair, and Reasonable (J|F|R). This case was a revolution because “Due Process of Law” and “Procedure Established by Law” had no difference after this case.

Author - Ila Dhond

Content Editor,

DISCLAIMER: This article reflects author’s view point. Goa Chronicle may or may not subscribe to views of the author

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