The article 'Important Judgments on Article 21 of Indian Constitution' by Snehil Sharma intends to explore the judgments related to Article 21 and in what manner the Court has played a crucial role in expanding the horizons of the same.

The article 'Important Judgments on Article 21 of Indian Constitution' by Snehil Sharma intends to explore the judgments related to Article 21 and in what manner the Court has played a crucial role in expanding the horizons of the same.Every person has the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21. Both the phrases "life" and "personal liberty" have been given fairly broad definitions that encompass a wide range of rights. Its deprivation is only feasible through using a...

The article 'Important Judgments on Article 21 of Indian Constitution' by Snehil Sharma intends to explore the judgments related to Article 21 and in what manner the Court has played a crucial role in expanding the horizons of the same.

Every person has the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21. Both the phrases "life" and "personal liberty" have been given fairly broad definitions that encompass a wide range of rights. Its deprivation is only feasible through using a legal procedure that has been established within the Indian legal framework. According to the Supreme Court of India, it includes those liberties and privileges that have long been acknowledged as necessary for the lawful pursuit of enjoyment by free men.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court has given the term "life," which has a wide breadth, a broad interpretation in various instances and the fundamental right to life and personal liberty, which are enumerated under the following subheadings and have grown into an inexhaustible source of many more rights through the following judgments:

1) A.K Gopalan v. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 27, (Arbitrary Laws and Personal Liberty)

This case is considered the starting point for the interpretation of Article 21. The Supreme Court's restrictive reading of Article 21, in this case, had some grave consequences. According to the Court, Article 21 only applies to arbitrary executive action and not to arbitrary legislative actions. Article 21 uses the phrase "procedure established by law," which is distinct from the phrase "due process of law" used in the United States. Therefore, the validity of legislation establishing a procedure cannot be contested because it is irrational or unfair.

2) Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 597(Arbitrary Laws and Personal Liberty)

By applying a wider interpretation of Article 21 in this case, the SC overturned its previous decision in the AK Gopalan Case. It was decided that a person's right to life and personal liberty can be taken away by law as long as the process set forth by that law is reasonable, fair, and just. It also made it clear that the right to life does not just refer to animal existence. It was held that this would include all elements of life that contribute to a man's life being meaningful, complete, and worthy of living.

3) Francis Coralie v. Union Territory of Delhi, 1981 AIR 746, (Right to live with Human Dignity)

This case is a landmark decision to determine the distinction between preventive detention and punitive detention under the purview of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and to determine whether it is constitutional to restrict the petitioner's right to an interview with their lawyer and contact with their family. The Hon'ble Court further stated that the interview need not be conducted in the presence of a designated Customs, Central Excise, or Enforcement officer; however, if the presence of such an officer can be conveniently secured at the time of the interview without requiring any interview postponement, then such an officer; and if his presence cannot be so secured, then any other Jail official may, if thought necessary, watch the interview but not so as to be within hearing distance of the interviewee.

4) Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, (1978) 4 SCC 409, (Right of Arrested Person)

This case has had a big impact on our legal system and helped to protect inmates' basic rights. The petitioner was a death row inmate, which was unique at the time, among other peculiar aspects of the case. Numerous issues were brought up, including disputes over certain fundamental rights and the 1874 Prison Act. Additionally, it exposed the horrific treatment of inmates, many of whom were subjected to sexual abuse and torture. It made a significant contribution to drawing attention to the unpleasant treatment of prisoners by prison guards. The Supreme Court ruled that fatal handcuffs used on those who had been convicted were unconstitutional because they implied cruel treatment of the prisoner. The court reaffirmed Article 21's provision about "protection to the convicted and the accused individual."

5) Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, 1986 AIR 180, (Pavement Dwellers are different from trespassers)

In this case, the Bombay Municipal Corporation and the state of Maharashtra agreed in 1981 to evict squatters and pavement dwellers from Bombay. The Court held that section 21 prescribing the Right to Life is extensive and comprehensive. It doesn't just indicate that life can only be extinguished or removed in accordance with the procedure established by law. The right to life encompasses more than just this. Since no one can survive without means of sustenance, the right to livelihood is a crucial component of this right.

6) Suchita Srivastava v. Chandigarh Administration, 9 SCC 1 (2009), (Right to Make Reproductive Choices)

The Petitioner in the present case had requested the Court to allow a mentally retarded rape victim to continue her pregnancy as she was willing to do the same. The Supreme Court made it clear that women's liberty to choose their reproductive methods is a component of "personal liberty" as defined by Article 21.

7) R. Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu, 1994 SCC (6) 632, (Right to Safeguard Privacy of Family Members)

The suit was filed to prevent an autobiography publication of a prisoner named Shankar, who had received the death penalty. The state forbade the book from being released because it believed it contained several instances or assertions that could damage the state's reputation. The right to privacy was addressed in this case, and the Hon’ble Supreme Court determined that it is a basic right implied by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. As a result, everyone has the right to try to protect their and their family's privacy. They also have the right to be left alone.

8) Budhadev Karmaskar v. State of West Bengal, Criminal Appeal No. 135 of 2010, (Right to Life of Sex Workers)

This case cleared the way for the protection of sex workers' rights with this landmark judgment. This case highlighted the precarious situation of sex workers as well as the stigma they face in society. This decision supports the sex workers' constitutionally guaranteed right to a dignified existence as outlined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court was also moved by this case to develop recommendations to address the problem of sex workers in order to prevent future incidents of this kind. Additionally, it sensitized the general community that sex workers aren't just commodities and shouldn't be denigrated solely for their line of work.

9) Mohini Jain v. State of Karnataka, 1992 SC AIR 1858, (Right to Education)

In this case, a resident of the state of Uttar Pradesh objected to a notification made by the government of Karnataka that allowed private medical colleges to charge more money to students who weren't given "government seats." The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India held it, private educational institutions' collection of a "capitation fee" violates both the right to equal protection under the law and the implicit right to an education that derives from the right to life and human dignity. The Court construed a right to education as a fundamental prerequisite for the fulfilment of the right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution in the absence of an express constitutional right.

10) Rudul Shah v. State of Bihar, (1983) 4 SCC 141, (Right to Compensation)

A new precedent with regard to compensation was laid down through the case of Rudul Shah v. State of Bihar, where the Petitioner was imprisoned for 14 years even after being found not guilty. Only when a writ of habeas corpus was issued in his favour was he allowed to leave. The Supreme Court ruled that the petitioner is entitled to an award of INR 35,000 as compensation against the State of Bihar under Article 21 because he was confined in jail for a protracted 14 years after being found not guilty.

11) D.K. Basu v. State of West Bengal (Right against Illegal Detention)

The Supreme Court established the rules to be followed by the Central and State investigating authorities in all instances of arrest and detention in the case of D.K. Basu v. State of West Bengal. The Petitioner wrote a letter to the Chief Justice a letter in which he drew his attention to some news stories about deaths in police cells and detention that had been published in the Telegraph and the Indian Express. The Court recognized this letter as a Writ Petition. The Court not only issued the guidelines but also went so far as to direct that any failure on the part of the officials to follow them would result in departmental sanctions as well as contempt of Court.

12) Satwant Singh v. APO Delhi, S.L.P. (CRL.) 3408 of 2007, (Right to Go Abroad)

This case is regarded as one of India's landmark cases since it resulted in the abolition of the country's antiquated passport-issuing system, the development of the idea of the "right to travel abroad," and the inclusion of the passport's significance in the enforcement of this right. The Supreme Court, in this case held that the Right to travel abroad is contained within the purview of “personal liberty” within the meaning of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

13) Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar, 1979 AIR 1369, (Right to Speedy Trial & Free Legal Aid)

This case expanded the application of article 21 by highlighting the significance of speedy justice as a necessary component of a fair trial. This case also highlighted the value of providing free legal assistance to the less fortunate members of society in order to uphold their constitutional right to legal representation in court as guaranteed by Article 39A. Of the 17 detainees awaiting trial, Hussainara Khatoon was one of the 6 women who endured protracted detention. As per the judgement in Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar, an accused person has a constitutional right to free legal representation at the state's expense if they are unable to pay for it due to poverty, indigence, or being held incommunicado. This right is guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

14) Essar Oil Ltd. v. Halar Utkarsh Samiti, [2004] 2 SCC 392, (Right to be Informed)

In this case, the Supreme Court established a relationship between the right to know and article 21 in particular situations where governmental choices can have an impact on people's lives and livelihoods. Reliance Petrochemicals Ltd. vs. Proprietors of Indian Express Newspapers, a case in which the Supreme Court declared that government proposals must be communicated to the citizens who are considered responsible for environmental protection, reaffirmed the Essar Oil Ltd. case.

15) K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India, (2017) 10 SCC 1, (Right to Privacy)

A nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India held unanimously that the Right to Privacy is a constitutionally protected right in India and is ancillary to other liberties provided by the Indian Constitution under Article 21. The government's proposed plan for a common biometrics-based identity card, which would be required for access to government services and benefits, was contested in the case, which retired High Court Judge Justice Puttaswamy filed. The government argued that the Constitution did not expressly protect the right to privacy.

This is a landmark case that is likely to prompt constitutional challenges to a wide range of Indian laws, including those that criminalize same-sex relationships and forbid the use of beef and alcohol in several Indian States. Observers anticipate that the Indian government would set up a data protection system to safeguard people's privacy. The case is also likely to have wider implications because privacy experts are using it to advance the constitutional discussion of privacy in other nations.

The Right to life and personal liberty is one of the most fundamental and sacred human rights. Although it is not an exhaustive right, it encompasses a number of other fundamental rights. Previously, these rights were strictly interpreted and limited to the confines of the walls. The welfare laws are woven into an infinite thread by Article 21 and the Courts have played a significant part in coordinating the welfare state's efforts, and its scope and interpretation have been repeatedly defined and revised to give it the broadest possible amplitude.


[1] Kavita Sinha, Expanding Horizon of Article 21 Vis-a-Vis Judicial Activism, Available Here

[2] Mr A.H. Hawaldar, Evolution of Due Process In India, Available Here

[3] Shivangi Sinha, Top 13 Judgements on Article 21: “Right to Life and Personal Liberty”, Available Here

[4] Vinita, Fundamental Rights: Article 21 and its Important Judgments, Available Here

Important Links

Law Library: Notes and Study Material for LLB, LLM, Judiciary, and Entrance Exams

Law Aspirants: Ultimate Test Prep Destination

Updated On 30 April 2024 4:31 AM GMT
Snehil Sharma

Snehil Sharma

Snehil Sharma is an advocate with an LL.M specializing in Business Law. He is a legal research aficionado and is actively indulged in legal content creation. His forte is researching on contemporary legal issues.

Next Story