Article 21 of the Constitution of India states that “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”.
The Government of India Act, of 1935 provided for the establishment of Article 21 in the Indian Constitution 1950, which speaks about the Right to Freedom of Protection of Life and Personal Liberty available to both citizens and non-citizens i.e., foreigners (except enemy align).
Article 21 is enshrined in Part III of the Constitution as the Fundamental Rights with other Articles i.e., Articles 12 to 35. The framers of the Constitution regarding these Fundamental Rights derived inspiration from the Constitution of the USA (i.e., the Bill of Rights). Part III of the Constitution, which is rightly described as the Magna Carta of India, contains a very long and comprehensive list of ‘justiciable’ Fundamental Rights. By ‘justiciable’ Fundamental Rights, it means in case of any violation or restriction of any Fundamental Rights, the Constitution of India gives every individual a right to move directly to the Supreme Court of India for the enforcement of their Rights.
The objective of Article 21 is to prevent encroachment upon personal liberty by the executive in accordance with the law, and conformity with the provisions. The procedure established by law must be followed strictly and must not deprive a person’s right to life and personal liberty to the disadvantage of the person affected. It is the bounden duty of the court to satisfy that “all the safeguards provided by the law have been scrupulously observed”.
The words ‘except according to the procedure established by law’ suggest that Article 21 is not applicable where a person is detained by a private individual and not by or under any state authority, in such a case Article 32 also cannot be invoked. However, it would extend to preventive detention by the Government. In the case of Balchand vs. Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 297, the main purpose of detention is to ensure easy proceedings by availing the accused when required for the trial without any inconvenience. Therefore, it was held that the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (CrPC) with regard to the arrest of an individual must be interpreted as until it is considered necessary the detention of an individual must be avoided.
After the 44th Amendment Act, it was held that all other Fundamental Rights can be suspended during the operation of National Emergency except the Rights guaranteed by Articles 20 & 21. In Makhan Singh vs State of Punjab, AIR 1964 SC 381, the Supreme Court held that notwithstanding the suspension of Article 21, it was open to a person detained or imprisoned to challenge the order on any ground that is ultra-vires or malafide or on extraneous considerations.
In the famous case of A.K Gopalan vs. The State of Madras, 1950: The Supreme Court has taken a narrow interpretation of Article 21 where only the executive action was available against the protection of Article 21 and not the legislative action. According to this judgment, a person can be deprived of his rights based on the law by the State.
In Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India, 1978: The Supreme Court overruled its judgment of the Gopalan Case by taking a wider interpretation of Article 21 in this case. It ruled that the law could deprive the right to life and personal liberty of a person on the condition that the procedure prescribed by that law is reasonable, fair, and just. Only mere animal existence does not imply the right to life. It held that all those aspects of life that make a man’s life meaningful, complete, and worth living will be included in this.
The Right to life means something more than mere ‘animal existence’ and includes the right to live consistently with human dignity and decency, even in a rescue home or prison.
The principles of natural justice would follow and demand that the person concerned must have a reasonable opportunity to be heard or present his case before the penal law affects him. Therefore, the procedure applied by the court would be reasonable and not arbitrary.
The Supreme Court in its judgment in the Menaka case has acknowledged various rights that include the rights already given in Article 19 of the Constitution as well as other rights, which make up a man’s personal liberties. The following rights have been declared as part of Article 21:
1. Right to live with human dignity.
2. Right to a decent environment including pollution-free water and air and protection against hazardous industries.
3. Right to livelihood.
4. Right to privacy.
5. Right to shelter.
6. Right to health.
7. Right of children to free and compulsory education up to 14 years of age.
8. Right to free legal aid.
9. Right against solitary confinement.
10. Right to a speedy trial.
11. Right against handcuffing.
12. Right against inhuman treatment.
13. Right against delayed execution.
14. Right to travel abroad.
15. Right against bonded labour.
16. Right against custodial harassment.
17. Right to emergency medical aid.
18. Right to timely medical treatment in government hospitals.
19. Right of an individual to not be driven out of a state.
20. Right to a fair trial.
21. Right of a prisoner to have necessities of life.
22. Right to treat a woman with dignity and decency.
23. Right against public hanging.
24. Right to hearing.
25. Right to information.
26. Right to reputation.
27. Right of appeal from a judgment of conviction.
28. Right to social security and protection of the family.
29. Right to social and economic justice and empowerment.
30. Right against bar fetters.
31. Right to appropriate life insurance policy.
32. Right to sleep.
33. Right to freedom from noise pollution.
34. Right to electricity.
The Right to live does not include the right to die or any right to commit suicide. Similarly, under section 630 of the Companies Act, 1956 prosecution of other family members and legal heirs of erstwhile or former employees living within the premises of the company, deemed guilty of wrongful withholding of the company’s property, is no violation of Article 21 as in the case of Lalita Jalan vs Bombay Gas Co. Ltd., AIR 2003 SC 3157.
The right to life is the fundamental right of every citizen of India. Nobody can violate these fundamental rights. In cases where any public official or government violates anyone’s fundamental rights then that person can file a petition in the Supreme Court. During the early period of our Indian Constitution, the Judiciary had a limited role in the Constitution. However, in today’s time, the Judiciary has an important role in our Indian Constitution.
The Indian Judiciary implements the laws in the Indian Constitution. The Constitution of India gives every person an equal right whether they are a citizen of India or a non-citizen of India. No person is discriminated against based on caste, creed, and religion. Protection of these rights is the fundamental duty of the Government of India.
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