March 5, 2021

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution with Top 10 Cases

The scope of Article 21 was a bit narrow till 1950s.

In A.K.Gopalan vs State of Madras court held that the contents and subject matter of Article 21 and 19 (1) (d) are not identical and they proceed on total principles. In this case the word deprivation was construed in a narrow sense and it was held that the deprivation does not restrict upon the right to move freely which came under Article 19 (1) (d).

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Next in line came the judgement in the famous case of Kharak Singh v. State of UP where Supreme Court considered the said regulation as ultravires Article 21 and Article 19 (1) (d) of the Constitution and held that domiciliary visits by the police every night to check and monitor the doings of Kharak Singh were violative of his right to personal liberty and right to freedom of movement as “personal liberty meant much more than mere animal existence”.

In R.C. Cooper v. Union of India Popularly known as the Bank Nationalisation Case, the apex court overruled the ratio laid down in A. K. Gopalan case and rejected the mutual exclusivity theory. The court gave preference to the effect test over object test. In case effect of any act violates the fundamental rights of citizens, it shall be violative of the Constitution and liable to be struck down.

In the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, the Apex Court opened up a new dimension and laid down that the procedure cannot be arbitrary, unfair or unreasonable one. Article 21 imposed a restriction upon the state where it prescribed a procedure for depriving a person of his life or personal liberty.


This view has been further relied upon in Francis Coralie Mullin v. The Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi and others.

In another case of Olga Tellis and others v. Bombay Municipal Corporation and others, it was further observed: Just as a mala fide act has no existence in the eye of law, even so, unreasonableness vitiates law and procedure alike. It is therefore essential that the procedure prescribed by law for depriving a person of his fundamental right must conform the norms of justice and fair play. Procedure, which is just or unfair in the circumstances of a case, attracts the vice of unreasonableness, thereby vitiating the law which prescribes that procedure and consequently, the action taken under it.

As stated earlier, the protection of Article 21 is wide enough and it was further widened in the case of Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India and others in respect of bonded labour and weaker section of the society. It lays down as follows: Article 21 assures the right to live with human dignity, free from exploitation. The state is under a constitutional obligation to see that there is no violation of the fundamental right of any person, particularly when he belongs to the weaker section of the community and is unable to wage a legal battle against a strong and powerful opponent who is exploiting him.

The meaning of the word life includes the right to live in fair and reasonable conditions, right to rehabilitation after release, right to live hood by legal means and decent environment. The expanded scope of Article 21 has been explained by the Apex Court in the case of Unni Krishnan v. State of A.P. and the Apex Court itself provided the list of some of the rights covered under Article 21 on the basis of earlier pronouncements and some of them are listed below:
(1) The right to go abroad.
(2) The right to privacy.
(3) The right against solitary confinement.
(4) The right against hand cuffing.
(5) The right against delayed execution.
(6) The right to shelter.
(7) The right against custodial death.
(8) The right against public hanging.
(9) Doctors assistance

Through various judgments the Apex Court also included many of the non-justifiable Directive Principles embodied under part IV of the Constitution and some of the examples are as under:
(a) Right to pollution free water and air.
(b) Protection of under-trial.
(c) Right of every child to a full development.
(d) Protection of cultural heritage.

The Apex Court in the case of S.S. Ahuwalia v. Union of India and others it was held that in the expanded meaning attributed to Article 21 of the Constitution, it is the duty of the State to create a climate where members of the society belonging to different faiths, caste and creed live together and, therefore, the State has a duty to protect their life, liberty, dignity and worth of an individual which should not be jeopardized or endangered. If in any circumstance the state is not able to do so, then it cannot escape the liability to pay compensation to the family of the person killed during riots as his or her life has been extinguished in clear violation of Article 21 of the Constitution.

While dealing with the provision of Article 21 in respect of personal liberty, Hon’ble Supreme Court put some restrictions in a case of Javed and others v. State of Haryana, as: requirement of reasonableness runs like a golden thread through the entire fabric of fundamental rights.

Thus it is clear that the provision Article 21 was constructed narrowly at the initial stage but the law in respect of life and personal liberty of a person was developed gradually and a liberal interpretation was given to these words.

You might be interested to refer:

  1. Top 10 Rights under Article 21 (with important Case Laws)
  2. Changing Dimensions of Article 21
  3. Case Brief: A.K. Gopalan v. State Of Madras
  4. Case Brief: Maneka Gandhi v Union of India
  5. Case Brief: Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India (UOI) and Ors.

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