Legal Service

Article 21 of the Constitution

Written by: Aakriti Agrawal - Symbiosis Law College, Pune

Indian democracy wedded to rule of law aims not only to protect fundamental rights of its citizens but also to establish an egalitarian order. Law being an instrument of social engineering obliges the judiciary to carry out the process established by it.

Lord Chancellor Sankey once said amidst the cross currents and shifting sands of public life the law is like a great ark upon which a man may set his foot and be safe. In this remark, he has emphasized on the importance of law. It is needless to say that life of an individual in a society would become a continuing disaster if not regulated.

The first decision given to interpret the scope and meaning of life and personal liberty under article 21 of the Indian constitution was:
A.K.Gopalan VS. State of Madras (air 1950 sc 27)
The apex court interpreted that the words "procedure established by law" in article 21 are to be given a wide and fluid meaning of the expression "due process of law" as given under the u.s. constitution but it refers to only state made statues laws. if any statutory law prescribed procedure for deprieving a person of his rights or personal liberty it should meet the
requirements of article 21

However, after 2 decades this was over ruled in the case of R.C.Cooper VS. Union Of India (AIR 1970 SC 564) after this there where a series of decisions by the apex court including that of maneka gandhi vs. Union of India in this case it was held that any law that deprives the life and liberty must be just and fair

Krishna Iyer J. rightly said that "procedure" in article 21 means fair , not formal procedure law is reasonable law not any enacted pieces"

Now it is settled that
That article 21 confers positive rights to life and liberty The word life in article 21 means a life of dignity and not just mere animal survival (this was also upheld in the case of Francis caralie{(1993)1 scc 645} The procedure of depriving a person of his life and liberty must be reasonable, air and just

In the 1978, the 44th amendment of the constitution took place, article 359 was amended, and it provided that article 20 and 21 could not be suspended even during declaration of an emergency. In the case of P.Rathinam case held that right to live includes right not to live. Physical as well as mental health both are treated as integral part of right to live upholding that without good health , neither civil nor political rights which constitution confers cant be enjoyed. Judiciary has played a vital role in the interpretation and correct use of article 21.

The following are some cases on "right to life" through judicial activism
C Masilamani Mudaliar Vs. Idol Of Sri Swami Nathaswami Thrukoll {(1996) 8scc525/Pr22}

Article 21 of the Indian constitution reinforces. Equity, dignity of a person and the right to development are the inherent rights of every human being. Life in its expanded horizon includes everything that gives meaning to a person's life including culture, heritage and tradition with dignity of a person.

Noise Pollution (V), In Re, {(2005) 5 Scc 733/Pr 10}
Article 21 guarantees right to life and includes all those aspects which make a persons life meaningful, complete and worth living. In the above case, it was held that any one who wishes to live in peace, no one can claim a right to create noise even though he does so in his own premises. Any noise, which materially interferes with the ordinary comforts of the life of the other, judged by an ordinary prudent man is nuisance.

Kartar Singh vs. State of Punjab {(1994) 3 scc 569}
Speedy trail is an essential part of the fundamental rights guaranteed by article 21 of the Indian constitution.

Unni krishnan vs. State of Andhra pradesh
the apex court has widened the scope of article 21 and has provided with the rights article 21 embraces within itself. They are:
  • Right to go abroad
  • Right to privacy
  • Right against solitary confinement
  • Right against delayed execution
  • Right to shelter
  • Right against custodial death
  • Right against public hearing
  • Doctor's assistance

Along with all these above-mentioned rights, it was also observed that the right to education would also be included as apart of right to life.

A.k. bindal vs. Union of India (2003) 5 SCC 163
It was held that no person should be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.

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.

The author can be reached at: [email protected] / Print This Article

Related Articles on Constitutional laws