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NMIMS INDORE, B.ALL.B (Hons.), 6th Sem,

Contact no- 6260065122

Email id – rishav.narwariya590@nmims.edu.in



Abstract –

 in this article we have discussed the journey of article 21 how it has evolved in terms of interpretation, it is a one line provision but has great meaning between the words which has thousands of different interpretation, in this article we have taken tour of all three important terms and discussed the interpretation of them, how court at various matter has interpreted differently for example “right to life” which was earlier counted as a positive right now also read in negative term as right to die, the term personal liberty has also broaden its meaning with passing time and evolving society and finally the procedure established by law we have discussed in detail from Golakhnath case to manika Gandhi the journey of due process and procedure established by law. It has gone so far. This article covers a umbrella understating and evolution of article 21.


Indian constitution is a living document, it’s called so because it is open to amendment and changes for betterment of society and protection of democracy. since the time of its commencement the constitution has grown tremendously in terms of amendments and in terms of interpretation, article 21 of Indian constitution is the true example of progressive behavior of constitution, it is considered as  heart and most organic provision of constitution.

The article 21 which reads as :- “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.”

This one line provision seems very simple but It has lots to read between the lines, in simple word it says that no person should be deprive of his life and personal liberty and this right is available to all citizen and non citizen, it has basically three important expression which are (1) right to life,(2) right to personal liberty, (3) procedure established by law. These three expression has more scope of interpretation than rest of fundamental right provided in part III of constitution and this scope of interpretation is getting broaden every passing day.

In this article we will see how the article 21 has grown since the commencement of constitution of India, we will understand the emerging perspective in interpretation of article 21 with respect to all three expression mention above with the help of relevant cases amendment and law reports.


Interpreting the “Right to life”.

 right to life which is the most fundamental of all is also the most difficult to define, certainly it cannot be confined to a guarantee against the taking away life it is one of basic human right and not even a state has the authority to take it away or violet that right as stated by court in matter of siddharam satlingappa mhetre v. state of maharahtra[1] , it has wider meaning and application, with reference to a corresponding provision in the 5th and 14th amendments of the US constitution, which says that no person shall be deprived of his “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law’ by the term ‘life’, as here used, something more is meant than mere animal existence. Its meaning is getting broader everyday.


one of the first progressive interpretation taken of ‘Right to life’ was in case Bandhua Mukti morcha v. Union of India[2]. Where right to life was interpreted as right to live with human dignity, free from exploitation. This right to live with dignity is derived from the Directive principles of the state policy, particularly clauses (e) and (f) of article 39 and article 41 and 42 and there for it must include the protection of the tender age of children against abuse, opportunities and facilities for children to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity, educational facilities, just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief. These are the minimum requirements which must exist in order to enable a person to live with human dignity, and no state has right to take action to deprive a person of the enjoyment of these essentials.


Talking about educational facilities and just human conditions, one can’t miss one of important requirement is good livelihood earlier court refused to count the right to livelihood as right to life, it had lots of controversy when court held that right to livelihood is not included in the article 21 but later on in case of port of Bombay v. Dilipkumar raghavavendra nadkarni[3], the court held that right to livelihood is part of right to life, in Narendra kumar chandla v. state of Haryana[4], the court said that “no person can live with the means the means of living, that is, the means of livelihood” but this cannot be interpreted as right to employment. Right of agriculturist to cultivation is the part of article 21 as right to livelihood but right to trade or business is not covered under it.

Further in the matter of state of H.P. v Umed Ram Sharma[5], where court interpreted article 21 in more progressive way for the people living in the remote hill area. Here court held that right to life under article 21 “embraces not only physical existence of life but also the quality of life and for residents of hills areas, access to road is access to life itself.” The article 21 also covers the right to unpolluted environment and preservation and protection of natures gift also has been covered under right to life.  This not ends here the court further takes this interpretation and in various cases it interpreted that right to life encompasses various other rights such as protection of wildlife, forest, lakes, fauna- flora, unpolluted air, protection form noise, air and water pollution, maintenance of ecological balance and sustainable development, further in the definition of life court also included giving meaning to a man’s life including the tradition, culture and heritage and protection of that heritage in its full measure[6].


 with the changing time the court also recognized the right of prostitutes in society, and for that it also applied judicial mind and involved the upliftment and dignified life of prostitutes in the ambit of right to life, it further involved the commencement of rape as violation of right of victim under article 21. The ambit of Right to life under article 21 has grown like anything and has covered wide range of life like, right to a reasonable accommodation, right to shelter, to reputation, right to undisturbed peaceful sleeping, right to good reputation, right of pure and safe drinking water, though the right to food is not included directly by court under this article but it has directed state to make sure that nobody dies without starvation.


The one of important interpretation of right to life is when it was interpreted as right to die, the journey for the same was started in matter of Gian kuar v. state of Punjab[7], where matter was that does right to life included right to die, there the court held that right to life does not include right to die or commit the suicide, further in famous judgment of Aruna Ramachadra shanbaug[8] the court held that active euthanasia and assisted death are offences the court has observed that non- voluntary passive euthanasia is permissible subject to certain conditions and safe guards, in the latest Judgment of supreme court on common cause v. union of India[9], it has interpreted that the right to life included the right to die and held the  section 309 of IPC unconstitutional which penalizes the commitment and attempt to suicide.[10][11]


Understanding the “Personal liberty”.

“No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned… but… by the law of the land”. a extract from Magna Carta in 1215 which shows that concept of personal liberty is the oldest concept and is being protected by the courts since ages[12]. The definition of "liberty" has been significantly interpreted in India. The Indian Supreme Court has rejected the notion that liberty just refers to freedom from physical restraint and said that it also includes the rights and benefits that have long been acknowledged as necessary for the orderly pursuit of happiness by free citizens.[13]


The Supreme Court examined the concept of "personal liberty" in Kharak Singh's case[14], which challenged the constitutionality of the U.P. Police Rules that allowed for domiciliary visits and secret picketing. Strangely enough, both the majority and minority on the bench relied on the interpretation given to the term ‘personal liberty’ by an American judgement (per Field, J.,) in Munn v Illinois[15], which ruled the term ‘life’ signified something more than mere animal existence. All life-enjoying limits and faculties were protected from its deprivation.


This law also forbade mutilating the body, amputation, putting an eye, or destroying any other organ through which the soul connected with the outside world. The majority decided that the U. P. Police Regulations authorising domiciliary visits [at night by police officers as a form of monitoring, constituted a violation of liberty and thus] unlawful.


The Court stated that the right to personal liberty in the Indian Constitution is the right of an individual to be free from limits or encroachments on his person, whether directly enforced or indirectly caused by deliberate means. The Supreme Court has ruled that legitimate detention does not abrogate basic rights. Prisoners retain all rights save those "necessarily" lost due to imprisonment.

Right to privacy though not explicitly mention in the constitution but it is one of the important right provided under fundamental right The Supreme Court has removed privacy from Article 21 and other Constitutional provisions, along with the Directive Principles of State Policy.No statute grants a "horizontal" right to privacy, but some did, In Kharak Singh v. State of UP[16], the Court considered whether Art. 19(1)(d), 19(1)(e), and 21 implied the right to privacy for the first time. "Surveillance" under Chapter XX of the UP Police Rules violated any Part III constitutional right. Regulation 236(b), which allowed nighttime "domiciliary visits," violated Article 21.


Further court also interpreted that right to privacy is not a absolute and can be taken away when its matter of concern for public at large is subject to authorised action to prevent crimes, disturbance, health, morals, or the rights and freedom of others. Whatever party's core rights

 And taking same thing in logic in the matter of Sharda v. Dharmpal[17], a three-judge panel ruled that a matrimonial court could order a medical checkup for divorce parties. This instruction does not breach privacy.  Further the court interpreted the right of personal liberty for protecting the women’s right. A woman's right to control her reproductive options includes the ability to decline sexual activity or to insist on utilising contraceptives such having sterilisation treatments. A woman's right to carry a pregnancy to term, give birth, and then raise her offspring. The court counted it as personal liberty of women to involve in these activity,


Further court interpreted the right of personal liberty in terms for travelling abroad The Supreme Court incorporated "personal liberty"—including the freedom to go abroad—in Article 21 in Satwant Singh Sawhney v. Assistant Passport Officer[18], New Delhi.The seven-judge Supreme Court Bench in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[19] challenged Sec. 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act 1967, which allowed the government to confiscate a person's passport in the public interest. The freedom to travel abroad is part of "personal liberty," and the challenged Section did not establish any mechanism to deprive her of her liberty, violating Art. 21. The Court ruled that the procedure must be reasonable to comply with Art.21 and other fundamental rights. The Passport Act must apply natural justice while impounding a passport because Art. 21 protects the right to travel abroad. Bhagwati J. further for protecting the personal liberty the court has laid down guideline for arrest of personal in the matter of D.K basu v. state of west Bengal[20].


Further the court bring out many other aspect of right of personal liberty which include telephonic conversations telephone –taping amounts to its violation unless it is permitted under procedure established by law. Further court interpreted that “right of prisoner” After being found guilty, a person who is sentenced to prison could lose access to basic liberties including the ability to travel freely throughout India. Nonetheless, a convict is entitled to the valuable right protected by Article 21, and he shall not have his life and personal liberty taken away except in accordance with a due process of law, further In Babu Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh[21], the Court determined that Article 21's definition of personal liberty includes the right to bail. Its rejection would result in the infringement of that liberty, which may be granted in accordance with the legal process also the The use of third-degree methods to compel confessions, brutality, intimidation, and harassment have been condemned by the Supreme Court in a very good way. They have been labelled as violating human dignity by the court. The protections provided by Article 21 against torture ensure a life with human dignity.[22]


The evolution of ‘Procedure established by law’

There have been numerous instances when the phrase "process established by law" has been interpreted differently. A analysis of these cases demonstrates that courts have broadened the meaning of the expression through judicial interpretation. The Supreme Court rejected attempts to connect Article 21's reference to "procedure established by law" with the American concept of "due process of law," holding that it refers to procedure specified by law as passed by the state. However, the Supreme Court noted in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[23] that the process required by law to revoke a person's right to life and personal liberty must be "right, just, and fair" and not "arbitrary, whimsical, and oppressive". Furthermore, it was decided that without it, there would be no procedure and the requirements of Article 21 would not be met. As a result, the phrase "procedure established by law" now has the same significance in India as the phrase "due process of law" does in America. Speaking in Sunil Batra v. Delhi Government, Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer[24] said:

Despite the fact that our Constitution does not contain a due process clause, the effects of Maneka Gandhi's case are the same, and as a result, Article 21 might be viewed as the American Constitution's equivalent of the due process clause.


the evolution of the concept of "due process" and "procedure established by law" in India took place  from the Golaknath case to the Maneka Gandhi case. The Golaknath case[25], which was decided by the Indian Supreme Court in 1967, dealt with the issue of the power of the Indian Parliament to amend the Constitution. The Court held that the Parliament did not have the power to abridge or take away any of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, including the right to property. This decision was based on the interpretation of Article 368 of the Constitution, which deals with the power to amend the Constitution. However, in the Kesavananda Bharati case in 1973, the Supreme Court reversed its earlier decision in Golaknath and held that the Parliament did have the power to amend the Constitution, including the fundamental rights. The Court also introduced the concept of "basic structure" of the Constitution, which cannot be amended by the Parliament.


After the Kesavananda Bharati case[26], the concept of "due process of law" was introduced by the Supreme Court in the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India in 1978. The Court held that the procedure established by law, which was earlier the basis of the validity of a law under the Constitution, must be just, fair, and reasonable. The Court also held that the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution includes a right to a fair and just procedure. The concept of "due process of law" implies that the procedure established by law must meet certain substantive standards of justice, fairness, and reasonableness. This standard provides a check on the power of the legislature and executive to enact and implement laws that infringe upon fundamental rights.

To summarize, the evolution of the concept of "due process" and "procedure established by law" in India from the Golaknath case to the Maneka Gandhi case involves a shift from a narrow interpretation of the power of the Parliament to amend the Constitution to a broader understanding of fundamental rights and their protection through a just and fair procedure

The right to life and personal liberty has been broadly defined to include the right to a dignified existence, including the right to a livelihood, health, education, and the environment. It has been determined that the standard for procedural fairness is appropriate for defending these rights. Hence, even while the state cannot affirmatively provide a living for everyone, a hire-fire clause in favor of the state is not reasonable, fair, or just where workers have been recognised to have the right to public employment and the right to livelihood.


The Supreme Court of India noted that the fundamental right protected under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution states that none shall be deprived of his life without due process of law in one of its seminal rulings in the case of Murli S. Deora v. Union of India[27]. The Court noted that smoking in public spaces results in an indirect deprivation of nonsmokers' lives without any kind of legal procedure. The Supreme Court ordered the ban on smoking in public places due to the harmful effects of smoking on both smokers and passive smokers.


.The Supreme Court expanded the definition of "process established by law," ruling that even though a method had been established by law, a person could not be deprived of their life or liberty unless the procedure was just, fair, and reasonable. Depriving someone of their life and personal freedom must therefore follow a "process, prescribed by law," as is widely established. Such an exception must be granted in a manner that is equitable, fair, and reasonable; it cannot be capricious, fantastical, or oppressive. Thus, the process must adhere to the natural justice principles in order to be valid.[28]



The article 21 is just 18 word provision but has great importance when it comes to protection of right of individual, it has three important terms which are interpreted in very wide sense and their interpretation has been dynamic with changing time and society. The very first term “right to life” has grown so long that now it is also interpreted “right to die”. The second term “personal liberty” has also traveled long journey from just physical restrain to protecting right of person getting arrested and of prison as well. The third important “procedure established by law” has also been interpreted in broader sense protecting right of individual over a period of time, it has been interpreted from due process of law to procedure established by law, with the passing of time the more right which are getting generated the more new interpretation of article 21 would be done by court to protect those right.



[1] Siddharam Satlingappa Mhetre vs. State of Maharashtra (2011) 1 SCC 694

[2]  Bandhua Mukti morcha v. Union of India 1984 AIR 802

[3] Port of Bombay v. Dilipkumar raghavavendra nadkarni 1983 AIR 109

[4] Narendra kumar chandla v. state of Haryana 1995 AIR 519

[5] state of H.P. v Umed Ram Sharma 1986 AIR 847

[6] Pillay, Ariranga G. “Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Climate Change.” Climate Change: International Law and Global Governance: Volume I: Legal Responses and Global Responsibility, edited by Oliver C. Ruppel et al., 1st ed., Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, 2013, pp. 243–60.

[7] Gian kuar v. state of Punjab 1996 AIR946

[8] Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug v. Union of India (2011) 4 SCC 454

[9] common cause v. union of India 2014 AIR SC 1556

[10] Khosla, Sunil, and M. M. Semwal. “HUMAN RIGHTS JURISPRUDENCE IN INDIAN CONSTITUTION RIGHT TO EQUALITY AND LIFE: CONCEPT AND SUBSTANCE.” The Indian Journal of Political Science, vol. 72, no. 4, 2011, pp. 927–36.

[11] CHETWYND, S. B. “Right to Life, Right to Die and Assisted Suicide.” Journal of Applied Philosophy, vol. 21, no. 2, 2004, pp. 173–82.

[12] Chesterman, Simon. “An International Rule of Law?” The American Journal of Comparative Law, vol. 56, no. 2, 2008, pp. 331–61

[13] Bachal, V. M. “Judicial Interpretation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India.” The Indian Journal of Political Science, vol. 25, no. 3/4, 1964, pp. 231–40.

[14] Kharak Singh vs The State Of U. P. & Others 1963 AIR 1295

[15] Munn v Illinois 94 U.S. 113 (1876)

[16] Kharak Singh vs The State Of U. P. & Others 1963 AIR 1295

[17] Sharda v. Dharmpal AIR 2003 SC 3450

[18] Satwant Singh Sawhney vs D. Ramarathnam, Assistant  1967 AIR 1836

[19] Maneka Gandhi vs Union Of India 1978 AIR 597

[20] D.K. Basu v. State of West Bengal AIR 1997 SC 610

[21] Babu Singh And Ors vs The State Of U.P 1978 AIR 527

[22] https://www.lawctopus.com/academike/article-21-of-the-constitution-of-india-right-to-life-and-personal-liberty/

[23] Maneka Gandhi vs Union Of India 1978 AIR 597

[24] Sunil Batra vs Delhi Administration 1980 AIR 1579

[25] I. C. Golaknath & Ors vs State Of Punjab & Anrs  1967 AIR 1643

[26] Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala AIR 1973 SC 1461

[27] Murli S. Deora v. Union of India & Ors., Writ Petition (civil) 316 of 1999 / (2001) 8 SCC 765

[28] Bachal, V. M. “Judicial Interpretation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India.” The Indian Journal of Political Science, vol. 25, no. 3/4, 1964, pp. 231–40.



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