Article 21 : An Expansive Interpretation

INTRODUCTION:

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 LAW.”

Right to life and personal liberty incorporated in article 21 has a wide coverage.

It merely not include breathing but it also includes the right to live with dignity and respect.

There are two essential in this article :

  • life and personal liberty
  • procedure established by law

MEANING AND SCOPE

Supreme Court interpreted article 21 in AK GOPALAN CASE  narrowly in this case the Supreme Court stated that the word ‘Life’ means breathing and ‘Personal Liberty’ means the movement of hands and legs.

As we know that Article 21 of the Indian Constitution states that: “No person shall be deprived of life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law”.

AK Gopalan VS State of Madras:

A K Gopalan was a communist leader who was detained in the Madras Jail under Preventive Detention Act,1950 and challenged his detention by stating that his civil liberty was being hampered as he had the right to equality of law.

The supreme court examined that he was detained according to the procedure established by law and rejected his argument. The supreme court at that point of the time believed that each article was separate in the Indian constitution.

It was further argued that law must not be ‘Lex’ it must be ‘Jus”.

SC did not agree with the argument of the petitioner and held that what is required under article 21 is the procedure established by law

It means only the LEX, not the JUS.

Court said this is because under article 21 word procedure established by law is used not the due process of law”.

In this case, article 21 was very narrowly interpreted by Sc.

IN MANEKA GANDHI v. UNION OF INDIA 1978

this article was given a new shape, in this article 21 is not merely confined to physical movement or existence but it also includes the right to life with human dignity and respect.

Thus article 21 has a very wide scope which includes:

  • Right to privacy
  • Right to go abroad
  • Right to legal aid
  • Right against custodial violence
  • Right to live with human dignity
  • Right to healthy environment
  • Right to health
  • Right to a fair trail
  • Right to shelter
  • Right to protection against hazardous industries
  • Right to education
  • Right to passive euthanasia (mercy killing)
  • Right to sleep
  • Right to food

RIGHT TO LIVELIHOOD

OLGA TELLIS v. BOMBAY MUNICIPAL CORPORATION AIR 1986 

The SC observed that the right to life also includes the right to livelihood.

RIGHT TO DIE

GIAN KAUR v. STATE OF PUNJAB AIR 1996

SC held that the right to life under article 21 does not include the right to die.

RIGHT TO SHELTER

CHAMELI SINGH v. STATE OF UTTAR PRADESH AIR 1996

The SC held right to shelter is a fundamental right under article 21.

INHUMAN TREATMENT – CUSTODIAL DEATH

NILABATI BEHERA v. STATE OF ORISSA AIR 1993

SC observed that it is the duty of the state to give protection to the arrested person in police custody and to prisoners in the jail.

TELEPHONE TAPPING

PEOPLE UNION FOT CIVIL LIBERTIES  v. UNION OF INDIA AIR 1997

Telephone tapping is a serious invasion of the right to privacy which is a part of the right to life and personal liberty and should not be resorted to unless there is a public emergency or public interest.

ARTICLE 21-A

RIGHT TO EDUCATION

The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all the children of the age of six to fourteen years in such a manner as the state may by law determine.

CONCLUSION

The right to privacy is not only about physical existence and breathing it includes a life which is lived with dignity and respect and which is enjoyed with the highest utility without any interference from the other side.

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Summaiya

Content Writer, Law Corner, B.A.LL.B(Hons), 5th Semester, Unity Law and PG college

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