The Golden Triangle in the Indian Constitution: Article 14, 19, and 21

By | January 20, 2021
The Golden Triangle in the Indian Constitution

The present article ‘Golden Triangle in the Indian Constitution’ aims to examine why the Article 14, 19, and 21 are known as the Golden triangle of the Indian Constitution, how it was formed and how its interpretation came up by the courts, through several landmark judgments. For the purpose of the study, the article is divided into three major sections.

The first two sections will be dealing with the introductory part and the Historical Background of the Golden Triangle in the constitution. In the third section, each of the three Articles has been adequately explained with relevant case laws where the courts come up with their interpretation to regard all three provisions as a whole. Finally, the article ends with a concrete conclusion.

I. Introduction

While drafting the Indian Constitution, the constituent assembly framers took into close account of the Human Rights aspect, referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 to include the basic structure of guaranteed fundamental rights in the constitution. The purpose was to protect the basic rights of an individual.

The fundamental rights of citizens enshrined under the constitution are safeguarded rights, which unlike any other rights can’t be taken away by the process of an amendment or any other law whatsoever. The only exception is when an individual action if affecting others’ fundamental rights, meaning one cannot use its fundamental right to encroach upon the fundamental rights of another. With the time evolved, the Indian court has moved from a traditional narrow approach of the fundamental rights provisions to a purposive approach of interpretation in the context of protecting all aspects of the rights in view of the purpose of the framers of the constitution.

Part III of the constitution that envisages provisions for fundamental rights and Article 14, 19, and 21 forms an integral part of such provision. The Apex Court of India has said that while interpreting Article 14, 19, and 21 of the constitution, the courts must mix the provisions together and interpret them as a whole for the enforcement of FRs without the presence of arbitration. Articles 14, 19, and 21 together are referred to as the Golden Triangle of the Indian Constitution.

II. Historical Background

Part III of the Indian Constitution envisages the provisions dealing with fundamental rights that are a guaranteed right to the citizens of India and provides civil rights to all the citizens. The fundamental rights are enforceable to every Indian citizen irrespective of their place of birth, caste, race, religion, or gender. Among all the provisions governing Fundamental Rights, Article 14, 19, and 21 together is referred to as the ‘Golden Triangle’ of the Constitution of India. The particular reference is given because of the reason that the three Article together seeks to grant complete protection to an individual from infringement of their basic rights, providing human rights that every human is entitled to.

The Maneka Gandhi case is a landmark judgment in the constitutional development of India. One of the most important aspects touched by the supreme court, in this case, is that Articles 14, 19, and 21 as inter-connected. The Court observed:

“The law is now settled that no Article in Part III is an island but, Part of a continent and the conspectus of the whole part gives the direction and correction needed for interpretation of these provisions. Man is not dissectible into separate limbs and, likewise, cardinal rights in an organic constitution, which make man human, have a synthesis.”[1]

Meaning, fundamental rights hold an integral position under the constitution. The related Articles to it do not represent separate rights under part III but are part of an integrated scheme in the Indian Constitution. Further, the court held that a law that sets a procedure for depriving a person of its personal liberty has to satisfy the requirement of both Article 14 and 19. The “procedure established by law” within the meaning of Article 21 must meet the demands of reasonableness. The procedure must be “right and just and not arbitrary, fanciful, or oppressive.”[2] Otherwise, it would be no procedure at all, and the requirement of Article 21 would not be satisfied.

Further, the Supreme Court in the case of Minerva Mills states that “Three Articles of our Constitution, and only three, stand between the heaven of freedom into which Tagore wanted his country to awake and the abyss of unrestrained power. They are Articles 14, 19, and 21.”[3]

The Golden Triangle in no wonder provided the formidable space for constitutional evolution in India.

Article 14: Equal protection of Law

Article 14 provides for equal protection of all individuals before the law, within the Indian Territory. The provision states as:

“The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.”[4]

Meaning, no individual should be deprived of his equality among other citizens in the country. The Article is of utmost importance since its framework because it abolished several inhuman customary practices in India. The provision envisages certain legal rights of individuals, i.e. equal protection of the law, which essentially means that the law in our country should be the same for every person with some necessary exceptions. Article 14 keeps a check that no arbitrary action is taken by the government, with a simple concept that, equals should be treated equally and the unequal would have to be treated unequally only to ensure equality among all the citizens.

Article 19: Safeguarding Fundamental Freedoms

Article 19(1) provides for the protection of six fundamental freedoms such as freedom of speech, expression, and some other essential freedoms. It states that all citizens shall have the right: “a) to freedom of speech and expression; b) to assemble peaceably and without arms; c) to form associations or unions; d) to move freely throughout the territory of India; e) to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; and; f) omitted; g) to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.”[5]

The fundamental freedoms guaranteed under Article 19(1) are available only to India’s citizens, and the court has explicitly mentioned that non-Indian citizens can’t claim the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19.[6]

Notably, the fundamental rights under this Article are not declared in absolute terms and are subject to ‘reasonable’ restrictions which may be imposed by the state. The restrictions imposed on any of the fundamental freedoms mentioned above will be deemed valid only if they are reasonable, and imposed by the state, under a valid law, and within the grounds as mentioned in Article 19 (2) to 19 (6). However, the state can make a law imposing reasonable restriction on the fundamental freedoms in the general public’s interest.[7] The Supreme Court, in the case of N.K. Bajpai v. UOI[8], held that right of advocates to practise is not only statutory but also a fundamental right under freedom of profession in 19(g).

Article 21: Protection to life and personal liberty

Article 21 protects the life and personal liberty of an individual. It states that No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.”[9]

The provision mainly secures two rights, i.e. the right to life, and right to personal liberty. However, with several landmark judgments, the scope of the right to life has widened, and it encompasses many other fundamental rights such as the right to live with human dignity, right to healthy livelihood, right to health, a pollution-free environment[10], etc.

The scope of Article 21 was initially changed with the Maneka Gandhi case which led to change in the interpretation of this Article in a whole and to hold that no law will be valid if it does not meet the requirement of Article 21. Later, in the case of Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. UOI[11], The Supreme Court has held that the right to life means right to live with dignity, free from any exploitation and discrimination. In another case, the court made it clear that Article 21 should be taken to mean the right to livelihood and the means to proper living.[12]

III. Conclusion

The interpretation of constitutional provisions has seen a new dimension since the Maneka Gandhi case which has led the Indian courts to deliver judgments in accordance with the rule of law and to safeguard basic fundamental rights of the citizens. The aim is that there doesn’t arise any violation to provisions laid down in the Indian constitution. In that context, the ‘Golden Triangle’ in the Indian Constitution is of significant importance to safeguard citizens’ basic human rights. As soon as the Judiciary realized that right to equality, right to freedom and right to life and personal liberty is the essential rights of the citizens, which should not be taken away in any scenario, the trinity of Article 14, 19, and 21 was formed.

It is to note that the scope of Article 14, 19, and 21 was first challenged in the case of Bacchan Singh vs The State of Punjab[13], later on in Aruna Shanbaug case challenging the constitutional validity of passive Euthanasia, and in the landmark Sabrimala Judgment. While deciding these cases, the Apex Court kept in mind the applicability of the Golden Triangle and its importance that no law can be passed which will be violating the Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Indian Constitution.

[1] Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India, 1978 AIR 597.

[2] Abhay Prasad Singh, Krishna Murari, Constitutional Government and Democracy in India, (2019) Pearson Education India, (n.d.).

[3] Minerva Mills Ltd. & Anr. v. Union of India & Anr., AIR 1980 SC 1789.

[4] INDIAN CONST. art. 14.

[5] INDIAN CONST. art. 19 (1).

[6] Gopalan vs State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 27.

[7] INDIAN CONST. art. 19(6).

[8] AIR 2012 SC 1310.

[9] INDIAN CONST. art. 21.

[10] M.C. Mehta v. Kamalnath, AIR 2000 SC 1997.

[11] AIR 1984 SC 802.

[12] Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, AIR 1986 SC 180.

[13] 1982 SCC (3) 24.

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