Different Facets Of Right To Life And Liberty


Provisions of fundamental rights are mentioned under chapter III of the Constitution of India. These rights are guaranteed by the Constitution. One of these rights mentioned under Article 21 is Right to Life and Personal Liberty. Article 21 under its Constitution states that “No Person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law”.

Also called as the heart of the constitution, right to life and personal liberty is one of the most important fundamental rights which cannot be suspended even during emergency (ADM Jabalpur v. S.S Shukla)i. The 44th Amendment has amended article 359 which now provides that the rights under article 21 cannot be suspended during emergency even by the order of the president. The main object of this Article is to prevent any kind of deprivation of a person’s right to life and personal liberty. Article 21 is home to several rights ensuring full enjoyment of a person’s right.


Right to life and liberty is not only restricted to a person’s basic right to live. It has several meanings within its Article giving rise to several other rights.

1. Right to life: “The term life under this article is something more than mere animal existence (Munn v. Illinois). The inhibition against its deprivation extends to all those limbs and faculties by which life is enjoyed”_ justice Fieldii

2. Personal liberty: According to Dicey, Personal liberty means a personal right which is not subjected to imprisonment, arrest or other physical coercion in any manner that does not has legal justification.

Even after the given definition of life and liberty the scope of the article is wide and not restricted to the defined terms. The better understanding and information of this Article could be explained through various landmark judgments.

A.K Gopalan v. State of Madras:iii It was the first landmark case in the process of evolution of Article 21. This case challenged the validity of the preventive detention Act, 1950. It was in this case where term ‘personal liberty’ first came. It was argued under this case that personal liberty includes freedom of movement also. The petitioner challenged the validity of the said Act saying that it was a violation of his right to freedom of movement under Article 19(1)(d) which is the essence of personal liberty under article 21.

The Supreme Court in its interpretation gave a very literal and narrow view. It held that personal liberty includes only physical freedom of body that is freedom from arrest or detention from false imprisonment and wrongful confinement. The SC also interpreted the word ‘law’ as state made law and rejected the contention of petitioner of natural law. However, this interpretation of the SC was not followed in its later judgments.

Kharak Singh v. State of U.P:iv It was in this case the SC interpreted that personal liberty is not restricted to bodily restraint or confinement to prisons, but was used in a concise sense including all varieties of rights. Any type of unauthorized obstruction into a person’s home and destruction caused to him is a violation of his personal liberty. Personal liberty is used as compendious term to include itself all verities of rights which together forms as personal liberties.

Maneka Gandhi v. U.O.I:v It was another landmark case where SC used the term ‘personal liberty’. The facts of the case states that, the petitioner’s passport was impounded and she was restrained from travelling abroad without any reasons mentioned. Her passport was impounded under Sec 10(3) of the Passports Act, 1967. The petitioner approached under Article 32 of the Constitution claiming infringement of her fundamental right to personal liberty.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court held that the govt. was not justified in withholding the reasons for impounding the passport from the petitioner and laid down the following observations:

(i) Right to go abroad is covered in detail under Article 21.

(ii) Principle of natural justice was violated as the petitioner was not given the chance to be heard.

(iii) The Passports Act 1967, doesn’t prescribe the procedure for confiscation of passport.

Supreme Court not only overruled the decision made in Gopalan’s case but also widened the scope of this Article after this case. Justice Bhagwati observed that Article 21 covers a wide variety of rights which together forms personal liberty. The courts must seek to observe in detail the provisions related to fundamental rights rather than weakening their meaning and scope. Any procedure attenuating the rights of an individual must satisfy the requirement of natural justice which must be fair and absolutely reasonable.

Article 21 not only is shelter to many rights but is also related to other important Articles of the constitution such as 14, 19 and 21.


Maneka Gandhi case was a major turning point in the history of judgments, guaranteeing utmost justice to people. SC Clearly stated that Article 19 is totally connected to Article 21 as it takes content from Article 21. Article 14 which is right to equality and equal protection of law is also interrelated with Article 21. Together these Articles are called the golden triangle of the constitution.


1) Right To Livelihood: Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corp.vi Court ruled that word life in Article 21 includes right to livelihood also.

2) Right to speedy trial: Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar.vii A petition for a writ of habeas corpus was filed by a number of under trial prisoners who were in the jail of Bihar for years waiting for trial. SC in its verdict stated, in order to deliver justice it is important that trials must be speedy. Justice delayed is equal to justice denied.

3) Right to privacy: The right to privacy was not considered as the fundamental right. It was after the case of Kharak Singh v. State of U.P, this right was first raised and included under article 21.

4) Right to travel: Maneka Gandhi v. U.O.I.

5) Right to environment: M.C Mehta and another v. U.O.I viii,   Vellore citizens welfare forum v. U.O.Iix

6) Right to free legal aid: M.H Hoscot v. State of Maharashtra.x

7) Right to education: Miss Mohini Jain v. State of Karnataka.xi Right to education is considered as a fundamental right under right to life and personal liberty which in no case can be denied by imposing higher fee known as capitation fee.

8) Right to live with human dignity: Right to live with dignity was included under article 21in the case of Francis Coralie v. U.T of Delhi.xii


Right to food

Right to die

Homosexuality etc.


Rightly stated as the heart of the constitution, Article 21 is shelter to several rights for the interest of human beings and provide justice. Expanding the scope of justice, Article 21 constantly strives to protect the right of every individual. The provisions of Article 21 changes with different judicial precedents and judgments enabling and expanding the scope of justice, making it on of the lengthiest articles of the constitution.


i AIR 1967 SC 1207

ii Munn v. Illinois USA, 1877

iii AIR 1950 SC 27

iv AIR 1963 SC 1295

v AIR 1978 SC 597

vi AIR 1986 SC 180

vii AIR 1979 SC 1819

viii AIR 1987 SC 1086

ix AIR 1999 SC 812

x AIR 1978 SC 1819

xi AIR 1992 SC 1858

xii AIR 1981 SC 746

This article is authored by Aashita Mattar, Third-Year, B.A. LL.B (Honours), student at Jemtec School of Law, GGSIP University.

Also Read – Reincarnation Of Article 21- Right To Life And Personal Liberty

Law Corner

Leave a Comment