This article is a compilation of Article 21 as it is. You can understand it well, that’s why its explanation is also given below, you must read it. Its explanation is also available in Hindi, for this you can use the link given below;

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Article 21
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📖 Read This Article in Hindi

📜 Article 21

21. Protection of life and personal liberty — No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.
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🔍 Explanation

Freedom means the absence of external restrictions on an individual. In other words, to have control over one’s own life and destiny and to have the opportunity to freely express one’s desires and activities is freedom.

Talking about India, freedom is a fundamental right here. Actually part 3 of Indian constitution is about fundamental rights. From Article 19 to Article 22 of this, “right to freedom” has been discussed. (As you can see in the chart) We are going to understand Article 21 here;

Right to Freedom
⚫ Article 19 – Protection of six rights; (1) Expression (2) Conference (3) Association (4) Transmission (5) Residence (6) Trade
⚫ Article 20 – Protection in respect of conviction for offenses
⚫ Article 21 – Protection of life and personal liberty
⚫ Article 21A – Right to elementary education
⚫ Article 22 – Protection from arrest and detention

| Article 21 – Protection of life and personal liberty

One of the most important articles of the entire constitution is – Life and Personal liberty or freedom to live. Which says – No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

Altogether there are three terms liberty of life, Personal liberty and procedure established by law. Let us understand it one by one;

⚫ Meaning of right to life – The meaning of right to life is the right to live life according to human dignity and civilization.

⚫ All that comes under Prana (Life) which makes a man’s life meaningful. Like, its tradition, culture, heritage and full protection of that heritage.

⚫ Right to livelihood also comes under this. You would know that the state can deprive someone of his property by law, but if the snatching of his property affects his livelihood, then Article 21 will be activated, because now the matter will be of the right to life.

⚫ Under Article 21, the state is bound to protect the life of every person even if that person is guilty of any crime.

⚫ Since pollution threatens the right to life, therefore the right to enjoy pollution-free water and air also comes under Article 21. If a person from Delhi wants to take this matter, he can go to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court will have to hear it.

⚫ Meaning of personal libertyIn the AK Gopalan case, personal liberty was understood as the absence of physical restraint, which was in a way a negative definition.

Later, in the Maneka Gandhi case, it was expanded and it was said by the Supreme Court that the right to personal liberty is not limited to physical restraints only, but it also extends to human dignity and other aspects related to it.

It happened that the right to travel, the right to travel abroad and the right to privacy etc. also became a part of personal liberty.

⚫ Meaning of procedure established by lawArticle 21 says that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to ‘procedure established by law’ and not otherwise.

Actually it means that if a law has been made by adopting the right process of law making, then a person can be deprived of life or personal liberty under it.

That is, whether the law is right or not does not matter, just the process of making the law should be right. But according to Article 13, if any law violates the fundamental right, then it can be rejected to that extent.

That is, Article 13 talks about the due process of law, that is, if there is something wrong with the law, then it should be rejected and it applies to all the fundamental rights, but only in Article 21, it talks about the procedure established by the law.

So the question was, can it happen that all the fundamental rights go on due process of law while only Article 21 on the procedure established by law?

⚫ This is the term Process established by law and Due Process of Law, its meaning is very wide. That is why it is explained in a separate article. Must read Article 21 to understand its essence.

But understand here that the due process of law runs in America and under this the court does not just look at the process of making a law but also what is the content of that law.

So in Gopalan case, the court accepted that Article 21 is absolutely correct and it is also correct to follow the procedure established by law. And secondly, both Article 21 and Article 19 are different Articles and both cannot be clubbed together.

⚫ But it happened that in 1970, a case related to bank nationalization came in the Supreme Court, The case was referred to as R.C.Cooper v. Union of India. Under this, the Supreme Court gave a new interpretation that Article 19 and Articles 21 and 22 cannot be kept completely separate from each other.

Read in detail R. C. Cooper v. Government of India

When this (RC Coooper) decision came, obviously the earlier decision got relaxed. That is why in Maneka Gandhi case (1978) SC modified the judgment in Gopalan case and said that

(1) If a process is dictatorial or arbitrary, it is not a process. For example, if a person is hanged in public, it cannot be considered as a proper process.

(2) If the procedure is non rational it cannot be said to be in conformity with Article 14.

And thus it became clear from the Maneka Gandhi case that Article 21 would also be seen through the lens of due process of law.

To understand the above contradiction, it is very important to understand the case of AK Gopalan (1950) and Maneka Gandhi (1978). So let’s figure it out;

AK Gopalan Case 1950

AK Gopalan or AKG, was an Indian communist politician. He was one of the 16 members of the Communist Party of India elected to the first Lok Sabha in 1952. He was one of the founding members of CPI (M).

Gopalan was arrested in 1939 for inspiring a surge of activism against British domination during World War II. But he escaped from prison in 1942 and remained active till the end of the war in 1945.

He was arrested again soon after the end of the war and was behind bars even after India became independent on 15 August 1947.

But the limit was reached when the Central Government enacted the Preventive Detention Act 1950 and the Madras Government, under an order, brought his arrest under this newly enacted Act. Enraged by this, he reached the Supreme Court for justice.

निरोध (detention)
Mainly there are two types of detention –
(1) Punitive detention – It means depriving a person of liberty by arresting him after a crime.
(2) Preventive detention â€“ It means taking away the liberty of a person by arresting him in advance so that he may not commit a crime in future. This right here is at the heart of the discussion.
We will read about this in detail in Article 22.

⚫ AK Gopalan’s side

Now we understand that if a law is made by adopting the right procedure of law making, then a person can be deprived of life or personal liberty under it. That is, whether the law is right or not does not matter, just the process of making the law should be right.

But according to Article 13, if any law violates the fundamental right, then it can be rejected to the extent that it violates the fundamental right,

That is, Article 13 in a way talks about due process of law, under which if there is something wrong in the law, it can be rejected.

Article 13 applies to all fundamental rights but Article 21 specifically talks about procedure established by law.

⚫ So the question of Gopalan was that can it happen that all the fundamental rights go on due process of law while only Article 21 on the process established by law?

Secondly, the personal liberty taken away by the Preventive Detention Act 1950 was justified if it followed the procedure established by law,

But under Article 19(1)(d) which talks about free movement throughout the country, Gopalan could have been set free as he comes under due process of law and preventive detention on this basis Could the 1950 Act have been repealed?

Overall, Gopalan claimed that the Preventive Detention Act was inconsistent with Article-19 (right to liberty), Article-21 (right to life) and Article-22 (right to protection against arrest and detention).

⚫ Supreme Court’s decision

In this case a bench of 6 judges sat and ruled 4-2 that

(1) The procedure established by law and the due process of law are two different things and the two cannot be equated.

(2) Article 21 is correct and it is correct to follow the procedure established by law.

(3) Both article 21 and article 19 are separate articles and both cannot be mixed together.

Overall, in its judgment, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the Preventive Detention Act and made it clear that all the above articles (Articles- 19, 21, and 22) deal with completely different subject matter and should not be read together.

But then came the case of RC Cooper in 1970 in which the Supreme Court said that Article 19 and Articles 21 and 22 cannot be kept completely separate from each other.

This led to inconsistency in the judgments and the Supreme Court rectified the same through the Maneka Gandhi case. What is Maneka Gandhi case, let’s see.

Menaka Gandhi case 1978

During the Emergency in 1976, on June 1, Maneka Gandhi got her passport made (according to the Passport Act 1967). But on 2 July 1977, the Regional Passport Office (New Delhi) ordered him to surrender his passport. In fact, the Janata Party government was probably afraid that he might run away abroad.

Overall, the Ministry of External Affairs took this decision citing public interest to the petitioner and did not give any reason for this arbitrary and one-sided decision.

So the petitioner (Maneka Gandhi) approached the Supreme Court, arguing that the right to confiscate her passport in the state as guaranteed by Article 21 was a direct attack on her personal liberty.

⚫ Maneka Gandhi’s side

▪️ Are the provisions under Articles 21, 14 and 19 linked to each other or are they mutually exclusive? They argued that the provisions contained in Articles 14, 19 and 21 should be read together and should be mutually exclusive.

Because if Article 19(1)d gives freedom of movement and Article 14 gives right to equality and Article 21 gives right to personal liberty then why all three cannot be read together.

▪️ Should the procedure established by law be tested on the ground of reasonableness which in this case was the procedure laid down by the Passport Act of 1967?

That is, India may not have adopted the American concept of “due process of law”, yet, the process established by law must be fair and equitable, and not arbitrary.

Secondly, Section 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act is violative of Article 21 as it violates the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed by this Article.

▪️ Is the right to travel outside the country a part of Article 21 or not? it should be clarified

▪️ Is it fair to take away the right to life by a legislative law?

⚫ Supreme Court’s decision

A 7 judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled 7-0 that

(1) The procedure established by law as enshrined in Article 21 may be correct in its place but it should be reasonable and not arbitrary and irrational. To put it in other words, now Article 21 can also be seen under due process of law.

(2) The AK Gopalan case was erroneous. Because Articles 14, 19 and 21 have a special relationship with each other and all three can be seen together.

(3) The right to personal liberty is not limited only to physical restraints but it also extends to human dignity and other aspects related to it. (As a result, many things were added to Article 21 under life and personal liberty, whose list you can see below)

(4) Traveling abroad is a matter of personal liberty under Article 21.

List of things included in life and personal liberty

Right to life and personal freedom
1. Right to privacy (which was added in 2017)
2. Right to health
3. Right to free education till the age of 14
4. right to free legal aid
5. Right to Information (which was added in 2005) 
6. Right to sleep
7. Right to eat
8. Right to electricity
9. Right to freedom from pollution
10. Right of reputation
11. Right of hearing
12.Right to social, economic security
13.Right to be treated with dignity and respect for women
14. right to travel abroad
15. Right to emergency medical care.
16. right against late execution
17. right against bonded labor
18. right against custodial abuse
19. Right to timely proper treatment in government hospitals
20. Right against bar caterers
21. right against public hanging
22. Right to social security and protection of family
23. Right against being confined in solitary confinement
24. right against handcuffing
25. right against inhuman treatment
26. Right of the prisoner to necessaries of life etc.

Remember here that the protection of this article is for citizens as well as for other persons. The convicted person who is in jail also gets its protection.

So overall this is Article 21, I hope you have understood. To understand other Articles, you can use the link given below.

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Disclaimer - The articles and their interpretations presented here are based on the original Constitution (latest edition), DD Basu's commentary on the Constitution (mainly) and various scholars of the Constitution (whose writings are available in newspapers, magazines and audio-visuals on the Internet). We have just tried to make it interesting and easy to understand.