This case comment on “ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkanth Shukla” is one of the landmark decisions of the Supreme Court of India pertaining to Habeas Corpus.

This case comment on “ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkanth Shukla”, is one of the landmark decisions of the Supreme Court of India pertaining to the Habeas Corpus Case. This case made way for the broader interpretation of Article 21. The decision, in this case, reflected multi-dimensional aspects of an issue. This case is generally considered a black spot in the Indian Judiciary as the verdict is widely criticized.

Title of the case: ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla

Citation: 1976 (2) SCC 521; AIR 1976 SC 1207

Court: Supreme Court of India

Bench: A.N. Ray, Hans Raj Khanna, Mirza Hameedullah Beg, Y.V. Chandrachud, P.N. Bhagwati


The present case dates back to the era of emergency proclaimed by the then Prime Minister, Ms. Indira Gandhi. The main issue involved in the case was whether the fundamental right of a person to approach the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India in case of infringement of one’s fundamental rights, especially the right to equality as provided under Article 14 and the right to life and personal liberty as provided under Article 21, remain suspended during the proclamation of emergency.[1]

On April 28, 1976, the judgement was delivered by a constitutional bench of five judges, including the then Chief Justice A N Ray, in a ratio of 4:1, whereby four judges gave the judgement in favour of the suspension of such rights, and Justice Khanna gave his dissenting opinion.

It was held by the majority of the judges of the aforementioned constitutional bench that the right to approach the High Court under Article 226 for seeking the remedy by way of the Writ of Habeas Corpus or any other writ challenging the legality of detention during the proclamation of emergency remains suspended.[2]

This case is often referred to as the ‘Habeas Corpus case’. Literally, Habeas Corpus means ‘to have the body. The writ of Habeas Corpus aims at securing a person’s personal liberty.

Historical Background of the Case

While digging into the whole bunch of events, the main roots of the whole scenario can be traced back to the judgement passed by the Allahabad High Court, on June 12, 1975, in the case of the State of Uttar Pradesh v. Raj Narain[3].

In the present case, the petitioner challenged the victory of Ms Indira Gandhi from her Lok Sabha Constituency, Raebareli, on the grounds of corruption. As a result, Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha held her guilty of malpractices and invalidated her election. The outcome was that she couldn’t contest any election or hold her office for the next several years. Consequently, she moved to the apex court. In the name of relief, she was only given a conditional stay. She was losing her political power, and inversely the opposition was getting stronger.

In order to clutch her political power and hold the chair of Prime Minister, she suggested that then President Fakruddin Ali Ahmed declare a national emergency under Article 352(1) of the constitution of India. Accepting her suggestion, he proclaimed an emergency on the ground of ‘internal disturbance’. To justify this action, the government announced the after-effects of the Indo-Pak war and the 1972 drought as the reason for proclaiming an emergency because these two events led to gross damage to the economy of the nation.[4]

As a result of the emergency proclamation, on June 27, 1975, the then President exercised his power under Article 359 of the Constitution of India to suspend the right to move to any court to enforce any fundamental right during the proclamation of emergency.

After this suspension of fundamental rights under Article 359, no person had any right to move to any court for the enforcement of any fundamental right, be it the Right to Equality as enshrined under Article 14 or the Right to Life and Personal Liberty under Article 21 or even the Right to Protection against Arrest and Detention as provided under Article 22.[5]

In the aftermath, whoever was considered a threat to the political authorities could be booked and arrested under the preventive detention laws, even without any trial or proceeding. Many famous opposition leaders were arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act, i.e. MISA.

This event of arrest provoked these politicians to move to different High Courts in order to challenge their arrest, and many of those High Courts delivered their judgements in their favour. This led Mrs Gandhi to approach the Apex Court, which resultantly precipitated the case of ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla.

This case is often coined the Habeas Corpus case because it dealt with the issue of the writ of Habeas Corpus. This case, to date, is taken up as a clog on the ideals of equity, justice and good conscience because it led to the denial of the right to life and personal liberty as could be procured by way of the writ of Habeas Corpus due to the suspension of such right during the proclamation of emergency.

Issues involved in the case

The main issues around which this case revolved can be enlisted as follows:

  • During the proclamation of National Emergency, can a person challenge his unlawful detention through a Writ of Habeas Corpus?
  • How reasonable is the suspension of the Right to Life and Personal Liberty, as provided under Article 21, within the ambit of the Rule of Law?
  • What is the Locus Standi of a detained person during the Proclamation of Emergency?[6]

Arguments of the Petitioner

The prime contention taken up by the State was that the ultimate objective of the provision of emergency as enshrined under the constitution of India is to ensure certain discretionary powers to the Executive for the effective implementation of law and order in the country.

Further, it was argued that during the Proclamation of Emergency, rights provided under Articles 19 and 22 of the constitution of India remained suspended after a presidential order under Article 359 had been issued. So, the detenue cannot challenge his/her detention based on rights provided under these Articles.

Furthermore, another contention was that as the suspension of these rights has been done well within the provisions of the Constitution of India, the Presidential Order issued under Article 359 can’t be questioned in a court of law.[7]

Arguments of the Respondent

The respondent argued that Article 359 aims at curtailing the state's legislative powers during the Proclamation of Emergency. This Article curtails the power of a person to approach the Apex court for enforcement of any fundamental right under Article 32 of the Constitution of India, but it doesn’t limit the same power as enshrined under Article 226 to move to the High Court for the enforcement of such rights.[8]

Further, it was argued that although such Presidential Order issued under Article 359 may affect the fundamental rights as provided under our Constitution, the ambit of such order cannot be stretched out so as to encompass the scope of Natural Law, Common Law or any other Statutory Law.

It was further urged that any preventive detention law is aimed at causing detention for violating any statutory guideline or law and any detention made beyond the scope of such law should be held ultra vires.

The Judgement

On the basis of these arguments, a constitutional bench comprising of five judges gave a judgement in the ratio of 4:1, where only Justice Khanna gave a dissenting opinion, and others held that the right to move to any Court for enforcement of any fundamental right remains suspended during the operation of emergency.

It was held that after the presidential order has been issued, no person has any locus standi to move to the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India for the issuance of any writ, even the writ of Habeas Corpus, or for the issuance of any direction for challenging the legality of detention based on the contention that it was illegal or based on any extraneous consideration.

Sub-Section 9 of Section 16A of the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) was held to be constitutionally valid, thereby making all the previous detentions legal and constitutionally valid. The Supreme Court accepted the appeal, set aside all the previous judgements of the High Court, and directed them to dispose of further petitions per the rationale provided in this appeal.[9]

However, Justice H R Khanna gave a dissenting opinion opposing the view the majority of the bench took. This dissenting opinion is still taken up as the best dissent taken up so far. It holds really good in the eyes of the law because it transpired a budding future development of the law by way of ornamenting a new dimension of the rights of a citizen.

Dissenting opinion of Justice Khanna

Going against the majority of the bench, Justice Khanna gave his dissenting opinion, which later on cost him even the position of chief justice of India. But he opted to present the dissenting opinion and provide the correct view of the laws and rights in the country. He even mentioned in his judgement to leave his dissenting opinion for the intelligence of a future day, whereby a later decision could probably correct the view taken up by the honourable court. In the words of Justice Khanna

“without such sanctity of life and liberty, the distinction between a lawless society and one governed by laws would cease to have any meaning.”

The Aftermath

After the black phase of emergency was over, in 1977, the Supreme Court, in the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[10], gave a fundamental character to Article 21 and established a live link between Articles 14, 19 and 21. Although this view was reversed in the case of AK Gopalan v. State of Madras[11], it was further explained that Articles 19 and 21 are not exclusive and thus cannot be separated.

After the case of ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla, the Supreme Court, in the case of Union of India v. Bhanudas Krishna Gawde[12], held that any limitation cannot circumscribe a Presidential Order under Article 359, and its applicability isn’t dependent on the fulfilment of any prerequisite.

As portrayed in the ADM Jabalpur Case, the majority view has now been nullified by the 44th Amendment Act and the consequent judicial interpretations and following judgements. It holds no weight in the current scenario. Now Articles 20 and 21 cannot be suspended in any condition.

Articles 352 and 359 have not been invoked after 1975. 44th Constitutional Amendment Act has amended the term ‘internal disturbance’ to ‘armed rebellion’ and also provided that an internal disturbance not amounting to armed rebellion shall not constitute a ground for a Proclamation of Emergency. 44th Constitutional Amendment Act provided for several other provisions relating to the Proclamation of Emergency so that no future government can misuse this provision of the Constitution of India.


This Proclamation of Emergency and misuse of power by the State, thereby infringing the Right to Life and Personal Liberty of many people is considered a clot in the democratic history of our nation and the most erroneous judgement delivered to date. Later on, the Supreme Court widened the ambit of Article 21 through various judicial interpretations and also introduced the concept of Public Interest Litigation to win the confidence and good faith of the public.

This judgement is considered to be an error on the part of the Apex Court and a wrong interpretation of the law done by it. This historical judgment was overruled in a leading case of the right to privacy[13]. Justice D.Y Chandrachud overruled his father’s decision and judgement of the ADM Jabalpur case.

Dr Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, while overruling ADM Jabalpur, said,

“When histories of nations are written and critiqued, there are judicial decisions at the forefront of liberty. Yet others have to be consigned to the archives, reflective of what was, but should never have been”

He stated that the right to life and liberty is essentially human and natural. This is a pre-constitutional right that existed even before the establishment of the constitution, so it cannot be suspended or waived under any provision.

In the present scenario, Dicey’s concept of the Rule of Law is proven more effective and efficient than in 1976.[14] Furthermore, some other provisions of various checks and balances should also be made to ensure that the constitutional provisions are not misused with the objective of feeding the political requirements of any person, and any attempt to overshadow the justice and equity rights of any citizens must necessarily be curtailed at the earliest possible opportunity. Lastly, we can conclude that there is no life without liberty.


[1] Chiranjeeb Prateek Mohanty, ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla Case Summary, Available Here

[2] Ibid.

[3] Hemant Varshney, State of Uttar Pradesh v. Raj Narain Case Summary, Available Here

[4] The darkest phase in Indira’s tenure as PM, Available Here

[5] Supreme Court Landmark Judgment, Available Here

[6] Additional District Magistrate v. S.S Shukla, 1976 AIR 1207

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Maneka Gandhi v. Union Of India, 1978 AIR 597

[11] A.K. Gopalan v. State Of Madras. Union of India, 1950 AIR 27

[12] Union of India v. Bhanudas Krishna Gawde, 1977 AIR 1027

[13] Justice K.S.Puttaswamy (Retd) v. Union Of India

[14] Chhavi Agarwal, Rule of law – A reflection upon we the people and beyond, Available Here

Updated On 18 Nov 2023 4:33 AM GMT
Adv. Yogesh Pal

Adv. Yogesh Pal

Advocate, LLM, Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi, UGC NET (Law) qualified Former Legal Executive, Haryana RERA, Gurgaon, Former Legal Assistant, RERA, NCT of Delhi, under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.

Next Story