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Right To Life And Personal Liberty: An Overview

According to article 21 of the constitution of India, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty, except according to procedure established by law”. Although unlike USA constitution ‘Due process of law’[2]has not been mentioned in our constitution even though, after the decision of Maneka Gandhi vs UOI we follow the principle of natural justice. This article is very important article because it is a magna karta for human rights. This article cannot be suspended even during emergency.[3]

According to Bhagwati, J., Article 21 “embodies a constitutional value of supreme importance in a democratic society.” Iyer, J., has characterized Article 21 as “the procedural magna carta protective of life and liberty.
This right has been held to be the heart of the Constitution, the most organic and progressive provision in our living constitution, the foundation of our laws.

Right to life is fundamental to our very existence without which we cannot live as human being and includes all those aspects of life, which go to make a man’s life meaningful, complete, and worth living. It is the only article in the Constitution that has received the widest possible interpretation. Under the canopy of Article 21 so many rights have found shelter, growth and nourishment. Thus, the bare necessities, minimum and basic requirements that is essential and unavoidable for a person is the core concept of right to life.

1. Meaning Of Right To Life:
Right to life is not easy to be defined. But with the help of some important cases, I am trying to define it-

Munn Vs. Illinois.[4]Justice Field“By the term life as here used something more is meant 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...”

Maneka Gandhi vs. UOI[5]-Right to life is not confined to physical existence but it includes right to life with human dignity.

Francis Coraliee Vs. Delhi,[6]-Justice Bhagwati,“ We think that right to life includes right live with human dignity and all that goes along with it , namely , the bare necessaries of life such as adequate nutrition , clothing and shelter over the head and facilities for reading , writing and expressing oneself in diverse forms , freely moving about and mixing and com-mingling with fellow human being.

Olga Tellis vs Bombay Municiple Corporation,[7]The Supreme Court said that life is not restricted to the mere animal existence of a person. It means something more..

Shantisar Builders vs. Narayanan Khimalal Totame,[8]Life for the animal is the bare protection of the body, for a human being , it has to be suitable accommodation which allows him to grow in all aspects- physical , mental and intellectual.

2. Meaning Of Personal Liberty:
Dicey[9]saysPersonal libertymeans a personal right not to be subjected to imprisonment, arrest or other physical coercion in any manner that does not admit of legal justification.
A.K. Gopalan vs. State of Madras[10]Personal Liberty’ in Article 21 means nothing more than the liberty of physical body that is freedom from arrest and detention without authority of law.

Kharak Singh Vs. State of Uttar Pradesh[11]Personal liberty is used as compendious term to include itself all verities of rights which go to make up personal liberties.

Maneka Gandhi vs. UOI[12]Personal liberty makes for the worth of the human being and travels makes liberty worthwhile. Right to go abroad cannot be curtailed except according to procedure established by law.

3. Law
A.K. Gopalan vs. State of Madras[13]CJI H.J.Kania“Law in Article 21 must mean the law of the State or enacted law, and not rules of natural justice.” Patanjali Sastri J. “Law inArt. 21 means positive or State-made law.” Minority Opinion- Fazl Ali J. “Law must include certain principles of natural justice.”

Pandit M. S. M. Sharma vs. Shri Sri Krishna Sinha And Others
[14]Article 194(3)confers on the Legislative Assembly those powers, privileges and immunities andArt. 208 confers power on it to frame rules. Such ‘Rules’ are also law under Article 21.
Prem Chand Garg vs.Excise Commissioner, U. P[15]Rule making powers of S.C u/Article 145 is law and such powers are subject to FRs. (It was not related to Article 21. It was related to Arts 19, 32,142 and 145.)

Ratilal Mithani vs. Assistant Collector of Customs, Bombay
[16]Inherent power of High Court-Article 225.The procedure for invoking the inherent powers is regulated by rules framed by the High Court. The power to make such rules is conferred on the High Court by the Constitution. Such rulesare law for the purpose of Article 21.

Govind vs. State of Madhya Pradesh[17]. Regulations made under Police Act fall under Article 21.

Maneka Gandhi vs UOI[18]Law is reasonable law, and not any enacted piece. It must be just, fair and reasonable i.e. which embodies the principle of natural justice. Approach of Natural School was accepted.

A.K.Roy vs. UOI[19]Ordinance is also law for the purpose of Article 21.The Constitution makes no distinction between a law made by the legislature and an Ordinance issued by the President. Both are equally products of the exercise of legislative power and therefore both are equally subjects to limitations which are the constitution has placed upon their power.


(1) Right To Travel

Satwant Singh Sawhney Vs. D.R.Ramanathnam[20]Right to travel is part of personal liberty and it can be deprived only by procedure established by law.

Maneka Gandhi vs. UOI[21]Personal liberty makes for the worth of the human being and travels makes liberty worthwhile. Right to go abroad cannot be curtailed except according to procedure established by law.

(2) Right To Privacy

Kharak Singh vs. State of U.P[22]Right to privacy is not a fundamental rights under Articles 19(1) (d) (e) & 21. Minority opinion- J.Subba Rao, “Right to to personal liberty takes in not only a right to be free from restrictions placed on his movements but also free from encroachments on his private life. It is true our constitution does not expressly declare a right to privacy as a fundamental right, but the said right is an essential ingredient of personal liberty ... ”

Govind vs. State of M.P[23]Supreme Court accepted a limited Fundamental Rights to Privacy under Articles 19(1) (a) (d) & 21.

State of Maharashtra vs. Madhukar Narayan[24]Right to privacy is available to a women of easy virtues also. She is also a person.

R. Rajagopal vs. State of Tamil Nadu[25]Auto Shankar wrote his autobiography while confined in jail. The autobiography was handed over by him to his wife, for its publication. The Court has asserted that in recent times the right to privacy has acquired constitutional status; implicit in Article 21. It is a right to be let alone.

Mr. X vs. Hospital Z[26]Right to privacy vs. Right to life. Right to privacy is not an absolute right & restrictions can be imposed on it for the prevention of crime, disorder or protection of health or morals or protection of rights and freedoms of others.

PUCL vs. UOI[27]S.C said that phone tapping is an invasion on right to privacy. Phone tapping should not be done unless it is necessary for security of State or interest of public.

Surjit Singh vs. Kanwaljit Kaur[28]Virginity test is an invasion on right to privacy.( P&H high Court).

Justice K. S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr. vs Union Of India And Ors [29]landmark case by the Supreme Court of India which holds that the right to privacy is protected under Article 21 and Part 3 of the Constitution. It also mentioned that it won't be an Absolute right and will have some reasonable restrictions in matters of national security and mutual interest of the citizens and the state. The Declaration by the supreme Court will open debate about the scrapping ofSection 377 of the Indian Penal Code, that criminalizes same-sex relations.

India is the only country with Right to Privacy as a Fundamental right under its Constitution.

(4) Right To Livelihood

Olga Tellis vs. BMC[30]Right to life includes right to livelihood.
Sodan Singh Vs New Delhi Municipal Committee[31]Right to life does not include right to carry on trade or business

(5) Right To Shelter

Chameli Singh vs State of UP[32]Right to Shelter is Fundamental Rights Under Article 21.

(6) Damages

Khatri Vs. State of Bihar[33]The Court Ordered the State to meet the expenses of housing these men in a blind home in Delhi.

Rudal Singh vs. State of Bihar[34]Petitioner was 14 years in Jail illegally. He was awarded RS.35000 as compensation. It was the first case when compensation was given for violation of Article 21.

Sebastian M .Hongray vs. UOI[35]The Government must pay Rs. one lac to each of the aforesaid women.

Bhim Singh vs. State of J&k[36]Petitioner was awarded Rs 3000 as compensation.

PUCL vs. Commissioner, Delhi Police[37]A labourer demanded money for doing work in Police Station. He was beaten consequently he died. It was held State was liable to pay 75000Rs to the family of deceased.

Saheli vs. Commissioner of Police, Delhi
[38]A boy, aged of 9 years, died because of beating of police.75000 compensation to victim of mother.

Nilabati Behra vs.State of Orissa[39]Police custodial death and dead body was found on railway track. 1, 50,000/-Rs compensation to the petitioner.

Delhi Domestic Working Women's Forum Vs. UOI[40]Four domestic women servants were raped by seven army personnel in a running train Muri Express from Ranchi to Delhi. Compensation was granted and guidelines were directed for speedy trial of such rape victim.

Bodhisathwa Gautam vs. Subhra Chakraborty[41]Interim compensation for rape victim until her case is finally decided.

Chairman, Railway Board Vs. Chandrima Das[42]Rape of foreigner in a room at Yatri Niwas of Howrah Railway station. The Court said that relief can be given to a foreigner for violation of Article 21 under public law. (Compensation under Torts is private law).

(7) Handcuffing

Prem Shankar vs. Delhi Administration[43]J Krishna Ayer“Handcuffing is prima facie inhuman and therefore, unreasonable is over harsh and first flush arbitrary. Absent of fair procedure and objective monitoring, to inflict iron is to resortzoological strategiesrepugnantto Article 21.”Handcuffing should be resort when there is clear and present degree of escape breaking out police control. Mandate was given to Judicial office to ensure that arrested person was not handcuffed without reason.

Khatri vs. State of Bihar[44]To be consistent with Articles 14 &19, handcuffs must be last refuge, not the routine regimen. Binding of the accused by the police while in the police custody violates Art.21.
Sunil Gupta vs. State of Maharashtra[45]Reputed & Social Person. There was no reason recorded by escort party (police) in writing for this inhuman treatment.. The Court directed to State to take action against erring authority.

Citizen for Democracy Vs. State of Assam[46]Handcuff of seven detenues in hospital. Handcuffs or other fetters shall not be forced on a prisoner convicted or under -trial while lodged in jail anywhere in the country or while transporting or in transit from one jail to another or from jail to court and back.

(8) Ecology/ Environment

M.C. Mehta & Another vs. UOI & Ors,[47]M.C. Mehta v. Union of India originated in the aftermath of oleum gas leak from Shriram Food and Fertilisers Ltd. complex at Delhi. This gas leak occurred soon after the infamous Bhopal gas leak and created a lot of panic in Delhi.Jurisprudence--Law--Should keep pace with changing Socio-economic norms---Where a law of the past does not fit in to the present context, Court should evolve new law. Justice Bhagwati denied the principle of strict liability and evolved new principle i.e. Principle ofAbsolute Liability.

M.C.Mehta vs. UOI[48]Justice Kuldip Singh,(14 December 1988– 21 December 1996).Supreme Court issued several guidelines to control pollution from industries in Mathura to protect Taj Mahal.

M.C.Mehta vs. UOI[49]Forty three respondents admitted that Tanneries discharged their trade effluents into the sewage nallah which led to the municipal sewage plant before they were thrown into the river Ganga. Supreme Court passed an order for closing of Tanneries and said that in spite of several statutes government did not take action .It passed directions to prevent pollution from tanneries.

Subhash Kumar vs. State of Bihar[50] Article 21-Right to live includes right to enjoyment of pollution free water and air. If anything endangers or impairs that quality of life in derogation of laws, a citizen has a right to invokeArticle 32 for removing pollution of water or air which may be detrimental to the quality of life.

Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action vs. UOI [51] The petitioner, the Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action brought this action to prohibit and remedy the pollution caused by several chemical industrial plants in Bichhri village, Udaipur District, Rajasthan. The principle of ’Polluter Pays’ was applied in this case inasmuch as "the incident involved deliberate release of untreated acidic process wastewater and negligent handling of waste sludge knowing fully well the implication of such acts." "The cost of damage to be disbursed to the affected villagers is estimated at Rs.342.8 lakhs and remediation of impacted well waters and soil at Rs.3738.5 lakhs. This cost needs to be borne by the management of the industry in keeping with the Polluter Pays principle and the doctrine of Absolute liability, as applied to Sri Ram Food and Fertilizers Industry in the case of Oleum leak in 1985."

Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum vs. UOI [52] Pollution which was being caused by enormous discharge of untreated effluent by the tanneries and other industries in the State of Tamil Nadu . It was stated that the tanneries are discharging untreated effluent into agricultural fields to, road-Sides, water ways and open lands. The untreated effluent was finally discharged in river Palar which was the main source of water supply to the residents of the area.

"The Precautionary Principle" and "The Polluter Pays" principle are essential features of "Sustainable Development". The"Onus of proof"is on the actor or the developer/industrial to show that his action is environmentally benign.

M.C. Mehta vs. Kamal Nath[53]Mr. Kamal Nath was Minister of environment and Forests. Kamal Nath's dream of having a house on the bank of the Beas in the shadow the bank of the Beas in the of the snow-capped Zanskar ranges ( Kullu-Manali, Himachal Pradesh). The Court said “We see no reason why the public trust doctrine should not be expanded to include all eco-systems operating in our natural resources. The public trust doctrine is a part of the law of the land. Our legal system - based on English Common Law - includes the public trust doctrine as part of its jurisprudence. The State is the trustee of all natural resources which are by nature meant for public use and enjoyment. Public at large is the beneficiary of the sea- shore, running waters, airs, forests and ecologically fragile lands. The State as a trustee is under a legal duty to protect the natural resources. These resources meant for public use cannot be converted into private ownership.”

Intellectual Forum Tirupathi vs. State of A.P.[54]IN the name of urban development , environment cannot be destroyed.
Research Foundation for Science vs.UOI [55]Disposal of hazardous and toxic substances.

(9) Right To Die

(10) Euthanasia

P.Rathinam vs. UOI [56] Right to life includes right to die.

Gian Kaur Vs. State of Punjab [57] Right to life does not include right to die.

Aruna R.Shanbaugh vs.UOI[58] J.Markandey Katju-Passive euthanasia was allowed and for this guidelines were laid down.

(11) Right To Education

(12) Right To Food

Miss. Mohini Jain vs.State of Karnataka[59]J. Kuldip Singh,Capitation Fee Case,-Right to education is a fundamental right U/A.21 which cannot be denied by imposing higher fee which is known as ‘Capitation Fee’.

Unni Krishnan vs. State of A.P[60].Supreme Court examined the correctness of Mohini Jain case and partly accepted ruling of Mohani Case. The Court accepted that right ot education is a F R U/A 21 which flows from right to life but said that right to free education is available only to children until they complete the age of 14 years.

(12) Right to Food

PUCL vs. UOI[61]S.C. held that people who(aged, infirm, disabled, destitute women, children & men, pregnant and lactating women) are starving because of their inability to purchase food grains have right to get good U/A. 21 and therefore they ought to be provided the same free of cost by the State out of the surplus stock esp. when grains is unused and rotting.

(13) Ban On Smoking In Public Place

Murli S. Deora vs.UOI[62]Non-smoker should not be deprived of his life without due process of law. Non-smokers are affected by various disease. It is indirectly affect to right to life. There is no reason to compel noon-smokers to be helpless victims of air pollution. S.C. banned on smoking on public place.

Nilabati Behra vs. State of Orissa[63]Compensation Rs 1,50,000.

Jogindar kumar vs. State of U.P
[64]..Practicing Advocate ...Supreme Court propounded guidelines for arrest and interrogation.

D.K. Basu vs. State of W.B.
[65]Supreme Court propounded detailed guidelines for arrest and detention.

(14) Right To Free Legal Aid

M.H. Hoscot vs. Maharashtra[66]Right to free Legal Aid is Fundamental Rights under Article.21

(15) Right To Speedy Trial

Hussainara Khatoon vs State of Bihar [67]Right to Speedy Trial is Fundamental Rights under Art.21

Triple Talaq Case:
Shayara Bano vs Union of India and others[68]A multi-faith bench heard the controversial triple talaq case in 2017.Though two judges upheld validity of triple talaq (talaq-e-biddat), the three other judges held that it was unconstitutional, thus barring the practice by 3–2 majority.One judge argued that triple talaq violated Islamic law.The bench asked the central government to promulgate legislation within six months to govern marriage and divorce in the Muslim community.The court said that until the government formulates a law regarding triple talaq, there would be an injunction against husbands pronouncing triple talaq on their wives.

Thanks to the drafters of the Constitution for framing it in such a way that it neither makes any mandatory provisions regarding various rights for the citizens nor makes any citizen free from certain fundamental duties that must be followed by every citizen of the country. It has also looked deeply into the socio-economic scenario of India so that no rights or duties will be omitted.

Apart from certain fundamental rights, the Constitution also provides certain other rights and duties towards the citizen which are enclosed in Part IV of the Constitution known as ‘Directive Principles of State policy.’ Such provisions are framed under the notion that rights of each and every individual change accordingly and such rights cannot be considered as fundamental but have to be enforced.

One of the merits of our Constitution is that it neither restricts a person from enforcing his fundamental rights, nor it provides full freedom to a person in such a manner that he exploits or violates such rights himself or against the society. Perhaps this feature of our Constitution makes it different from any of the other major Constitutions of the world.

Book Source
1. M.P.Jain,Indian Constitutional Law (Kamal Law House, Calcutta, 5th edn., 1998).
2. J.N Pandey Constitutional Law Of India (Central Law Agency Allahabad, 38th edn., 2002).
3. V.N. Shukla's Constitution of India(Eastern Book Company, Lucknow,11th edn., 2008)
4. H.M Seervai,Constitutional Law of India(Universal Law Publication 4th edn., 2001).
5. Subhash C KashyapIndian Constitution(Vitasta Publishing Pvt.Ltd.New Delhi 2nd edn., 2011).

Net Source

[1]Venkateswaran @ Sinivasane.S, B.A LLB,has completed from Dr.Ambedkar Goverenment Law college Pondicherry. Currently pursuing LL.M International law and Human Rights.
[2]It was Inserted by fourteenth amendment
[3]Article 359 (After forty-fourth, constitutional amendment)
[5]AIR 1978 SC597
[6]AIR 1981 SC849
[7]AIR1986 SC 150
[8]AIR1990 SC 630
[9]Available at October 4, 2017
[10]AIR1950 SC 27
[11]AIR1963 SC 1295
[13]AIR1950 SC 27
[15]AIR1963 SC 996
[19]AIR1982 SC 710
[24]AIR1991 SC 207
[25]AIR1995 SC 264
[26]AIR1999 SC 495
[27]AIR1963 SC 1295
[28]AIR2003 P&H 353
[29]Available at visited on 12/10/2017
[30]AIR1986 SC 180
[32]AIR1996 SC 1051
[34]AIR1983 SC 1086
[36]AIR1986 SC 494
[39]AIR1993 SC 1960
[40]AIR1995 SC 14
[42]AIR1999 SC 2979
[45]AIR1991 SC130
[46]AIR1996 SC 2193
[48]AIR1996 SC 2715
[50]AIR1991 SC 598
[52]AIR1999 SC 812
[53]AIR1997 SC 388
[54]AIR2006 SC 1350
[55]AIR2012 SC 764
[58]AIR2011 SC 454
[59]AIR1992 SC 1858
[61]AIR1997 SC 568
[62]AIR2002SC 40
[65]AIR1997 SC 610
[67]AIR1979 SC 1819
[68]Available at on 12/10/2017

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