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Article 21 of the Constitution (in)

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Article 21: Protection of life and personal liberty

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

Article 21 is couched in negative language (no person shall be deprived...). This right is available as much to foreigners as it is to the citizens.

Right to Life

  • The Supreme Court of India has held that the right to life which is the most fundamental of all cannot be confined to a mere guarantee against the taking away of life. It must have a wider application.
  • The corresponding/similar provisions of the 5th and 14th amendments of the US Constitution state that no person shall be deprived of his "life, liberty or property without the due process of law." In Munn v Illinois Field, J. held:
"By the term 'life' as here used something more is meant than mere animal existence. The inhibition against its deprivation extends to all those limbs and faculties by which life is enjoyed. The provision equally prohibits the mutilation of the body by the amputation of an arm or leg, or the putting out of an eye or the destruction of any other organ of the body through which the soul communicates with the outer world."
  • This statement has been approved by the Supreme Court repeatedly (Kharak Singh case , Sunil Batra case and Olga Tellis case).
  • The Court held in Francis Coralie case "that any act which damages or injures or interferes with the use of any limb or faculty of a person, either permanently or even temporarily, would be within the inhibition of Article 21". Bhagwati, J. held:
"It is the fundamental right of everone in this country ... to live with human dignity free from exploitation. This right to live wiht human dignity enshrined in A. 21 derives its life breath from the Directive Principles of State Policy and particularly clauses (e) and (f) of A. 39, A. 41 and A. 42 and at least, therefore it must include protection of the health and strength of the workers men and women, and of the tender age of children against abuse, opportunities an facilities for children todevelop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity, educational facilites, just and humane conditions of work and meternity relief. These are the minimum requirements which must exist in order to enable a person to live with human dignity and no State ... has the right to take any action which will deprive a person of the enjoyment of these basic essentials."
  • Again, in Bandhua Mukti Morcha case Bhagwati, J. held:
"We think that the right to life includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it, namely, the bare necessities of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter over the head and facilties for reading, writing and expressing oneself in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing and commingle with fellow human beings". Although, he also stated that "the magnitude and content of the components of this right would depend upon the extent of the economic development of the country". It was also emphasised that "it must, in any view of the matter, include the right to the basic necessities of life and also the right to carry on such functions and activities as constitute the bare minimum expression of the human self".

Right to Personal Liberty

  • As per Munn v. Illinois the expression 'liberty' in the 5th and 14th amnedments to the US Constitution has a very wide meaning. It takes in all the freedoms. The expression is not confined to mere freedom from bodily restraint, and 'liberty' under law, but extends to the full range of conduct which the individual is free to pursue.
  • In A. 21, in contrast to the US Constitution, the word 'liberty is qualified by the word 'personal'. In A K Gopalan case the judges seemed to draw the impression that the scope of liberty under the Indian Constitution is narrower than in the US Constitution and that it was confined only to freedom from detention or personal restraint.
  • However, in Kharak Singh case the majority speaking through Ayyangar, J. rejected that 'personal liberty' was confined to " freedom from physical restraint or freedom from confinement withing the bounds of a prison" and held that "'personal liberty' is used in the article to make up the 'personal liberties' of man other than those dealt with in the several clauses of A. 19(1). In other words while A. 19(1) deals with particular species or attributes of that freedom, 'personal liberty' in A. 21 takes in and comprises the residue".
The Court also held in this case that " the right to privacy is not a guaranteed right under our Constitution and therefore the attempt to ascertain the movement of an individual which is merely a manner in which privacy is invaded is not an infringement of a fundamental right guaranteed by Part III".

See also

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