Article 21 – Right to Life under Indian Constitution

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Article 21 of the Constitution provides that “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”

The word State is not used in Article 21, it means that Article 21 applies to the State as well as to the private individual. Although the article mainly focuses on the state and the state has the following duties:-

It shall not curtail the life and personal liberty of persons in accordance with the procedure established by law. By making laws, the state will not ensure that even a private person does not violate the personal liberty of others.

There exist certain circumstances that infringe on life itself and personal liberty. It is the duty of the state to take proactive action to remove those circumstances. Here it is the duty of the State to bring about social justice to protect and preserve the dignity of life and individual liberty of an individual or group and hence social justice is an overlap between Article 14 and Article 21.

The concept of protective discrimination and upliftment from the point of view of protecting the dignity of life and individual liberty of the individual and the group is also enshrined in Article 21, but not disclosed in the context of Art. 21 As already discussed in context of Equality and Social Justice U/A 14.

Case Laws Relating to Article 21

Personal Freedom

A.K. Gopalan v. Union of India (A.I.R-1950)

The Supreme court held that personal liberty in Article 21 nothing more than the liberty of the body, which is freedom from detention and arrest without any restraint. In this case, the Supreme Court interpreted the law as ‘State made law’.

Right to Livelihood

Vellore Citizen Forum v. Union of India (A.I.R 1996)

It was held that the state is the public trust of all the resources of the country and the people are the beneficiaries of that public trust. It is the duty of the state to manage the resources in such a way that it works in the best interest of the people. The state is accountable to the people in the matter of managing these resources. It is the duty of the state to make efforts to protect the environment in the interest of the people (i.e. the beneficiary).

Right to Free Legal Aid

State of Maharashtra v. Manu Bhai Praggi Vashi 1995 S.C.

It was held that the right to free legal aid is a part of the fundamental right and it is the duty of the state to create conditions for providing better facilities for free legal aid.

Right to Health and Medical Aid

Parmanand Katara (P.K.) v. Union of India (U.O.I) 1989 S.C

It was recognized that the right to health and medical treatment is a fundamental right of every individual. It is the duty of doctors to police action in case of accident or any serious injury.

Right to Privacy

A landmark decision on the right to privacy was delivered by Justice K.S. Puttuswamy v Union of India (2018). In this case, retired judge K.S. Puttuswamy claimed that the government’s plan to introduce biometric-based identity cards for availing government services and benefits violated the citizen’s right to privacy. The Hon’ble Supreme Court, after hearing both the sides, recognized the right to privacy as an essential part of the right to life.

It also outlined the scope of the right to privacy, saying that it includes personal choices (eg, eating beef), bodily integrity (e.g., rights to reproduction and abortion), and even personal information (For example, autonomy over decisions relating to health records. Simultaneously, the Court also expressed that there is a need for a data protection regime in India.

Right to Education

First time in the case of Mohini Jain v State of Karnataka et al. (1992), the right to education was recognized as a part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21.

Also, hearing a petition on the validity of the Right to Education Act which provided for free and compulsory education till the completion of primary school education for all children in the age group of 6-14 years, the Right to Education was declared under Article 21. As a part of the right to life. In addition, Articles 45 and 39 (f) of the DPSP provide that the state should make provisions for affordable and accessible education for all.

Right to Information

In the case of R.P. Ltd. vs. Indian Express (1988), the right to know was included within the purview of Article 21. The court highlighted the importance of the Right to Information in a participatory democracy. It has been observed that it is important to be informed about various government functioning and other issues affecting our rights as citizens so that we are able to make an informed choice. Article 21 guarantees personal liberty, but it can only be exercised if someone has all the information to influence our choices. Thus, for truly independent decision-making, the right to information is essential. As a result, the Right to Information Act, of 2005 has been enacted to secure this right of the citizens.

Right to Die

In Common Cause v Union of India (1999), it was held that the right to life includes the right to die with dignity. Thus, an adult with the mental capacity to make an informed decision may refuse medical treatment or request the withdrawal of life-support systems. The concept of ‘living will’ was also introduced in it.

Right to Life against Death Penalty

The principle of ‘rarest of rare cases’ was established in Bachan Singh v State of Punjab (1980). It held that the death penalty was not a violation of the right to life under Article 21 when carried out in accordance with a just, fair, and proper procedure established by a lawful law. It was also observed that capital punishment should be given only in the rarest of rare cases so that no innocent is sentenced to death.

Is the Right to Life an Absolute Right?

No, the right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution is not an absolute right. Article 21 itself states that life and personal liberty may be taken away in accordance with the procedure established by law.

However, there was a change in this ideology with the famous judgment of Maneka Gandhi, where it was held that not only should life and liberty be taken away as per the established procedure as per the prevailing law, but it should also be just and fair i.e., must be in accordance with due process of law. It should not be arbitrary or oppressive.


However, additional protection has been provided to the right to life, i.e. in case of a national emergency when all other fundamental rights are suspended, Article 20 along with Article 21 is still functional. This means that the right to life and liberty cannot be taken away even if an emergency is declared in the country. Article 21 Keeping in view the life and safety of a citizen, many rights have been included in the Fundamental Rights, the purpose of which is only that the rights of any person are not violated, apart from this, everyone has equal rights and equal rights. Be respected, no one should be deprived of his rights. No citizen should be deprived of his rights.

This article has been submitted by Nandu Dangi, a student of NRI VIDYADAYINI INSTITUTE OF SCI MGT AND TECH, BHOPAL.

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