Article 21- Right to Life and Personal Liberty


  • A Person is not confined only to citizens but extends to every person regardless of nationality or the circumstances in which a person is placed.
  • This article applies to both the citizens as well as foreigners.
  • Protection is guaranteed under Art 21 extends even to persons who are undergoing imprisonment in jails.


  • Art 21 comes into picture only when there is deprivation of life or personal liability of a person.
  • It came for consideration the infamous case of Gopalan v. State of Madras. (AIR 1950 SC 27)
  • SC- Art 21 gets attracted only in case of deprivation in the sense of ‘total losses and that the said article had no application in case of restriction upon the right to move freely.

Ramcharan v. UOI(AIR 1989 SC 549)

To constitute ‘deprived’ there must be the direct and tangible act that threatens the feelings of life of a person or member of the community.

Right to Life

The creator of the constitution of India made article 21 and put the line Right to life under the article which means every person has the right to live his or her life without any restrictions. The Supreme Court has recognized and enforced various socio-economic rights such as the right to food, health, education, and means of livelihood, etc. by integrating non-enforceable DPSP into enforceable fundamental rights.

Bandhua Mukti Morcha v Union of India (1984)

The right to live with human respectability freed from abuse gets its life breath from the given guidelines of State technique, for instance, restorative administrations, enlightening workplaces others cognizant conditions of work, and maternity mitigation.


Right to Pollution Free Environment


Vellore Citizen Welfare Forum v Union of India

  • A PIL drawing the attention of the court towards the pollution caused by the enormous discharge of untreated effluent by the tanneries and other industries in the State of TN making the subsoil unfit for agricultural purposes.
  • Right to the unpolluted environment, right to life includes a variety of rights such as protection of wildlife, forests, lakes, ancient monuments, fauna and flora, unpolluted air, protection from noise, air, water contamination, support of biological parity and maintainable improvement”

Right to Health

 Consumer education and Research Centre v. UOI

  • Relief against the ill effect of asbestos exposure on the health of workers in asbestos industries –the right to health is a part of the right to life.-duty to provide medical aid and to protect the health and vigor of a worker while in service or after retirement


Right to die?

Gian Kaur v State of Rajasthan (1996) 2 SCC 648

  • Right to life does not include the right to commit suicide or die


Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v Union of India (2011) 4 SCC 454

Active Euthanasia and assisted death are offenses but non-voluntary euthanasia is permissible subject to certain conditions and safeguards

Personal Liberty- Meaning and Scope

  • In its widest amplitude include rights like Right to travel abroad, Right of a prisoner to Speedy trail (Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary)
  • The SC has interpreted the word “Life” and “Liberty” liberally.
  • Article 21 is now being invoked almost as residuary rights.
  • It has led to many directive principles being enforced as FRs.


A K Gopalan v. State of Madras (1950)

  • The right to personal liberty means freedom from physical restraint.

Procedure Established by Law

  • A reading of Art 21 shows that a person may be deprived of his life or personal liberty only by the procedure established by law.
  • The most celebrated judgment under Art 21 is Maneka Gandhi v. UOI.
  • However, one must look at the journey 1950-1978, where Art 21 was at its weakest phase.


A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras (1950)

  • K. Gopalan, a communist leader, was detained under the Preventive Detention Act, 1950.
  • He challenged the validity of his detention, on the ground that it was violative of his right to freedom of movement under Art 19(1) (d) which is the very essence of personal liberty.
  • It was argued that Art 19(1) (d) and Art 21 should be read together because Art 19(1) dealt with substantive rights and Art 21 with procedural rights.
  • He said that the procedure was not reasonable fair and just. His claim was based upon the American notion of due process. In the U.S. system, no person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty and property without due process of law.


Due Process of Law v. Procedure established by Law

  • The V Amendment to the US Constitution says, inter alia, that “no person shall be deprived of his life, liberty or property, without due process of law”. This provision is the source of judicial review. The word “due means” just, proper, reasonable according to judicial review.
  • The procedure established by law is taken from article 31 of the Japanese Constitution.

A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras (1950)

  • The term ‘due’ signifies just, fair and reasonable and the term ‘process’ signifies the ‘procedure’. There are two kinds of due process i.e. 1) substantive due process and 2) procedural due process.
  • When one questions the law that lays down a certain procedure on the standards of just, fair and reasonable then one is talking about substantive due process.
  • On the other hand when one is making a specific reference to the procedure not considering the law that laid it, one is referring to procedural due process.
  • He invited the Indian SC to follow the American notion of due process which includes the principle of natural justice.
  • But the founding fathers never intended to follow their notion of due process and therefore it was held in the case that 21 protect against the ‘executive action’ and not against the legislature.


  • “Personal Liberty” in art 21 means nothing more than the liberty of the physical body, ie. Freedom from arrest (punishment) and detention without the authority of law
  • “Law” meant “state made laws” and rejected the plea of the Principle of Natural Justice.
  • Rejected the contention that ‘procedure established by law’ did not mean ‘due process of law’ as understood of the American Constitution. (American constitution covers both substantive and procedural law.
  • ‘Personal liberty’ under Art. 21 mean only “freedom from arbitrary arrest”. Since the arrest was made under the procedure established by preventive detention laws, thus, it is not arbitrary arrest and thereby not violative of Art. 21.
  • The court refrained from reading articles 19 and 21 together. According to the court, article 19 could only be invoked by a free person and not one under arrest (article 19 covered a distinct and separate ground).

Khonak Singh v. State of UP(1963)

  • UP Police Regulations provided for Domiciliary Visits. The police had the power to go to the house of the history sheeters, suspects, and could conduct surveillance about movement, picketing, whereabouts.
  • This was challenged as violating A. 21 on ‘personal liberty’.
  • The SC, in this case, expanded the meaning unlike in the case of Gopalan, which was just a casual remark on personal liberty.

Maneka Gandhi v. UOI (1978) – Scope of ‘Personal Liberty’

  • The petitioner’s passport was impounded by the Central Govt under Sec. 10(3) (c) of the Passport Act, 1967.
  • The GoI declined in the interest of the general public to furnish the reasons for its decision.
  • The pet challenged the validity of the said order and claimed it to be violative of Art 21 since it did not follow the procedure established by law.
  • Challenged under Art 14 as conferring an arbitrary power since it didn’t provide hearing of the holder of the passport.
  • Violative of Art 19(1) (a) and (g) since it permitted the imposition of restrictions was not provided in cl (2) or (6) of Art 19.


  • The court overruled the narrow view of ‘personal liberty’ as given in Gopalan.
  • It was held that. A. 14 (reasonable classification), A. 19 (reasonable restrictions) and A. 21 (procedure established by law) were inter-related.
  • The judgment proved to be a landmark in the sense that it introduced procedural due process by reading out A. 21 with the other two articles i.e. it laid the foundation of procedural fairness.
  • If a law deprives an individual of his life and personal liberty then it must satisfy the test of ‘reasonableness’ under A. 14 and A. 19.
  • The procedure must be fair, just and reasonable and not oppressive or arbitrary.
  • Impounding her passport without giving her hearing is not according to ‘procedure established by law’. By giving such a wider interpretation of the expression, the court almost equated the expression to the U.S. notion of ‘due process of law’.

Right to Education- Art 21A

  • Education forms the backbone of the development of a country.
  • Art 21A-The State shall provide compulsory education to the children who are under the age of 6 and 14 years in such matter as the State may, by law, determine.
  • Added by the Constitution 86thAmendment 2002.
  • It casts a duty on a State to provide free and compulsory education to all children between the ages of 6-14 years.


Mohini Jain v. State of Karnataka (AIR 1992 SC 1858)

  • The apex court sweepingly held that right to education for all is included within Article 21.
  • However, the zeal demonstrated by the Supreme Court in Mohini Jainwas all too impracticable, and to make the right to education as an enforceable right for all the people in India would require innumerable resources that are scarcely available with the state.
  • Realizing the impracticability of the proposition laid down in the case, the later constitutional bench in Unni Krishnan restricted the scope of the right only up to fourteen years.


Unni Krishnan v. State of A.P. (1993) 1 SCC 645

  • The Supreme Court observed that the right to life under Article 21 includes the right to primary education.
  • The court placed reliance on Articles 41 and 45 and ruled that it is high time and the state must comply with the directive under Article 45 and provide ‘free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.’


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