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Article 21 of the Indian constitution

 Article 21 of the Indian constitution

 Article 21 of the Indian constitution says that “ no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by the law “. This right guaranteed in article 21 is available to both citizens and non- citizens . 

Meaning and scope of personal liberty- The meaning of personal liberty can be studied under two parts- 

1- Prior to Maneka Gandhi’s decision- The word personal liberty under article 21 if interpreted widely are capable of including the the rights mentioned in article 19 , but in GOPALAN v. state of Madras , the SC took a very literal view and interpreted these words very narrowly . ‘Personal liberty’ was said to mean only liberty relating to,or concerning the person or body of the individual and in this sense it was antithesis of physical restraint or coercion . 

2- Meaning and scope of personal liberty after Maneka Gandhi’s decision – The restrictive interpretation of the expression ‘personal liberty’ in Gopalan’s case has not been followed by the SC in its later later decision. In Kharak singh v. State of U.P , it was held that the expression of ‘life’ was not limited to only bodily restraint or confinement to prison only , but something more than mere animal existence . In that case the petitioner Kharak singh , had been charged in a dacoity case but was released as there was no evidence against him. Under U.P police regulation , the police opened a history –sheet of him and was kept under police surveillance which included secret picketing of his house, domiciliary visits at night and verification of his movement and activities . The SC held that the domiciliary visits of the policemen were an invasion on the petitioner’s personal liberty . 

Right to travel abroad- In Satwnat singhv. Assistant passport officer , the petitioner who was a citizen of India had to travel abroad frequently for business purposes . The government ordered him to surrender his passport .He challenged the action of the government on the ground that it was a violation of his fundamental right under article 21 . His contention was that right to leave India or travel abroad and return to India was part of his personal liberty which could be restricted only by the authority of law. The SC held that the right to travel abroad was part of a person’s personal liberty within the meaning of article 21 and therefore no can deprive his right to travel abroad except according to the procedure establish by law . 

Maneka gandhi’s case- In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India , the petitioner’s passport was impounded by the central government under section 10(3) ( c) of the passport act . The SC held that the government was not justified in withholding the reasons for impounding the passport from the petitioner . The order withholding reasons for Impounding the passport was therefore not only in breach of statutory provisions( passport act) but also in violation of the rule of natural justice embodied in the maxim “ audi alteram partem”. 

It is true that article 21 is worded in negative terms but it is now well settled that article 21 has both negative and affirmative dimension . ‘ positive rights’ are very well conferred under article 21 of the constitution . 

Right to live with human dignity – Thus in Maneka Gandhi’s case the court gave a new dimension to article 21 . It held that the right to ‘live’ is not merely confined to physical existence but it includes within its ambit the right to live with human dignity. Elaborating the same view the court in Francis Coralie v.Union territory of Delh, said that the right to live is not restricted to mere animal existence . It means something more than just mere physical survival. 

Following Maneka Gandhi and Francis Carolie cases the SC in Peoples Union for democratic rights v. Union of India held that non-payment of minimum wages to the workers employed in various Asiad Project in Delhi was a denial to them of their right to live with basic human dignity and violative of article 21 of the constitution . 

This decision has heralded a new legal revolution. It has clothed millions of workers in factories , field , mines and projects sites with human dignity. They had fundamental right to maximum wages , drinking water, shelter creches , medical aid and safety in the respective occupation covered by the various welfare legislation . 

Right to livelihood- In Olga tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation , popular known as the ‘payment dweller case’ a 5 judge bench of the court has finally ruled that the word ‘life’ in article 21 includes ‘right to livelihood’ also. 


It can rightly be concluded from all that what is said above that the life and personal liberty of a person can be taken only in accordance with a just and reasonable law and procedure . Just and reasonable law and procedure means which are in conformity with the principle of natural justice .If it is not so then deprivation of person from his life and personal liberty would be unconstitutional . 

Article 21 of the Indian constitution




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