In The Supreme Court of India:
1978 Air 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621
Union of India
Date of Judgment
· Beg, M. Hameedullah (C.J.)· Chandrachud, Y.V. (J.)· Bhagwati, P.N. (J.)· Krishnaiyer, V.R. (J.)· Untwalia, N.L. (J.)· Fazalali, Syed Murtaza (J.)· Kailasam, P.S. (J.)
Article 21, which had lain impotent for almost thirty years, was rejuvenated by the famous Supreme Court decision in Maneka Gandhi. In the Pre- Maneka Gandhi Era, A.K Gopalan case settled a major point (Article 19, 21, and 22 were independent of each other, and the inapplicability of Article 19 to a law affecting life or personal liberty) about Article 21. In the famous work of Constitutional Law, M.P. Jain states that earlier Article 21 provided no protection or immunity against competent legislative action. It gave final say to the legislature to determine what was going to be the procedure to curtail the personal liberty of a person in a given situation and what procedural safeguards he would enjoy. However, in the Post Maneka Gandhi Era, Article 21 has now been accepted as a highly activist magnitude.
Facts of the case
- The petitioner (Maneka Gandhi) was a journalist, and her passport was issued on 1/06/1976 under the Passport Act, 1967.
- The Regional Passport officer, New Delhi, issued a letter dated 2/07/1997 addressed to Maneka Gandhi which ordered the petitioner to surrender her passport under section 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act, 1967, in the public interest, within seven days from the date of receipt of the letter.
- The petitioner immediately addressed a letter to the Regional Passport Office requesting the concerned authority to furnish a copy of the statement of reasons for her passport confiscation. The Ministry of External Affairs declined to produce any reasons.
- The petitioner filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court challenging the State’s Act of seizing Mrs. Gandhi’s passport as an immediate attack on her Right of Personal Liberty as guaranteed by Article 21.
- Whether a Legislative Statute infringing Article 21 of the Constitution of India is valid?
- Whether Right to go abroad is covered under the ambit of Right to Personal Liberty?
- The provisions mentioned under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India are mutually exclusive?
- Whether Article 14, 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution of India stands in clear violation to Section 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act?
- Whether the procedure established by law be tried for reasonability which in this case was the procedure adopted by the Passport Act of 1967 to deprive the petitioner of her personal liberty?
- In the order of impoundment of the passport on 4th July 1977, the petitioner argued that the ‘Right to Travel Abroad’ is intricate to the right provided under Article 21 and no citizen can be deprived of this right except according to the procedure prescribed by law. Also, the Passports Act, 1967 does not prescribe any procedure for confiscating or revoking, or impounding a passport of its holder. Therefore, it was argued to be unreasonable and arbitrary.
- The petitioner argued that the Central Government acted in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India by denying the opportunity of the petitioner to be heard. Hence, the need for the correct interpretation of Article 21 is required to be laid down.
- The petitioner with the intention to maintain and preserve the spirit of the Constitution of India, argued and emphasized upon the statement that Fundamental Rights should not be divorced with each other.
- Since India adopted the procedure established by law, it is the duty of Courts to seek and adopt a broader approach of Article 21 and ensure that it is reasonable, and free from any sort of arbitrariness.
- It was argued that the Passports Act 1967 (Section 10(3)(c) of the Act of 1967) is ultra vires as it contravenes the ‘Right to Life and Personal Liberty’ guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
- The Attorney General of India argued that the passport was seized since the plaintiff needed to show up before an administrative council for a hearing.
- The respondent asserted that the word ‘law’ under Article 21 can’t be understood as reflected in the fundamental rules of natural justice, emphasizing the principle laid down in the A.K. Gopalan case.
- The respondent argued that the phrase “procedure established by law” does not have to pass the test of reasonability and need not necessarily be in rhythm with Articles 14 & 19.
- The framers of our Constitution had long debates on the American “due process of law” versus the British “procedure established by law”. The adoption of the procedure established by law in the provisions of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution clearly indicates the constitution-makers’ intentions.
This landmark judgment came on 25th January 1978. The judgment took a broader approach of Article 21 and this judgment genuinely and truly made India a welfare state as guaranteed in the Preamble. The seven-judge seat gave the unanimous decision held that the Section 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act, 1967 is void since it contravenes Article 14, and Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
There were seven separate opinions in which the majority opinion was written by Justice Bhagwati, Justice Untwalia and Justice Fazal Ali, while Justice Chandrachud,Justice Iyer and Chief Justice Beg wrote separate but concurring opinions.
The major findings of the Court were-
- The court while delivering this judgment changed the Constitution’s landscape by contending that though the language used in article 21 is the “procedure established by law”, such procedure must not be arbitrary and irrational
- The Constitution framers never intended that the procedure need not necessarily be fair, just and reasonable.
- The Court overruled the Gopalan case by saying that there exists a special relationship between the provisions of article 19 14 and 21 and each of the tests of the said provisions.
- The Court stated that the interpretation of double, “personal liberty” ends should not be construed in a narrow and strict sense but should be done in a liberal and broader sense.
- The Right to travel abroad (as contended in the Satwant Singh case) is guaranteed under article 21. The Court said that section 10(3)(c) and section 10(5) is an administrative order, and as a result, can be challenged on the grounds of unreasonable, mala-fide, denial of natural justice and ultra-vires.
The reincarnation of Article 21 which Maneka Gandhi brought about has been exerting a deep impact on contemporary constitutional jurisprudence. It is because of the broad aspect of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, the Judiciary of India always steps up time to time and underline the theme that Article 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution of India are not only mutually inclusive but also “sustain, strengthen” each other. The Maneka Gandhi’s case has brought back the Fundamental Rights from dormant to an active stage in the Indian Society. This is, as it should be, in a democratic society.
Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India was a landmark case of the post- emergency period. According to Justice Bhagwati Article 21 “embodies a constitutional value of supreme importance in democratic society”. Justice Iyer has characterized Article 21 as the “procedural magna carta protective of life and liberty”.
Since Maneka Gandhi’s case the Supreme Court has shown great sensitivity to the protection of personal liberty. The court has reinterpreted Article 21 and practically overruled A.K Gopalan case in Maneka Gandhi’s case which can be regarded as a highly creative judicial pronouncement on the part of Supreme Court. Not only that, since this case, the Supreme Court has given to Article 21, broader interpretation so as to imply many more fundamental rights. In course of time, Article 21 has proved to be very fruitful source of rights of the people. The Supreme Court has described this metamorphosis of Article 21 as follows- Once Gopalan was overruled in RC Cooper, and its principal extended to Article 21 in Maneka Gandhi, Article 21 got unshackled from the restrictive meaning placed upon it in Gopalan. It came to acquire a force and vitality hitherto unimagined. A burst of creative decisions of this Court fast on the heels of Maneka Gandhi gave a new meaning to the Article 21 and expanded its content and connotation.
Disclaimer: The views are personal
Amity law school, Noida
A.K Gopalan vs. The State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 27
M.P. Jain, Indian Constitutional Law 1163 (LexisNexis, U.P., 8th edn., 2018).
Mariya Paliwala, “Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India, 1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621”, ipleaders, Dec. 23, 2019, available at: https://blog.ipleaders.in/maneka-gandhi-v-union-of-india/ (last visited on Feb. 5, 2021).
BYJU’S, available at: https://byjus.com/free-ias-prep/maneka-gandhi-case-1978-sc-judgements/ (last visited on Feb 5. 2021)
Hemant Varshney, “Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India Case Summary”, lawtimesjournal, Aug. 30, 2018, available at: http://lawtimesjournal.in/maneka-gandhi-vs-union-of-india// (last visited on Feb. 5, 2021).
Supra note 5 at 4.
Supra note 2 at 2.