Law Insider India

Legal News, Current Trends and Legal Insight | Supreme Court of India and High Courts

The actual meaning of Personal Liberty under Article 21

9 min read
PERSONAL LIBERTY - law insider

By Nishita Makkar

Published on : September 08, 2021 at 20:00 IST

Introduction

Fundamental Rights forms the very basis of the Democracy. A democratic form of government mainly comprises of such rights that are brought up for the purpose of welfare of the state and society and their upliftment. These rights are guaranteed under Part-III of the Constitution.

In the Indian Constitution, there are six fundamental rights covered under Articles 12-35. Out of these, the Right to Equality comes under Article 14-18, the right to freedom can be found under 19-22, rights against exploitation to be covered under Articles 23-24, the right to of religion are generally found under Articles 25-28 and the cultural and educational rights to be covered under Article 29-30.

Also, right to constitutional remedies has been vested under Article 32-226. In cases of violation of Fundamental Rights, The Supreme Court of India can be directly petitioned under Article 32 of the Constitution.

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution provides for the right to Life and Personal Liberty. This Article secures a special place in the whole history of constitution which needs to be concluded here.

Article 21- What does the Constitution say?

Article 21 of the constitution states:

“No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by Law”

Maneka Gandhi’s case was a big decision and game-changer for this Article as prior to the decision. Article 21 guaranteed the right to life and personal liberty to citizens only against the arbitrary actions of executive, and not from the legislative action. The State has the right to interfere with the liberty of citizens if it could support its action by a valid law.

But the situation changed after the Maneka Gandhi Vs Union of India[1] case, the Article 21 does protect the citizens from the actions of legislative action also. Moreover, a person could be deprived of Life and personal Liberty only in two conditions:

  • There must be a law.
  • There must be procedure prescribed by Law, provided that procedure is just, fair and reasonable.

The Fifth Amendment of the constitution also provided that ‘no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty, except according to procedure established by law’. Also, the Fourteenth Amendment imposes a similar limitation on the State Authorities.

It must be noted that Right guaranteed in article 21 is available to ‘citizens’ and ‘non-citizens’.

What is the meaning of Personal Liberty?

The meaning of words “personal Liberty” came up for consideration of the Supreme Court for the first time in A.K.Gopalan Vs Union of India[2].

In this case, a communist leader A.K. Gopalan, was detained under the Preventive Detention Act, 1950. The petitioner challenged the validity of his detention under the Act on the ground, that it was violative of his right to freedom of movement under Article19(1)(d) which is the very essence of personal liberty guaranteed by the Article 21 of the constitution.

The Supreme Court by the majority held that the ‘personal liberty’ in Article 21 means nothing more than liberty of the physical body, that is, freedom from arrest and detention without the authority of law. The Act was liable to be challenged as violating the provisions of the Article. This case restricted the meaning of Personal Liberty.

But in case, Maneka Gandhi Vs Union of India, the Supreme Court not only has overruled the Gopalan’s case but has widened the scope of the words ‘Personal Liberty’. It was observed by Justice Bhagwati that,

“The expression ‘personal liberty’ in Article 21 is of the widest amplitude and it covers a variety of rights which go to constitute the personal liberty of man and some of them have raised to the status of distinct fundamental rights and given additional protection under Article 19.”

Also, “The attempt of the Court should be to expand the reach and ambit of the Fundamental Rights rather than to attenuate their meaning and content by a process of judicial construction”.

The Court lays down great stress on the procedural safeguards. The procedure must satisfy the requirement of natural justice, i.e., it must be just, fair and reasonable.

What is scope of Right to Personal Liberty?

The scope of Right to Personal Liberty is quite wide, which cannot be covered within a limit as per provided under Article 21[3]. Personal Liberty means some freedoms and dignity to be provided to all the citizens of the country so that they can live with peace without interference of state in their life matters. Then, it was that the Article applies on both citizens as well as non-citizens.

Here, some concepts that can be covered generally under Article 21 can be discussed under following sub-headings:

  • Right to live with dignity

This right provides to live a person with respect and dignity in the society. No other individual or state is able to infringe this right. The right was properly explained under Francis Coraile Vs Union Territory of Delhi[4].

  • Right to decent environment including pollution-free water and air and protection

To live in a clean environment also comes under the basic right of the individual. It is important for a person to keep his/her health and living conditions good stated by court in Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum VsUnion of India[5].

  • Against hazardous industries

The industries which provides hazardous environment, can be sued against this right given under Article 21 of the constitution. Proper working conditions that are non-dangerous should be provided to the individuals.

  • Right to livelihood

As per Mohini Jain Vs State of Karnataka[6] ,to make a livelihood for oneself without any obstruction from the state or any other individual is a person’s legal right until and unless the work is illegal or prohibited under Law.

  • Right to privacy

To protect one’s personal data and to not to make it public is also an individual’s right. The right was considered fundamental in 2020 by the Supreme Court.

  • Right to shelter

This right talk about to have a proper shelter or house for an individual, unless is prohibited by law. Recently it was submitted by the court in Rajesh Yadav Vs State of UP[7].

  • Right to health

To get oneself medically fit and to get proper treatment comes under one’s basic right, because only healthy individuals are able to make the nation progress. This was established by Supreme Court in Parmanand Katara Vs Union of India[8].

  • Right to free legal aid

Every citizen of the country has a right to know about the law and to get legal aid and advice free id his/her legal right is infringed.

  • Right against inhuman treatment

If any person feels that he is behaved inhumanly by some other person or state. He has legal right to fight against such disregard under Article 21. It doesn’t matter if the person is citizen or non-citizen.

  • Right to travel abroad

This is also a genuine and basic human right to travel abroad like marriage and family given under Satish Chandra Verma Vs Union of India[9] in 2019.

  • Right against bonded labour

Bonded labour or slavery is the worst form of labour which was banned by the government years ago being inhuman as well as dangerous.

  • Right against custodial harassment

A person has to be behaved properly even in the custody whether police or judicial. No harm should be done to him at that time. It was discussed in one such case called Bandhua Mukti Morcha Vs Union of India[10].

  • Right to information

Right to information is a legal right of every individual. For the reason The Right to Information Act, 2005 was established to make people know everything about public departments and government schemes specially.

  • Right against public hanging

The Article writes that No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by Law. Under this right, public hanging was stated to be unconstitutional and inhuman.

Many more rights can be included within the scope of Article 21 and of personal liberty.  There are no true dimensions made which can limit the scope of this Article i.e. Right to life and Personal Liberty.

Above all of this it can be said that Personal Liberty provides all such rights which gives liberty to an individual to behave as one pleases except for those restraints imposed by laws and codes of conduct of the society in which one lives to safeguard the physical, moral, political, and economic welfare of others.

What is the relation between Right to Privacy and Personal Liberty?

In January 2020, a nine-judge bench headed by Chief Justice J.S.Khehar, in their judgment announced that the right to privacy is a fundamental right and is an integral part of the right to life and liberty. The ruling was given in the case of Aadhaar Scheme on the grounds of it violating to privacy[11].

Right to Privacy refers to a legal framework that provides individuals a legal right to protect their or their data’s privacy. Even not expressly stated this right under Constitution, the validity of the right to privacy can be admitted under the scope of Article 21. As in Terminology, Right to Privacy has the closest meaning with individual’s personal liberty.

The concept has been a grey area for a long period of time which was arisen in the Aadhaar link case in 2020. In the challenges to Aadhaar, as the petitioners argued that Aadhaar would breach privacy, it became essential for the Supreme Court to decide whether Right to privacy is a fundamental right or not.

The grievance as per the case was that collection of biometric data was an invasion of individual’s privacy. The government argued on this point that privacy was not a fundamental right and it became necessary for the Supreme Court to decide whether privacy was a fundamental right or not. Hence, a separate bench was formed for the following case.

After this ruling, the judgments of the previous cases, all were held to be overruled. And the following judgment will form the basis of every judgment in the future cases. The Attorney General arguing with government stated that the action taken by the government was a deliberate omission.

It was also argued that without privacy and a private life, no person could be meaningfully free. A world without privacy is a world with unchecked surveillance, and constant surveillance is antithetical to human dignity.

Hence, Right to Privacy inserted under scope Article 21 was also given a status of fundamental right being a matter of Personal Liberty of an individual.

Conclusion

So far as concerned with the Personal Liberty, it has very wide meaning as well as scope which is not found in definite sense anywhere. In Indian Constitution, Personal Liberty has been inserted in Part-III and Article 21. It is to be known well no proper definition of this concept has been provided in the Indian Constitution but as general meaning it is quite elaborative concept.

As per true meaning, we can’t say that full freedom is being provided to the individuals to practice this right, whereas when anywhere it is seen that human life is infringed on the basis of social, political, religious, physical basis, the right is there to provide the remedy. It does not even let any-one to collect and use other person’s information when it is not in national interests.

Even this power is not vested in the government to make use of any type of personal data of human beings without valid reasons. The concept of Right to privacy under Personal liberty has been proved by the Supreme Court in Aadhaar case as a fundamental right which has to be protected under Article 21. It also is a matter of dignity of a person.

Moreover, Article 21 concerning an important right is not been dissolved even at the times of emergencies imposed in the country covered under Article 352 to 360 in Part XVIII of the Indian Constitution.

Reference


[1]Maneka Gandhi VsUnion of India, AIR 1978 SC 597

[2]A.K. Gopalan VsUnion of India, AIR 1950 SC 27

[3]Article 21 of Constitution of India: Protection of Life and Personal Liberty” (Last visited on :September 1st, 2021)

[4]Francis Coralie Vs Union Territory of Delhi, AIR 1981 SC 746

[5]Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum Vs Union of India, 1996(5) SCC 647

[6]Mohini Jain Vs State of Karnataka, AIR 1992 SC 1858

[7]Rajesh Yadav Vs State of U.P.,2019 SCC OnLine All 2555

[8]Parmanand Katara Vs Union of India, AIR 1989 S.C.

[9]Satish Chandra Verma Vs Union of India,  CIVIL APPEAL NO. 3802 of 2019

[10]Bandhua Mukti Morcha Vs Union of India, 1997 10 SCC 549

[11]Privacy a fundamental right, says SC: All you need to know about the issue” (Last visited on September 1st, 2021)

NALSAR COURSE AD LAW INSIDER