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Right To Privacy Through The Eyes Of Article 21

Fundamental Rights which are enshrined in the Part III of the Indian Constitution have come into existence to protect the rights of the citizens and which provide them with a sense of security and freedom, these rights prevent the establishment of authoritarian and dictatorial rule in the country. Each and every person has the right to live their life with liberty and dignity. One of the most important fundamental right is the Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Article 21of The Constitution of India, 1949[1]:

Right to life and Personal Liberty
No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

Art.21 is also known as the heart of the constitution, this right is granted to citizens of India as well as the non-citizens. This fundamental right not only talks about life and liberty but it also covers wide variety of rights. The interpretation of the term Personal Liberty has been discussed in many cases and finally had a wider interpretation in the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India and Anr (1978)[2] here the Delhi Regional officer ordered the petitioner Maneka Gandhi to surrender her passport within 7 days without giving her proper reason for the same.

The Supreme Court held that 'Personal Liberty' covered variety of rights and that such right could only be taken away according to the procedure established by law which had to be just, fair and reasonable and not arbitrary in nature. Personal liberty means various rights that provide for personal liberty of a person.

The court also held that right to live is not merely a physical right but includes within its purview the right to live with human dignity. Mere right to live is not sufficient for any person to live peacefully but every person should the right to dignity which includes having access to the basic essentials of life as well as having sovereignty over one's own choices. Right to dignity means having fair wages, clear air, right to food and other basic necessities.

In Article 21 the term Right to Life includes right to participate in activities, right to tradition, heritage, culture, livelihood and so on. One of the most important right to live also includes Right to Privacy. Each and every human being would want some privacy in their life. No one would want others to intrude in their private space and disturb the happiness and peace.

This right of privacy was not granted to the citizens for a long time and there had been a lot of debate going on about the same, there is no explicit provision in the constitution which emphasises about the right to privacy. Even the data we save in our mobile phones and laptops are also our private data which needs to be protected, if the data is stolen our right to privacy is lost and fundamental right is infringed. Unprotected data causes a disturbance in the right to privacy.

The discussion about the right to privacy first came up in the case of Kharak Singh V. The State of U.P.(1962)[3] Kharak Singh's house was visited by the police at strange hours, frequently waking him up from his sleep, it was held by the court that this infringed his 'right to life' but however court dismissed the petitioner's allegation that the shadowing of chronic criminals infringed on his right to privacy as at that time the right to privacy was not recognised as the Fundamental Right.

However, with the case of R. Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu (1994)[4]" where this case prepared the way for subsequent decisions on the Right to Privacy, paving the way for it to be included in the Fundamental Rights given under Part III of the Constitution.

However, there are reasonable restrictions for this right about which it was held by the Supreme Court in the case of Mr. X v. Hospital Z (1998)[5] here the appellant Mr. X was tested positive for HIV about which the doctors informed someone else without his consent because of which marriage of Mr. X was called off, the appellant approached the court stating that his right to privacy was violated.

The court here held that this fact has to been known to the person whom he marries as this fact would affect her life as well as it being a communicable disease and that there is no violation to the 'Right of Privacy' of Mr. X.

Right to privacy was just a mere right before it was made a fundamental right. In the landmark case K.S. Puttaswamy V. Union of India which was passed in the year 2017, Right to Privacy was recognised as Fundamental Right and was then enshrined in Article 21 as a Right to life and personal liberty.

K.S. Puttaswamy v/s Union Of India [6]:

K.S. Puttaswamy was the appellant in this case and the respondent was the Union of India and Others. Puttaswamy was a retired 91-year-old Madras High court judge. In 2012, he questioned the recent Aadhaar scheme, which indicated that access to government services and benefits should be made mandatory for a kind of standardized biometrics-based identification card.

Three judge bench comprising of justices Chelameswar, Arvindh Bobde, and C. Nagappan, on 11th August 2015 ordered that the case should be referred to another larger bench to determine the validity of decisions taken by other judges in other cases to decide whether Right to Privacy should be made a Fundamental Right and whether it should be included in Article 21 of right to life and personal liberty.

Later the case was passed on to a 5 judge bench, the constitution bench agreed that there is a need for a larger bench and it was referred to a nine judge bench of the supreme court which comprised of: Abhay Manohar Sapre, Chief Justice Khehar, DY Chandrachud, Sanjay Krishan Kaul, R.L. Agarwal, Jasti Chelameshwar, Abdul Nazeer, S.A Bobde, Nariman on 18th July 2017. Various issues were debated and a very critical analysis was carried out to decide whether the Right to Privacy should be included in article 21.

Judges held that because there is enormous technical advancement both state and non-state factors may be at risk of loss of privacy, also it was held that an Individual is very concerned with his / her personal Data, they control their data and what to be posted on social media what to be displayed to the public and what to hide from outsiders, so unauthorized use of such information by anyone else except to whom that information belongs to may lead to violation of individuals privacy.

On 24th August 2017 the nine-judge bench of India passed a unanimous historic Judgement with concurring opinions. Part III of the Indian constitution lays down different articles for the protection of one's Fundamental Rights. The judgement stated privacy to be an integral component of Part III.

The bench recognized that the right to privacy should also be a key element of Fundamental Rights and should be included in Article 21 of right to life and personal liberty. In this judgement the decisions given in the case of Kharak Singh V. The State of U.P. (1962) and MP Sharma V. Satish Chandra (1954)[7] were overruled.

Justice Chandrachud in the opinion, he concentrated on the need to inculcate data protection in the sphere of 'Right to Privacy' as no one would want to risk their privacy at the expense of anything and that a person's data is at stake in the digital economy. He also stated that right to privacy is a key element which need to be included in Part III of the fundamental rights.

Justice Nariman in his opinion held that privacy can be divided into non-interference with individual and informational privacy which takes possession of unauthorised uses of personal information.

Therefore, it can be concluded that the government grants this right to the citizens of the country to enjoy their privacy but one's privacy should not cause any disturbance to the society or any other person and that's the reason there are some reasonable restrictions. The reasonable restrictions are not just pertaining to the 'ight to Privacy but to whole of Art 21 of the Indian Constitution. A person can be deprived of 'Right to Life' or 'Personal Liberty' only by the procedure established by law.

Day by day as we move ahead there are a lot of rights which are becoming a part of Art 21. The right to education which was a Directive Principles of State Policy which has later become a part of Right to Life and Personal Liberty. The Supreme Court has referred to this right as the "heart and soul" of the Indian Constitution, and it definitely is representing the most basic needs of human life.

  1. India Const. art 21, amended by the Constitution (eighty sixth amendment) act, (2002)
  2. Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India and Anr, 1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621
  3. Kharak singh V. The state of U.P, 1963 AIR 1295, 1964 SCR (1) 332
  4. R. Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu, 1995 AIR 264, 1994 SCC (6) 632
  5. Mr. X v. Hospital Z (1998), AIR 1995 SC 495
  6. Justice K.S. Puttaswamy V. Union Of India and Ors, (2017) 10 SCC 1
  7. M.P. Sharma And Others vs Satish Chandra, 1954 AIR 300, 1954 SCR 1077

    Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Sai Sindhura Kongara
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