Article 21 of the Constitution says that:
“No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”

Article 21 confers on every person the Fundamental Right to life and personal liberty. The Supreme Court in many cases held that any act which damages or injures or interferes with the use of any faculty of a person either permanently or temporarily, would be within the inhibition of Article 21. Right to life means to live with human dignity, free from exploitation.

Prior to Maneka Gandhi’s case decision, Article 21 guaranteed the right to life and personal liberty to citizens only against arbitrary action of the executive and not from legislative action. The state could interfere with the liberty of citizens if it could support its action by a valid law. But after the Maneka Gandhi’s decision Article 21 now protects the right of life and personal liberty of citizen not only from executive action but from legislative action also. A person can be deprived of his life and personal liberty if two conditions are compiled with, first, there must be a law and secondly, there must be a procedure prescribed by that law, provided that the procedure is just, fair and reasonable.


The meaning of the words ‘personal liberty’ came up before Supreme Court for the first time in the A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras, case in which, A.K. Gopalan, a communist leader 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 Article 19(1)(d) which is part of personal liberty under Article 21. He argued that the words ‘personal liberty’ include the freedom of movement also.

The Supreme Court held that the word liberty was qualified by the word personal and personal liberty means nothing more than liberty of physical body i.e., freedom from arrest and detention from false imprisonment or wrongful confinement. Fazal Ali, J., gave a wide and comprehensive meaning to the words personal liberty as consisting of freedom of movement and locomotion. Therefore, any law which deprives a person of his personal liberty must satisfy the requirements of Articles 19 and 21 both.

In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, the meaning of personal liberty again came up for the consideration before the Supreme Court. In this case the court gave the widest possible interpretation to the words. Bhagwati, J. observed that the expression personal liberty in Article 21 is of widest amplitude and it covers a variety of rights which go to constitute the personal liberty of man and some of them have risen to the status of distinct Fundamental Rights and given the additional protection under Article 19.

Thus Article 21 requires the following conditions to be fulfilled:

1. There must be a valid law.
2. The law must provide a procedure.
3. The procedure must be just, fair and reasonable.
4. The law must satisfy the requirements of Article 14 and 19 i.e., it must be reasonable.
Procedure Established by Law

The life or personal liberty of a person can be deprived with the procedure established by law. Procedure established by law means in accordance with the law duly enacted by the legislature.

In A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras, the petitioner argued that ‘procedure established by law’ was synonym with ‘due process of law’ of the American Constitution. The supreme court held that procedure established by law did not mean due process of law as understood in America. It was held that it means procedure laid down by the statute and procedure prescribed by law of the state. But in Maneka Gandhi case it was held that procedure established by law means the procedure which confirms to the principle of Natural Justice i.e., procedure has to be right, just, fair and nor arbitrary or oppressive.
Inter-Relations of Articles, 14, 19 and Article 21

In Gopalan’s case the Supreme Court held that Article 19 has no application to laws depriving a person of his life and personal liberty under Article 21. It was held that Articles 19 and 21 deals with different subjects. Article 19 only deals with certain important individual rights and Article 21 enables the state to deprive individual of his life and personal liberty in accordance with procedure established by law. Thus the view taken by the majority in the case was that as long as a law of preventive detention satisfies the requirements of Article 22, it would not be required to meet the challenges of Article 19.

In Maneka Gandhi’s case the supreme court has overruled the view expressed by the majority in Gopalan’s case and held that Article 21 is controlled by Article 19 and 21 takes its content from Article 19 also. The court observed:

The law must therefore now be settled that Article 21 does not exclude Article 19 and that even if there is a law prescribing a procedure of personal liberty, and there is consequently no infringement of the Fundamental Right conferred by Article 21 such a law in so far as it abridges or takes away any Fundamental Right under Article 19 would have to meet the challenges of that Article. Thus a law depriving a person of personal liberty has not only stand the test of Article 21 but it must stand the test of Article 19 and Article 14 of the Constitution.

Author: sushma,
Ideal Institute of Management and Technology, 2nd year (BALLB)


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