"Right to life is undoubtedly the most fundamental of all rights. All other
add quality to the life in question and depend on the pre-existence of life
itself for their operation."- J. Bhagwati
- In A.K Gopalan v. State of Madras [1950 SCR 88] the Supreme Court held that
Art. 19 has no application to laws depriving a person of his life and personal
liberty enacted under Article 21 of the constitution and article 19, 21 and 14
are mutually exclusive. It was held that protection under Art. 21 is available
only against arbitrary action and not from arbitrary legislative action. This
means that the state can deprive a person of the right available in Art. 21
based on law. Further it was held that 'law' means 'state made law' and not just
- In Kharak Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh [1964 SCR (1) 332, the Supreme Court
quoted and held - Expression 'life' was not limited to bodily restraint or
confinement to prison only but something more than mere animal existence. It was
also declared the relevant provisions that allowed police to make domiciliary
visits to 'habitual criminal' pr individuals likely to become habitual criminals
- In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India 1978 (2) 621, the court held:
Art. 21 protects the right to life and personal liberty not only from executive
but from the legislative action also. A person can be deprived of his life and
personal liberty if two conditions are complied with, (1) there must be a law
and (2) there must be a procedure prescribed by that law, provided the procedure
is Just, fair and reasonable., there must be a procedure prescribed by that law.
The court ruled that any regulation that restricts a person's personal liberty
must pass the constitutional tests of Articles 21, 14, and 19. Article 21 also
protects natural justice and personal liberty' should not be interpreted in a
restricted and rigorous meaning, but rather in a liberal and wide sense.
The right is available to every person, citizen or alien. Thus, even a foreigner
can claim this right.
- However, it does not entitle a foreigner to the right to reside and
settle in India, as mentioned in Article 19 (1) (e).
- Article 21 can only be claimed when a person is deprived of his 'life or
personal liberty' by the state as defined in article 12. thus, violation of
the right by private individuals is not within the purview of Art. 21.
- Article 21 cannot be suspended during an emergency.
Rights Which Come Under Article 21:
Right To Privacy -Right To Privacy Not An Absolute Right: In 'X' v. Hospital
'Z' [1998 Supp(1) 723] 'Z' ' the supreme court held although the '' right to
privacy'' is a fundamental right under Art. 21 of the constitution yet it is not
an absolute right and restrictions can be imposed on it for the prevention of
crime, disorder or protection of health or morals or protection of rights and
freedom of others.
- Phone tapping; Rn invasion on Right to Privacy:
In Rayal M. Bhuvaneshwari V.
Nagaphamender Rayala [AIR 2008 AP 98] the petitioner filed a divorce petition
and to substantiate his case sought to produce a hard disc relating to the
conversation of his wife recorded in U.S. with others. She denied some portions
of the conversation held. The act of tapping of conversation of his wife without
her knowledge was illegal and amounted to infringement of her right to privacy
under Art. 21 of the constitution.
Right To Education:Article 21A of the Indian Constitution which was inserted in the constitution by
the means of the constitution ,86 Amendment Act ,2003 providing free and
compulsory education is intended to allow all children in the age group 6-14
live with dignity, which is a facet of 'Right to life'.
In Environmental and consumer protect foundation v. Dekhi Administration (2012),
it was held that in order to ensure compliance of Article 21Aof the
Constitution, it is imperative that schools must have qualified teachers and
Right To Legal Aid
It is is now well established as a result of the decision of this Court in
Hussainara Khatoon V. Home Secretary State of Bihar
[1979 AIR 1369], case that:
"The right to free legal service is .... clearly an essential ingredient of
reasonable, fair and just procedure for a person accused of an offence and it
must be held to be implicit in the guarantee of Article 21
Right Against delayed execution
Right To ReputationMan being a social animal thrives on the fact that one's reputation and dignity
go hand in hand for making life worth living. The Supreme Court in Kiran Bedi's
case held that a good reputation was an element of personal security and is
protected by the Constitution under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The
right to the enjoyment of private reputation was of ancient origin and was
necessary to human society.
In Sukhwant Singh v. State of Punjab [1995 AIR
1380]the Supreme Court reiterated that the right to reputation is a person's
valuable asset and is a facet of his right under Article 21 of the Constitution.
Right Against Sexual Harassment At A Workplace
The Supreme Court, after a series of cases, has held that the 'right to life'
under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution along with other fundamental rights
are guaranteed to us by constitutional amplitude to cover gender equality
including the Right against Sexual Harassment. The scope of Article 21 has been
widened by the Supreme Court to a great extent.
While declaring that sexual
harassment of women at the workplace is violative of gender equality, the
Supreme Court, in Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan [(1997) 6 SCC 241] observed that:
"The meaning and content of the Fundamental rights guaranteed in the
Constitution of India are of sufficient amplitude to encompass all the facets of
gender equality including the prevention of sexual harassment or abuse"
Right To Medical CareAccording to Article 25(1) of Universal Declaration of Human Rights "Everyone
has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of
himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care
and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of
unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of
livelihood in circumstances beyond his control".
In the State of Punjab v. M.S. Chawla [(1996) 113 PLR 499 ]. This has been held
that-the right to life ensured under Article 21 incorporates inside its ambit
the right to health and clinical consideration.
Quality Of LifeIn the Francis Coralie Mullin v. Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi [AIR
(2005) SC 3180], the Supreme Court recognized that "life" is more than just mere
animal existence. The Supreme Court stated that,
"The right to live includes the right to live with human dignity and all that
goes along with it, viz., the bare necessities of life such as adequate
nutrition, clothing, and shelter over the head and facilities for reading
writing and expressing oneself in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing
and mingling with fellow human beings and must include the right to basic
necessities of life and also the right to carry on functions and activities as
constitute the bare minimum expression of the human self.''
Right To LivelihoodA 5-judge bench of the Supreme Court in Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal
Corporation [(1986 AIR 180, 1985 SCR Supl. (2) 51)] held that the right to life
includes the right to livelihood. Thereby, the court recognized the rights of
the pavement dwellers and the hawkers in Bombay. However, this does not mean
that the State can be held accountable for not providing livelihood through
affirmative action programs and policy. This recognition of the right to
livelihood only bars the state from denying the right to livelihood to any
individual without any procedure established by law
Right To InformationThis right which is a subset of Article 21 was transformed into an act known as
'Right to Information Act, 2002' allowing any citizen to request information
from a public authority and bounding the governing authorities to reply within a
stipulated time of 30 days. In R.P Limited v. Indian Express Newspapers [ (1988)
SCR Supl. (3) 212], it was held by the Supreme Court that Article 21 is wide
enough to accommodate the essential features of a democracy such as the right to
know and the right to be informed.
Right To Live In A Decent EnvironmentThis right under article 21 of the Indian constitution covers a wide variety of
rights not just for Human but also for wildlife, forest, lakes, ancient
monument, fauna - flora,
unpolluted air, water, and maintenance of the ecological balance.
In MC Mehta v.
Union of India, AIR 202 SC 1696 (CNG Vehicles case). SC propounded that Article
21 of the constitution provides the right to life which includes the right to a
clean and healthy environment. The Supreme court in many cases had come forward
to protect this right. The supreme court has directed the Government to use only
CNG vehicles as a form of public transport in Delhi and has banned the running
of diesel buses in Delhi and has banned the running of diesel buses in Delhi, in
light of the deteriorating air quality in the capital.
Right To Die (Euthanasia)Art. 21 provide right to die with dignity and right to live with dignity also
Euthanasia and Right to Life.
Euthanasia is termination of the life of a person who is terminally ill or in a
permanent vegetative state. In Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab [(1996) AIR 946],
the Supreme Court has distinguished between Euthanasia and attempt to commit
suicide. The court held that death due to termination of natural life is certain
and imminent and the process of natural death has commenced. These are not cases
of extinguishing life but only of accelerating conclusion of the process of
natural death that has already commenced.
The court further held that this may fall within the ambit of Right to live with
human dignity up to the end of natural life. This may include the right of a
dying man to also die with dignity when his life is ebbing out. This cannot be
equated with the right to die an unnatural death curtailing the natural span of
Right To Life Does Not Include Right To DieIn the case of P. Rathinam v. Union of India [(1994) INSC 264]
the court argued that the word life in Art. 21 means right to live with human
dignity and the same does not merely connote continued drudgery. Thus, the court
concluded that the right to live of which Art. 21 speaks of can be said to bring
in its trail the right not to live a forced life. The count further emphasized
that "attempt to commit suicide is in reality a cry for help and not for
In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court in T. Vatheeswaram v. State of Tamil
Nadu [(1983) AIR 361, (1983) SCR (2) 348] held that delayed execution of death
sentence is contrary to the idea of life under Article 21 of the Constitution.
Therefore, if the execution is delayed 2 years after such a death sentence is
finalized then such a sentence may be commuted. The cause of the delay is
Article 32 (Right to Constitutional Remedies) of the Constitution can be invoked
by any citizen in case his/her fundamental rights have been violated by any
member of the State or executive.
The provision of Article 21 and Article 21A itself being a part of the
fundamental rights, cannot be denied to any citizen except in the case of State
emergency (Article 359).
An application made under Article 32 in violation of the fundamental rights
under Article 21 cannot be dismissed on technical grounds. Such applications can
be made under any prescribed writs, and the Supreme Court shall protect these
rights by providing appropriate relief as deemed fit.
We must also not forget that these rights are given to us by the State and
hence, available only against the State and not against an individual, in that
case, one must seek remedy under ordinary law and not under Article 21 of the
- A.K Gopalan v. State of Madras [1950 SCR 88]
- Kharak Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh [1964 SCR (1) 332]
- Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India 1978 (2) 621
- 'X' v. Hospital 'Z' [1998 Supp(1) 723] 'Z'
- Rayal M. Bhuvaneshwari V. Nagaphamender Rayala [AIR 2008 AP 98 ]
- Environmental and consumer protect foundation v. Dekhi Administration (2012)
- Hussainara Khatoon V. Home Secretary State of Bihar [1979 AIR 1369]
- Sukhwant Singh v. State of Punjab [1995 AIR 1380]
- Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan [(1997) 6 SCC 241]
- State of Punjab v. M.S. Chawla[(1996) 113 PLR 499 ]
- Francis Coralie Mullin v. Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi [AIR (2005) SC 3180]
- Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation [(1986 AIR 180, 1985 SCR Supl. (2) 51)]
- R.P Limited v. Indian Express Newspapers [ (1988) SCR Supl. (3) 212]
- MC Mehta v. Union of India, AIR 202 SC 1696 (CNG Vehicles case).
- Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab [(1996) AIR 946]
- P. Rathinam v. Union of India [(1994) INSC 264]
- T. Vatheeswaram v. State of Tamil Nadu [(1983) AIR 361, (1983) SCR (2) 348]