Reincarnation Of Article 21- Right To Life And Personal Liberty

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution provides for the protection of life and personal liberty. Both the terms life and personal liberty has been given wider amplitude and interpretation by the apex court in the catena of judgments. In the new and wider interpretations of Article 21 of Indian Constitution the Honourable Supreme Court of India held that “Right to live” does not mean the confinement to physical existence but it includes within the ambit the right to live with Human dignity.[1] While expanding and widening the ambit of Article 21, the Supreme Court of India held that the word “life” may include all those things which are the bare necessities of life such as food, shelter, clothing and adequate nutrition.[2] The Supreme Court also extended the concept of life and held that “Life” is not limited to “death” but, when a person is executed with death penalty and doctor gave the death certificate and dead body was not lowered down for half an hour after the certificate of death, is thus violation of Right to life under Article 21 of Indian Constitution.[3] It is thus only because of wider interpretation of Article 21 which has guaranteed every human being outside or behind the bars certain basic rights and not even the State has the authority to violate those rights. In the case of Munn v. Illinois, the court refereed the observation of Justice Field where it was stated

By the term “life” means more than mere animal existence. The inhibition against its deprivation extends to all those limbs and faculties by which life is enjoyed. The provision equally prohibits the mutilation of the body by the amputation of an arm or leg, or the putting out of an eye, or the destruction of any organ of the body through which soul communicates with the outer world”[4] – Field J. The Honourable Supreme Court of India has adopted the annotation of Article 21 and expanded the concept of life given by Field J that “life means more than mere physical existence”. Right to life is not restricted to mere animal existence. It means more than just physical survival.

Read: Article 21: An Expansive Interpretation

In the case of Sunil Batra v Delhi Administration[5] the Constitution bench of the Supreme Court reiterated and held that right to life included right to a healthy life so as to enjoy all faculties of the human body in the prime conditions. It would even include the right to protection of person’s tradition, culture, heritage and all that gives meaning to a human life. It include right to live in peace, to sleep in peace and right to repose and health.

In Francis Coralie v Union Territory of Delhi[6] the court observed that ‘the right to life includes right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it namely the bare necessities of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter over the head and facilities for reading and writing and expressing oneself in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing and commingling with fellow human beings.

Reputation is also an important part of one’s life. When reputation is hurt a man is half dead. It is fundamentally a glorious amalgam and unification of virtues which makes man feel proud of his ancestry and satisfies him to bequeath it as a part of inheritance on the posterity. It is an honour which deserves to be equally preserved by the down trodden and the privileged. In the case of State of Maharashtra v. Public Concern for governance Test[7] it was held that a good reputation was an element of personal security and was protected by the Constitution equally with the right to enjoyment of life, liberty and property.

The right to shelter has also been held to be fundamental right which springs from right to residence and right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. In Chameli Singh v State of UP[8] the Supreme Court of India emphasized on the importance of right to shelter as one of the basic human right designed to ensure all facilities to the man to develop himself as a member of a civilized society.

The right to life under Article 21 has also been interpreted to mean a life of dignity to be lived in a proper environment free from the dangers of diseases and infections. Clean surroundings lead to a healthy body and healthy mind. Maintenance of health and preservation of the sanitation and environment have been held to fall within the purview of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. In M.C Mehta v. Union of India[9] it was held by the apex court that the blatant and large scale misuse of the residential premises for the commercial use in Delhi violated the right to salubrious and decent urban environment.

Right to health and care is an essential ingredient of Article 21 of the Indian constitution. Article 21 casts an obligation over the state to provide health and medical facilities to all human beings. Every doctor has an obligation to preserve the life of others and state cannot interfere to delay and avoid the discharge the services extended by medical profession. Denial of government hospital to provide medical facilities to an injured person is a violation of “right to life” under Article 21 of the Indian constitution. “Preservation of human life whether it is outside or inside the prison is of paramount importance”.[10] The right to health and medical treatment is a basic human right. The Gujarat High Court held that the jail authorities are under the obligation to take care of ailing convicts and it is the duty of the jail authorities to provide them the medical facilities and take them to the hospitals for medical treatment.[11]

Read: Right Against Exploitation Under The Constitution Of India

Speedy trial is a part of fundamental right inserted under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Delay in disposal of cases is denial of justice so every court is expected to adopt and take necessary steps for expeditious trial and quick disposal of cases.[12] The court held that right to speedy trial is available to all accused at all the stages, namely the stage of investigation, inquiry, trial, appeal, revision and retrial. The court further said that the accused cannot be denied the speedy trial on the ground that he had failed to demand a speedy trial.[13]

 “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied” ‘if the stream of justice dries there would be discontent, disharmony and chaos in the society as that stream does not fulfil the thirst of person for justice

A substantial or we can say a major part of prison population in the country consists of under trials and those inmates whose trial is yet to commence. Thus right to free legal aid is an essential mandate of Article 21 of Indian constitution. The Supreme Court held that free legal aid and assistance at state cost is a fundamental right of a person accused of offence which may involve jeopardy to his life and personal liberty.[14] Neither the state government nor any government can deny, providing the concept of free legal aid and assistance to the accused and the state government is under constitutional mandate to provide legal assistance to a poor accused by pleading financial or administrative inability.[15]

Regarding this right of free legal aid, Justice Krishna Iyer said that “This is the state’s duty and not government’s charity”. If a prisoner is unable to exercise his constitutional right to appeal including Special Leave to appeal for want of legal assistance, the court will grant him such rights under Article 142, read with Article 21 and 39 A of the constitution. The power to appoint or assign counsel to the prisoner does not object to the lawyer named by the court. On the other hand implication of free legal aid and assistance is the duty of the state and state must pay the lawyer an amount fixed by the court.[16]

[1] Maneka Gandhi v. Union o f India, AIR 1978 SC 597, and followed in Francis Coralie v. Delhi Administration, AIR 1981 SC 746

[2] Francis Coralie v Delhi Administration, AIR 1981 SC 746

[3] Pandit Parmanand v Union o f India, (1995) 3 SCC 248

[4] Observation by Field J in Munn v.Illinois, 94 US 11.

[5] AIR 1978 SC 1675

[6] AIR 1981 SC746

[7] AIR 2007 SC777

[8] AIR 1996 SC1051

[9] (2006) 3 SCC 399.

[10] Parmannd Katara v. Union o f India, AIR 1989 SC 2039 : (1989) 4 SCC 286;  Consumer Education and Research Center v. Union o f India, (1995) 3 SCC 42; Kishore Brothers Ltd v. Employee’s State Insurance corporation, (1996) 2 SCC 682

[11] Rasikbhai Ramsing Rana v. State o f Gujarat, (DB) 1997 Cr LR (Guj) 442

[12] Kadra Pahadiya v State of Bihar, AIR 1983 SC 1167

[13] AR Antulay v. RS Nayak, AIR 1984 SC 1630, again some directions were passed by SC in the case of Common Cause Society v. Union o f India, AIR 1996 SC 1619.

[14] Sukdas v. Arunachal Pradesh, AIR 1986 SC 991

[15] Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar, AIR 1979 SC 1369 and followed in the case of Khatn (II) v. State of Bihar, AIR 1981 SC 928

[16] MH Hoskot v. State o f Maharashtra, (1978) 3 SCC 544 : AIR 1978 SC 1548

Read: Why Independence Of Judiciary Is Necessary?

Pranav Kaushal

Pranav Kumar Kaushal, Content Writter, Law Corner, Student B.A., LLB 7th Semester, School of Law, Bahra University, Shimla, Himachal Pradesh.

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