A K Gopalan Vs State of Madras (AIR 1950 SC 27) – Case Analysis

Introduction

A K Gopalan vs State of Madras[1] is a landmark case for the Indian judiciary. It is referred to as a landmark case as well as the first case where the Indian Supreme Court dealt with various articles enshrined under Part III of the Indian Constitution as well as gives certain principles. The case mainly dealt with Article 19 (1),[2] 21[3] and 22[4] which enshrined as Fundamental Rights under Part III of the Constitution of India, 1950.

This case provided an opportunity for the Indian judiciary to extensively interpret the Fundamental Rights of the Constitution. Following this judgment, Indian courts began to approach the Fundamental Rights of citizens and non-citizens in a more comprehensive manner, rather than constructing the Fundamental Rights in a restrictive manner.

A K Gopalan Vs State of Madras – Case Facts

  • Petitioner …………… A.K. Gopalan
  • Respondent……………… State of Madras & Union of India
  • Citation: AIR 1950 SC 27
  • Decided on: 19 May 1950
  • Decided by: Supreme Court of India
  • Bench: C.J. Harilal Kania
  • The majority opinion – Chief Justice (C.J.) Harilal Kania, Justice M. Patanjali Sastri, Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan, Justice B.K. Mukherjee, and Justice Sudhi Ranjan Das
  • Dissenting/ minority opinion- Justice Fazal Ali Saiyid

The petitioner, communist leader AK Gopalan, was detained in Madras Jail under the Preventive Detention Act, 1950. Through a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution, the petitioner challenged the Act’s validity because it violates freedom of movement under Article 19 (1) (d) and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1950.

He has given various dates in the petition indicating that he has been detained since December 1947. He had been sentenced to prison, but his convictions were overturned. While he was detained under one of the Madras State Government’s other orders, he was served with an order made under Section 3 (1) of the Preventive Detention Act, 1950.

Petitioner’s contention

M.K. Nambiar appeared petitioner’s counsel. The petitioner’s counsel primarily argued the legality and validity of the provisions of the Preventive Detention Act, 1950, which they believed violated the Fundamental Rights of Articles 13, 19, 21, and 22. They thought that it was because:

1. Article 19(1) (d) of the Indian Constitution, 1950, states that the citizens have the freedom to move freely within the territory of India was abridged by the detention order given by the State Government of Madras. Thus, the Detention order was in contravention of his rights as his freedom of movement was restrained.

2. The provisions of the Preventive Detention Act, 1950 infringed on Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, and the challenged statute failed to meet the test outlined in Article 19(2) i.e. the State can put reasonable restriction upon the freedom of speech and expression on the ground of State’s security, public order, friendly relations with foreign States, integrity and sovereignty in India. Thus, the petitioner’s freedom of speech and expression was revoked.

2. His right to liberty under Article 21 was being violated by his detention (Right to life and personal liberty).

3. They contended that Articles 19 (1) and 21 should be read together because Article 19 (1) deals with the substantive rights of the citizen and Article 21 deals with the procedural aspects of personal liberty, and that deprivation of life and personal liberty of a person other than the procedure established by law is prohibited.

4. The detention order was also arbitrary, which violated Article 22 of the constitution’s right against arrest and detention.

5. Section 14 of the Preventive Detention Act, 1950 violated his fundamental right under Article 13 of the Constitution which states, the law inconsistent with the interrogation of fundamental rights is void, so this Act should be declared void.

Respondent’s contention

Advocate K. Rajah Aiyar (Advocate-General of Madras), and M.C. Setalvad (Attorney-General of India) representing the State of Madras and the Union of India respectively.

1. The respondent contended that Sections 19 and 21 should not be read together, but rather separately. The article mentioned in 19 (1) (a) to (g) should be considered separately from the perspective of another citizen who has a similar right.

2. According to Article 22 of the constitution, detention is not arbitrary.

3. The legal procedure has been followed as per the law and the Constitution of India.

4. Detention does not violate any of the petitioner’s rights under Articles 19, 21, or 22.

5. The Preventive Detention Act, 1950 is not arbitrary in nature.

6. The petitioner must not be granted a writ of habeas corpus under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution.

Issues Raised in A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras

The issues raised in the A.K. Gopalan Vs State of Madras case are as follows –

  1. Whether the Preventive Detention Act of 1950 violates Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution?
  2. Whether there is a connection between Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution, or are they distinct?
  3. Whether the Preventive Detention Act, 1950, under Article 22 of the Indian Constitution, 1950?

Judgment of A K Gopalan Vs State of Madras Case

The A. K. Gopalan Case, also known as the Preventive Detention Case, is a landmark decision in Indian legal history. The case’s decision reflected the legal status of various constitutional provisions. It extensively examined the phraseology and terminology of several provisions, as well as correlated the relationship between the fundamental rights, and the Preventive Detention Act, 1950, as well as examines the validity of the provisions of the Act. The following issues were decided by the Court and give its judgment based on the principle of natural justice:

Whether the Preventive Detention Act of 1950 violates Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution?

The court rejected this argument, stating that Article 19(1) has nothing to do with preventive or punitive detention and it is outside the ambit of Article 19 (1) and thus, the Preventive Detention Act of 1950 does not violates Articles 19 of the Constitution. It also stated that accepting the petitioner’s argument would call into question the reasonableness of several penal provisions allowing for punitive detention, which is not the intention of the Constitution. The court also contended that the said article, which protects the freedom of citizens, does not apply to citizens whose freedom is restricted by law, and thus the question of enforcing Article 19(1) does not arise.

The Preventive Detention Act, 1950 followed the valid procedure as enacted by state law, and thus the Apex Court concluded that it does not infringe on the rights guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Hence, the Preventive Detention Act of 1950 does not violates Articles 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Whether the Preventive Detention Act of 1950 was ultra-vires in nature?

Section 14 of the Act was declared ultra-vires for violating the rights guaranteed by Article 22(5) of the Constitution. The court also observed that section 14 is ultra vires but it does not affect the validity of the whole of the Act of 1950. The Preventive Detention Act of 1950 does not violate any provisions of Part III of the Constitution, and the petitioner’s argument against the Act’s validity, except for section 14, was held to be invalid.

Hence, the Court rejected the contention of the petitioner that the Preventive Detention Act, 1950 held to be ultra-vires.

Whether there is a connection between Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution, or are they distinct?

The argument was dismissed because Article 19 is read in its entirety, it becomes evident that citizens have been granted certain freedom, but they cannot be allowed to exercise those freedoms at the expense of other’s interests. This distinguished the freedom guaranteed by Article 19(1) from the “personal liberty” guaranteed by Article 21.

Furthermore, the court determined that the term “personal liberty” is a broad term that can incorporate us the right to travel or reside within the territory of India, but not the additional freedoms stated in clauses (a) and (f). While the court gave the phrase a narrow interpretation, it also declared that “personal liberty” refers to the freedom of one’s physical body, and that Article 19 only covers some of it.

Furthermore, the court highlighted the differences between the two provisions, noting that Article 19 applies only to citizens of the country, whereas Article 21 applies to all persons on Indian Territory. Furthermore, Article 19 specifies specific grounds for restriction for each freedom, whereas Article 21 is very general and does not specify any such restriction in detail. As a result, both provisions are distinct and must not be read together.

Whether the Preventive Detention Act, 1950, is in accordance with Article 22 of the Indian Constitution, 1950?

Article 22 covers various provisions of the Preventive Detention Act of 1950, and those that do not are added through the aspects of Article 21. The Apex Court held that Section 3 of the Act was justified and that it was valid to grant such discretionary powers to the executive. In addition, the majority court agreed on the validity of Sections 7 and 11 of the Preventive Detention Act, 1950, because under Article 2(7)(b), the parliament does not have the mandatory power to set a minimum detention period, and under Articles 22(5) and 22(6), the right to detention is guaranteed. Section 14 of the aforementioned Act was also declared unconstitutional because it challenged the court’s authority to determine the legality of detention.

Observations of the Judges in A K Gopalan Vs State of Madras

Majority opinion

The majority of the Supreme Court judges concluded that phrases that are identical in two distinct provisions cannot be interpreted in the same light and that the words have the same meaning. In case of the petitioner’s claim of a violation of his Fundamental Right under Article 21, the interpretation and application of the phrase “procedure established by law” does not equate to “due process.” The framers of the constitution would have said plainly if the legislature meant that these two words have the same meaning or relate to the same thing. They can’t abridge and violate Article 21 because the word law means lex, not just.

Dissent / Minority opinion

Out of 6 judges on a bench, Justice Fazal Ali has a dissent opinion in the A K Gopalan Vs State of Madras case. In his dissenting opinion, he stated that the Act could be challenged under Article 19 of the Constitution. He defined ‘personal liberty’ as freedom of movement and locomotion in a comprehensive sense. As a result, any law that restricts a person’s personal liberty must comply with Articles 19 and 21.

Afterward A K Gopalan Case

In 1978, Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India,[5] landmark case dealt by the Indian Judiciary which overruled the judgment of A K Gopalan Vs the State of Madras and upheld the dissent opinion of Justice Fazal Ali. In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, The Supreme Court ruled that the procedure for Article 21 must be just, fair, and reasonable, as well as under the principles of equality and freedom enshrined in Articles 13 and 19 of the Indian Constitution, and both these provisions of fundamental rights must be read together.

Similarly, the majority of the 11-judge bench in R.C. Cooper v Union of India[6], accepted Justice Fazal Ali’s dissenting opinion and the court quashed bank nationalization because unreasonable compensation was paid. Later, in the case of A.D.M. Jabalpur v Shivakant Shukla,[7] the court ruled that the right to life and liberty was guaranteed by the Constitution from the beginning and thus could not be taken away by the state.

A K Gopalan Vs the State of Madras – Judgment Analysis

In this case, the Court interpreted Article 21 immensely factually, concluding that the phrase “procedure established by law” referred to any procedure enshrined in statute by the competent legislature that could deprive a person of his life or personal liberty. It was also stated that the Courts were not permitted to include concepts such as natural justice, due process of law, or reasonableness within the Article. As a result, the Court ruled that the procedure could not be challenged, even if it was unreasonable or incompatible with natural justice. Thus, the Court erred in ruling that each fundamental right was distinct from the others and that Article 19 only applied to a free individual, not to someone detained without charge.

References

  • https://advocatespedia.com/A.K._Gopalan_v._State_of_Madras
  • https://lawcirca.com/a-k-gopalan-v-state-of-madras-interpretation-of-key-fundamental-rights-including-article-19-21/
  • https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1857950/

[1] AIR 1950 SC 27, 950 SCR 88

[2] Article 19 (1) of the Indian Constitution, 1950 (https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1218090/) states that all citizens shall have the right :

  1. To freedom of speech and expression;
  2. To assemble peacefully and without arms;
  3. To form associations or unions;
  4. To move freely throughout the territory of India;
  5. To reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; and
  6. omitted
  7. To practice any profession or carry on any occupation, trade, or business.

[3] Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, 1950, (https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1199182/#:~:text=21.,to%20procedure%20established%20by%20law)

No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except under the procedures established by law.

[4] Article 22 of the Indian Constitution protects citizens from arrest and detention in certain circumstances.

[5] AIR 1978 SC 597.

[6] (1970) 1 SCC 248.

[7] 1976 AIR SC 1207.

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Aditi Sahu

I am Aditi Sahu pursuing a B.B.A.LL.B. IV Year from Jamnalal Bajaj School of Legal Studies, Banasthali Vidyapith. My career objective is to work in a learning and challenging environment, utilizing my skills and knowledge to the best of my abilities and contribute positively to my personal growth. Also, I am pursuing a Diploma in Business Law for in House Counsel as extracurricular activities.