Right to life and Personal Liberty – Article 21


The Right to life and Personal liberty is defined Under Article-21 of Indian Constitution

According to this Article “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law”

Article-21 is one article which has been so transformed by the Supreme Court that it now encompasses all the conceivable human rights within its ambit. On a plain reading it is a directive to the state to refrain from infringing the right to life or personal liberty of a person. The courts have taken a very liberal view and transformed the negative injunction to a positive mandate to do all the things which will make life worth living. It is now well-settled that article-21 has both negative and affirmative dimension.

After the Maneka Gandhi’s decision, Art.21 now protects the right of life and personal liberty not only from the executive action but from the legislative action also. The right guaranteed in Art.21 is available to citizen as well as non-citizens.

Meaning and Concepts of Right to life and Personal liberty

Right to Life

Everyone in the world has the right to life. This is the universal truth in the world and the right to life is undoubtedly the most fundamental of all rights. All other rights add quality to the life in question and depend on the pre-existence of life itself for their operation. As human rights can only attach to living beings, one might expect the right to life itself to be in some sense primary, since none of the other rights would not have any value or utility without it. There would have been no Fundamental Rights worth mentioning if Article 21 had been interpreted in its original sense.

Personal Liberty

The meaning of the term personal liberty was considered by the Supreme Court in the Kharak Singh case, which arose out of the challenge to Constitutional validity of the U.P. Police Regulations that provided for surveillance by way of domiciliary visits and secret picketing. Oddly enough both the majority and minority on the bench relied on the meaning given to the term personal liberty by an American judgement (per Field, j.,) in Munn v Illinois, which held the term life meant something more than mere existence.

The prohibition against its deprivation extended to all the those limits and faculties by which the life was enjoyed. The majority held that the U.P. Police Regulations authorizing domiciliary  visits at night by police officers as a form of surveillance, constituted a deprivation of liberty and thus unconstitutional. The court observed that the right to personal liberty in the Indian Constitution is the right of an individual to be free from restrictions or encroachment on his person, whether they are directly imposed or indirectly brought about by calculated measures.

Difference between Procedural established by law and Due Process of law

The “Procedural established by law” is Indian Constitutional doctrine and the “Due process of law” is an American Concept but now the boundaries are very narrow.

“Procedural established by law” means a law duly enacted is valid even if it’s contrary to principle of justice and equity. Strictly following procedure established by law may raise the risk of compromise to life and personal liberty of individuals due to unjust laws made by the law making authorities. It is to avoid the situation, SC stretched the importance of due process of law.

Example, there is a law, which has a prescribed procedure then it can’t be questioned on the ground that law is unreasonable, unfair, unjust. “Due process of law” doctrine not only checks if there is law to deprive the life and personal liberty of a person but also see if the law made is fair, just and not arbitrary. Due process of law in Indian is strictly followed after Maneka Gandhi Case(1978). This doctrine provides for more fair treatment of individual rights

Due Process of Law = Procedure Established by Law + The procedure should be fair and just and not arbitrary.

 Inherent Rights under Article-21

  • Right to speedy trial (M.H. Hoskot v State of Maharashtra, AIR 1978 SC 1548)
  • Right to travel abroad (Maneka Gandhi’s case)
  • Right to dignity
  • Right to Privacy (Govind v State of M.P.)
  • Right to clean Environment (M.C. Mehta v Union of Indian)
  • Right to livelihood (Olega Tellis case)
  • Right to Education (Mohini Jain and Unni krishnan case)
  • Right to Marriage (Late Singh v State of U.P)
  • Right against bondage (Bandhua Mukti Morcha case)
  • Right to legal aid (Sheela Barse v Union of India)
  • Right to food

Case Laws

Mohini Jain v State of Karnataka

Right to Education

In this case Government issued a notification that permitted the private medical colleges in the State of Karnataka to charge exorbitant tuition fees from the students admitted other than the ‘Government seat quota’. The Supreme Court of India observed that mention of ‘life’ and personal liberty’ in Article 21 of the Constitution automatically implies some other rights, those are necessary for the full development of the personality, though they are not enumerated in Part III of the Constitution. Education is one such factor responsible for overall development of an individual and therefore, right to education is integrated in Article 21 of the Constitution.

A.K. Gopalan v The State of Madras

Personal Liberty

In this case A.K. Gopalan(political leader) who was detained in the Madras Jail under Preventive Detention Act, 1950 challenged his detention by stating that there was a violation of his Fundamental Right which were Article 19,21 and 22. He argued that the right to movement was a fundamental right under article 19 and hence the defence counsel must prove that the law of preventive detention was a reasonable restriction as per the five clauses of article 19(2).The Supreme Court held that he was detained according to the procedure established by law and rejected his argument. The supreme court at that point of time believed that each article  was separate in the Indian Constitution.


Indian Judiciary provided excellent elucidation to right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the constitution. The Supreme Court not only explained the instinctive human qualities of the Article 21 but also established certain procedure to implement them. This makes the Rule of law magnificent and meaningful. Each interpretation or the the procedural laid down with regard to Article 21 is particularly aimed to achieve justice mentioned in the Preamble through all round development of the citizens.

Each explanation provided attempts to fulfil the basic needs of the human being while safeguarding ones dignity. The Indian concept did not confine the right of life and personal only to ones physical entity. It means to strive for all round development of a person so that justice shall triumph.

Author: Rohit,
Law center-II, faculty of law, Delhi University, 2nd Year, Student

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