Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India:  Case Analysis & Overview

Introduction:

The ruling of Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India, handed down by a seven-judge bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court on January 25, 1978,[1] marked the beginning of a new period in the interpretation of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. This decision changed the face of the Indian Constitution and ushered in a new era of personal liberty growth. The decision is a guiding light, bringing new dimensions to the understanding of part 3 of the constitution’s fundamental rights.

Since this is one of the Supreme Court’s most progressive rulings, the principles established in this case are still applicable today. It marked a change in the judiciary’s approach to interpreting the scope of the right to life under the Constitution, from pedantic to purposeful.

Facts of the Case:

In the Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India case, the petitioner (Maneka Gandhi) was a journalist who was about to travel to another country for some of her official business. Because of this purpose, it was applied for the passport by the petitioner under the Indian Passports Act of 1967. Later, on June 1, 1976, her passport was released. Thereafter, on July 4, 1977 a letter was received by the petitioner from the regional passport officer informing that the passport of the petitioner was confiscated, by the decision of the Government of India, under Section 10(3) of the Indian Passport Act, 1967 on the grounds of “Public Interest”. Within seven days of receiving her passport, the applicant was forced to surrender it. Maneka Gandhi wrote a letter to the regional passport officer right away, demanding a copy of the statement about the reason for the order, as required by section 10 of the Constitution. On the 6th of July 1977, the government of India’s ministry of external affairs responded, saying that the government had agreed not to provide her with a copy of the statement of reasons for the order “in the interest of the general public.”

As a result of it, the action of impounding of passport by the government as well as for not providing any explanation for the same was challenged through a writ petition which was filed by Maneka Gandhi under Article 32 of the Constitution of India[2]. Furthermore, it was claimed that Section 10(3)(c)[3] is unconstitutional in nature as it infringes the fundamental right provided under Article 14 and 19(1) of the Constitution.[4]

Provisions and relevant cases:

1. Indian Passport Act, 1967:

It was enacted by the Indian Parliament in 1967. It deals with travel issues, passport papers, and the departure of Indian citizens from the country.

Section 10(3): This provision states that the government may impound or revoke a passport or travel document if the passport authority deems it appropriate in the interests of the country in any way possible, as specified in this provision.[5]

Section 10(5): This section stipulates that whenever a passport authority makes an order under subsection 1 for changing or canceling approvals, or under subsection 3 for canceling a passport or travel permit, it must draft a statement of reason and produce it to the individual concerned on request unless it is in the country’s concern.[6]

2. Constitution of India:

Article 14: This Article is present in part 3 of the Constitution of India dealing with fundamental rights and provides us the right of “Equality before Law”. According to this Article within India’s jurisdiction, the state shall not deny anybody equality before the law or equal protection under the law. Discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth is prohibited.[7]

Article 19: This Article deals with “Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, etc.” This article provides us the freedom of speech and expression as well as the right to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India.[8]

Article 21: This Article states that, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” [9]

3. Principle of Natural Justice:

“The principles of natural justice constitute the basic elements of fair hearing, having their roots in the innate sense of fair play and justice which is not perverse of any particular race or country but is shared in common by all men”[10]

4. Concept of Audi Alterm Partem:

It’s a Latin term that translates to “listen to the other side.” This theorem holds that no one should be judged without even being given a fair hearing. Natural justice is upheld by this principle.

5. K Gopalan Case[11]:

This was the first time the term “personal liberty” was used. Under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, the petition questioned the constitutional validity of the Preventive Detention Act, 1950. The key point of contention was the definition of the term “legal procedure,” specifically whether such procedures may be arbitrary or unfair, or whether they must always be just, logical, and fair. However, the majority bench, dismissing the petitioner’s claims, held that the word law under Article 21 isn’t always in accordance with natural justice principles.

6. Satwant Singh vs. Assistant Passport Officer, Government of India[12]:

The right to travel abroad is well within the scope of Article 21 in this case, and it was held that a passport cannot be refused or impounded in the absence of a law adequately governing it. As a result, the Passports Act of 1967 was passed by Parliament to regulate how passports were issued, rejected, impounded, and/or revoked—issues on which there was no detailed legislation previously.

Issues before the Court:

In this Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India case, the following issues has been argued –

1. Is it true that Fundamental Rights are absolute or conditional, and what is the scope of such Fundamental Rights as granted to people by the Indian Constitution?

2. Whether the ‘Right to Travel Abroad’ covered under the umbrella of Article 21?

3. What is the relationship between the rights granted by India’s Constitution Articles 14, 19, and 21?

4. What is the scope of the phrase “procedure defined by law”?

5. Whether Section 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act of 1967 a violation of Fundamental Rights, and if so, is such legislation a concrete Law?

6. Whether the challenged order of the Regional Passport Officer in violation of natural justice principles?

Arguments before the Court:

By Petitioner:

1. The “Right to Travel Abroad” is a subset of the ‘Right to Personal Liberty,’ and no citizen can be denied this right unless he or she follows the legal procedure. Furthermore, the Passports Act of 1967 makes no provision for the confiscation, revocation, or impoundment of a passport’s holder. As a result, it is irrational and arbitrary.

2. Furthermore, by failing to give the applicant an opportunity to be heard, the Central Government violated Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. As a result, the true meaning of Article 21, as well as its purpose and security, must be created.

3. Fundamental Rights should be read in accordance with each other to uphold the intent of the Constituent Assembly and to give effect to the spirit of our constitution, and in this case, Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution of India must be read together.

4. In such circumstances, Article 22 provides immunity from arrest and detention. In this case, the government unlawfully detained the applicant inside the country by seizing her passport without providing her with any justification.

5. The Passports Act of 1967 is ultra-virus because it violates the right to life and liberty. Because of a clause in Section 10(3)(c) of the Act of 1967, the complainant was prohibited from traveling abroad.

By Respondent:

1. The Attorney General of India argued that the ‘Right to Travel Abroad’ was never protected by any clauses of Article 19(1), and that as a result, Article 19 is unrelated to demonstrating the reasonableness of the Central Government’s acts.

2. The Passport Law was not intended to infringe on anyone’s fundamental rights in any way. Furthermore, the authorities should not be forced to explain whether it is taking or impounding someone’s passport for the social benefit and national interest. As a result, even though the statute violated Article 19, it could not be struck down.

3. Article 21 is rather broad, and it includes the provisions of Articles 14 and 19. Article 21 declares a statute illegal only if it expressly violates Articles 14 and 19. As a result, the legislation governing passports is not unconstitutional.

4. Article 21 includes the phrase “procedure defined by statute,” and such a procedure does not have to pass the reasonability test.

5. When writing the constitution, the drafters discussed the American concept of “due process of law” and the British concept of “procedure defined by law.” The blatant omission of due process of the law from the Constitution’s provisions represents the framers’ mind-set which must be preserved and respected.

Judgment:

The Maneka Gandhi case is the latest in a long line of democratic victories. The Supreme Court’s sitting bench ruled unanimously in favor of the petitioner. This decision followed the Supreme Court’s decision in the Satwant Singh case, in which the Court ruled that the right to travel abroad falls under Article 21. The judgment was given by a seven-judge bench of the apex court comprising CJI M.H. Beg, Justices Y.V. Chandrachud, V.R. Krishna Iyer, P.N. Bhagwati, N.L. Untwalia, S. Murtaza Fazal Ali and P.S Kailasam and the major points are:

1. While the maxim used in Article 21 is “procedure defined by statute” rather than “due process of law,” the court changed the face of the Constitution by declaring that the procedure listed must be free of the vices of irrationality and arbitrariness.

2. The court overruled the rule laid down in the case of Gopalan, stating that the provisions of Articles 14, 19, and 21 have a special relationship, and that any law must pass the tests set forth in those provisions.

3. The court decided that the term “personal liberty” could not be interpreted in a narrow and strict context. According to the court, personal liberty must be considered in a diverse and liberal context. As a result, the meaning of Article 21 has been broadened. The court ordered that future courts widen Article 21’s horizons to include all Fundamental Rights and stop construing it in a narrower context.

4. The law held in the case of Satwant Singh guaranteed the “right of to travel abroad” falls within the framework of fundamental rights under Article 21.

5. Neither Article 21 nor Article 19(1)(a) or 19(1)(b) of the Passport Act of 1967 was violated by Section 10(3)(c) (g). The court went on to say that the 1967 amendment did not violate Article 14. That the provision in question allows for an opportunity to be heard. The petitioner’s argument that the term “in the general public’s interest” is not ambiguous was dismissed by the court.

6. Sections 10(3)(c) and 10(5) are administrative orders, according to the court, and thus subject to challenge on the grounds of mala fide, unreasonableness, violation of natural justice, and ultra vires.

7. The court also advised the government to provide reasons in every case and to only use the prerogative of Section 10(5) of the 1967 act on rare occasions.

8. The privileges addressed in 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(g) are not limited to India’s territory.

Case Analysis:

In an admirable judgment, the court overturned Gopalan’s oppressive judgment. The people have benefited from the court’s decision. The court slammed the respondent’s argument that the legal action does not have to be just, equal, or rational. The point of the respondent that the statute is applicable as far as it is not overturned by the legislature. The court correctly dismissed the respondent’s flawed claim and provided a new broad and liberal view of the Right to Life and Personal Liberty. While the term “procedure defined by statute” rather than “due process of law” is used in Article 21, the court held that the procedure must be free of arbitrariness and irrationality. By ignoring the black mark that the legislature was attempting to depict, the court was able to honour and uphold the sanctity of the Constitution makers. The legal action must meet certain requirements in terms of being fair and just, and it cannot be discriminatory in depriving people of their fundamental freedoms.

The court also put an end to the debate by ruling that each Fundamental Right is mutually dependent on the others, rather than being distinct from one another. The ruling also established a connection between Articles 14, 19, and 21, known as the “Golden Triangle test”, which states that a law “depriving an individual of “personal liberty” must not only pass the test of Article 21, but also the tests of Articles 19 and 14 of the Constitution. In this regard, Justice Iyer has correctly stated that no article of the Constitution stands alone. To be a legitimate law under Article 21, Justice Bhagwati held that the procedural law must meet the requirements of Articles 14 and 19. In the sense of traveling abroad, Justice Iyer said that “travel makes liberty worthwhile,” and that no one should be denied the right to travel abroad.

Its significance is immeasurable, and the Supreme Court’s decision to seize the opportunity to broaden the scope of Article 21 is commendable. The benefits to Indian people can be seen in the aftermath of this case, as courts begin to include any possible socioeconomic and cultural right within the framework of Article 21. Applying the ratio of this judgement, the Supreme Court in various cases has held the right to clean air[13], clean water[14], legal aid[15], right to clean environment[16], speedy trial[17], freedom from noise pollution[18], and other rights are all part of the right to life and personal liberty mentioned under Article 21. This Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India decision has paved the way for courts to view Article 21 in a way that is advantageous to the general public in all of the above cases. The court has introduced a new tool to its arsenal by issuing this verdict, which will help it achieve the Preamble’s goal.

Conclusion:

The most important aspect of the Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India judgment was the interconnection it established between the provisions of Articles 19, 14, and 21. The Supreme Court made these clauses inseparable and into a single body by tying them together. To be legal, any method must now meet all of the standards outlined in these three documents. As a result, this Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India decision greatly expanded the definition of personal liberty while preserving the basic and constitutional right to life. This decision, in addition to shielding people from the Executive’s unchecked acts, also maintained the sanctity of parliamentary law by refusing to strike down Sections 10(3)(c) and 10(4) of the 1967 Act (5).

[1] AIR 1978 SC 597

[2] Constitution of India, Article 32

[3] Indian Passports Act, 1967, Section 10(3)(c)

[4] Constitution of India, Articles 14 and 19(1)

[5] Indian Passports Act, 1967, Section 10(3)

[6] Id, Section 10(5)

[7] Constitution of India, Article 14

[8] Id, Article, 19

[9] Id. Article 21

[10] The Collector vs. K. Krishnaveni, W.A 1995 of 2018

[11] A.K Gopalan vs. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 27

[12] AIR 1967 SC 1836

[13] M.C Mehta (Taj Trepazium Matter) vs. Union of India, 1997 2 SCC 353

[14] M.C Mehta vs. Union of India & Ors, 1988 AIR 1115

[15] Khatri and others vs. State of Bihar and Others, 1981 SCC (1) 627

[16] Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra vs. State of UP and Others, 1985 AIR 652

[17] Hussainara Khatoon and Ors vs. Home Secretary State of Bihar, 1979 AIR 1369

[18] In Re: Noise Pollution, (2005)5 SCC 733

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Radhika Maheshwari

I am Radhika Maheshwari, BALLB student (4th year) in Faculty of Law, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh. I am born and brought up in Aligarh and completed my High School education from Radiant Stars English School with 10 CGPA and my +2 education from Girls School, AMU and scored 82%. I am also a "C" certificate holder in NCC and is currently working with an NGO "Zomato Feeding India, Aligarh". My hobbies include singing, dancing, reading novels, etc. In my college life, I have done a few internships, online courses and took part in some competitions. My strength is in my nature- I like to take up challenges and accept both success and failure in a balanced way, loves to do team work and am always eager to learn something new. Right now, my goal is to build my career in judiciary.

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