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Case Analysis On Maneka Gandhi v/s Union Of India, 1978: The Golden Triangle

"A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." -- James Madison.

This case analysis attempts to analyse the judgement of the Supreme Court in the historical decision of Maneka Gandhi v Union of India reported in AIR 1978 SC 597 which expanded the scope of Article 21 of the Constitution and changed the face of Indian polity and law.

'Personal Liberty' means freedom from physical restraint and coercion which is not authorised by law. This article is about Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India[1] , which is famously known as Maneka Gandhi's case or Personal liberty case. This case is not only a landmark case for the interpretation of Article 21 of Constitution of India but it also gave an entirely new point of look to the Chapter III of the Constitution of India.

Prior to this case decision, Article 21 guaranteed the Right to Life and Personal Liberty only against the arbitrary action of the executive and not from the legislative action. This case just turned up pages and extended the protection against legislative actions.

This case is regarded as one of the best judgements delivered by the apex court as it was instrumental in restoring people's faith in the judiciary and constitutional values. It was in this case that the "Golden triangle" rule was firmly established by the SC and the court firmly cemented its seat as the watchdog of democracy.

This decision which was delivered by a 7-judge bench of the Hon'ble Supreme Court on 25th January 1978, this decision, marked the development of a new era with respect to the interpretation of fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution. This decision altered the very face of the Indian Constitution and marked a new era of development in the concept of personal liberty. The decision stands as a beacon-light adding new dimensions to the interpretation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution.

Facts Of The Case
  1. The petitioner Maneka Gandhi's passport was issued on 1st June 1976 as per the Passport Act of 1967. On 2nd July 1977, the Regional Passport Office (New Delhi) ordered her to surrender her passport. The petitioner was also not given any reason for this arbitrary and unilateral decision of the External Affairs Ministry, citing public interest.
  2. The petitioner approached the Supreme Court by invoking its writ jurisdiction and contending that the State's act of impounding her passport was a direct assault on her Right of Personal Liberty as guaranteed by Article 21. It is pertinent to mention that the Supreme Court in Satwant Singh Sawhney v. Ramarathnam[2] held that right to travel abroad is well within the ambit of Article 21, although the extent to which the Passport Act diluted this particular right was unclear.
  3. The authorities, however, answered that the reasons are not to be specified in the "interest of the general public". In response, the petitioner filed a writ petition under Art 32 for violation of fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution alleging that Section 10(3)(c) of the Act was ultra vires the constitution.

Issues Before The Court
  1. Whether the Fundamental Rights are absolute or conditional and what is the extent of the territory of such Fundamental Rights provided to the citizens by the Constitution of India?
  2. Whether 'Right to Travel Abroad' is protected under the umbrella of Article 21.
  3. What is the Connection between the rights guaranteed under Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India?
  4. Determining the scope of " Procedure established by Law"
  5. Whether the provision laid down in Section 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act 1967 is violative of Fundamental Rights and if it is whether such legislation is a concrete Law?
  6. Whether the Impugned order of Regional Passport Officer is in contravention of principles of natural justice?

Arguments Of The Petitioners:
Through the administrative order that seized the passport on 4th July 1977, the State has infringed upon the Petitioner's fundamental rights of freedom of speech & expression, right to life & personal liberty, right to travel abroad and the right to freedom of movement.

The provisions given in Articles 14, 19 & 21 should be read together and aren't mutually exclusive. Only a cumulative reading and subsequent interpretation will lead to the observance of principles of natural justice and the true spirit of constitutionalism.

India might not have adopted the American concept of the "due process of law", nevertheless, the procedure established by law should be fair and just, reasonable, and not be arbitrary.
Section 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act violates Article 21 insofar as it violates the right to life & personal liberty guaranteed by this Article.

Audi Altrem Partem i.e. the opportunity of being heard is invariably acknowledged as a vital component of the principles of natural justice. Even if these principles of natural justice are not expressly mentioned in any of the provisions of the Constitution, the idea behind the spirit of Fundamental Rights embodies the very crux of these principles.

Contentions Of The Respondents:
The respondent stated before the court that the passport was confiscated since the petitioner had to appear before a government committee for a hearing.
The respondent asserted that the word 'law' under Article 21 can't be understood as reflected in the fundamental rules of natural justice, emphasising the principle laid down in the A K Gopalan case[3].

Article 21 contains the phrase "procedure established by law" & such procedure does not have to pass the test of reasonability and need not necessarily be in consonance with the Articles 14 & 19.

The framers of our Constitution had long debates on the American "due process of law" versus the British "procedure established by law". The marked absence of the due process of law from the provisions of the Indian Constitution clearly indicates the constitution-makers' intentions.

Judgement Of The Court
  1. The court said that section 10(3)(c) of passport act, 1967 is void because it violates Article 14 of Indian constitution because it confers vague and undefined power to the passport authority. it is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution since it doesn't provide for an opportunity for the aggrieved party to be heard. It was also held violative of Article 21 since it does not affirm to the word "procedure" as mentioned in the clause, and the present procedure performed was the worst possible one. The Court, however, refrained from passing any formal answer on the matter, and ruled that the passport would remain with the authorities till they deem fit.
  2. This immensely important judgement was delivered on 25th January 1978 and it altered the landscape of the Indian Constitution. This judgement widened Article 21's scope immensely and it realized the goal of making India a welfare state, as assured in the Preamble. The unanimous judgement was given by a 7-judge bench. Before the enactment of the Passport Act 1967, there was no law regulating the passport whenever any person wanted to leave his native place and settle abroad. Also, the executives were entirely discretionary while issuing the passports in an unguided and unchallenged manner.
  3. In Satwant Singh Sawhney v. D Ramarathnam the SC stated that:
    Personal liberty in its ambit, also includes the right of locomotion and travel abroad. Hence, no person can be deprived of such rights, except through procedures established by law. Since the State had not made any law regarding the regulation or prohibiting the rights of a person in such a case, the confiscation of the petitioner's passport is in violation of Article 21 and its grounds being unchallenged and arbitrary, it is also violative of Article 14.
  4. Further, clause (c) of section 10(3) of the Passports Act, 1967 provides that when the state finds it necessary to seize the passport or do any such action in the interests of sovereignty and integrity of the nation, its security, its friendly relations with foreign countries, or for the interests of the general public, the authority is required to record in writing the reason of such act and on-demand furnish a copy of that record to the holder of the passport.
  5. The Central Government never did disclose any reasons for impounding the petitioner's passport rather she was told that the act was done in the interests of the general public whereas it was found out that her presence was felt required by the respondents for the proceedings before a commission of inquiry. The reason was given explicit that it was not really necessarily done in the public interests and no ordinary person would understand the reasons for not disclosing this information or the grounds of her passport confiscation.
  6. The fundamental rights conferred in Part III of the Constitution are not distinctive nor mutually exclusive." Any law depriving a person of his personal liberty has to stand a test of one or more of the fundamental rights conferred under Article 19. When referring to Article 14, ex-hypothesi must be tested. The concept of reasonableness must be projected in the procedure. The phrase used in Article 21 is "procedure established by law" instead of due process of law which is said to have procedures that are free from arbitrariness and irrationality. There is a clear infringement of the basic ingredient of principles of natural justice i.e., audi alteram partem and hence, it cannot be condemned as unfair and unjust even when a statute is silent on it.
  7. It is true that fundamental rights are sought in case of violation of any rights of an individual and when the State had violated it. But that does not mean, Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression is exercisable only in India and not outside. Merely because the state's action is restricted to its territory, it does not mean that Fundamental Rights are also restricted in a similar manner. It is possible that certain rights related to human values are protected by fundamental rights even if it is not explicitly written in our Constitution. For example, Freedom of the press is covered under Article 19(1)(a) even though it is not specifically mentioned there.
The right to go abroad is not a part of the Right to Free Speech and Expression as both have different natures and characters.

A.K Gopalan was overruled stating that there is a unique relationship between the provisions of Article 14, 19 & 21 and every law must pass the tests of the said provisions. Earlier in Gopalan, the majority held that these provisions in itself are mutually exclusive. Therefore, to correct its earlier mistake the court held that these provisions are not mutually exclusive and are dependent on each other.

Critical Analysis And Personal Opinion:
The landmark ruling in Maneka Gandhi versus Union of India, which stands as a bulwark of the Right of Personal Liberty granted by Article 21 of the Constitution, started when the passport of the petitioner in this case, was impounded by the authorities under the provisions of the Passport Act.

After this case the Supreme Court became the watchdog to protect the essence of the Constitution and safeguard the intention of the constitutional assembly who made it. The majority of judges opined that any legislation or section should be just, fair and reasonable and in it's absence even the established or prevailed law can be considered arbitrary.

The judges mandated that any law which deprives a person of his personal liberty should stand the test of Article 21,14 as well as 19 of the Constitution. Also principles of natural justice are sheltered under article 21 and therefore no person is deprived of his voice to be heard inside the court. Further to declare any state action or legislation invalid, the "golden triangle".

This arbitrary act of impounding the passport eventually led to the pronouncement of a unanimous decision by a seven-judge bench of the apex court comprising M.H. Beg (CJI), Y.V. Chandrachud, V.R. Krishna Iyer, P.N. Bhagwati, N.L. Untwalia, S. Murtaza Fazal Ali and P.S Kailasam [4].

That, the landmark judgment of Maneka Gandhi V. Union of India is so perfectly given by the Hon'ble Seven Judge Bench of Supreme court. That, the very concept of fair procedure which was been in the case is what justice is. Lastly, it is the spirit not the form of law that keeps the justice alive.

The case is considered a landmark case in that it gave a new and highly varied interpretation to the meaning of 'life and personal liberty' under Article 21 of the Constitution. Also, it expanded the horizons of freedom of speech and expression to the effect that the right is no longer restricted by the territorial boundaries of the country.

In fact, it extends to almost the entire world. Thus the case saw a high degree of judicial activism, and ushered in a new era of expanding horizons of fundamental rights in general, and Article 21 in particular. This case is called as Golden Triangle Case where article 14, 19 and 21 were challenged together and it was appreciated by the apex court.

This decision restored the people's faith in the judicial system and a guarantee that their fundamental rights will be protected. The court departed from its earlier position in the AK Gopalan case which held that right to life and personal liberty can be restricted by the procedure established by law even if it is not fair and reasonable. In this case, this regressive view was discarded by the court and held that that procedure established by law meant procedure that eventually was reasonable fair and just.

This decision rendered void the plain and simple meaning of procedure established by law and introduced for the first time the concept of due process of law into the Indian constitution. The court also accepted that Right to Travel Abroad as a very important component of Right to Liberty, if this right is not granted, liberty is distorted. By this judgement, the court increased the scope of Article 21 of the Constitution and made it the duty to interpret Article 21 in a manner which serves the people's interest at most.

I, Himanshu M. Mendhe, hereby declare that this work is the result of my own intellect and the necessary references are provided in the article. This article is only for an academic purpose.

End Notes:
  1. Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, 1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621
  2. 1967 AIR 1836, 1967 SCR (2) 525
  3. 1950 AIR 27, 1950 SCR 88
  4. The Bench.

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