In this article, we will discuss the habeas corpus case 1976 in a simple and easy way, and understand its various important aspects; It is also known as ADM Jabalpur vs Shivkant Shukla case and is one of the most important cases in independent India.

This matter is related to Right to Freedom and Right to Constitutional Remedy, so before understanding it, definitely understand it.

habeas corpus case
habeas corpus case [Image Source Freepik]
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Background of habeas corpus case 1976

Emergency was imposed on 25 June 1975 by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on the basis of internal disturbances in the country. Emergency is imposed on the basis of Article 352(1) on the ground of internal disturbance (now it is armed rebellion).

When Article 352 is activated, two more articles (Article 358 and Article 359) also become active along with it.

It means, when article 352 is activated, Article 358 then automatically comes into force under which Article 19 stands suspended. At the same time, under Article 359, the President gets the right to suspend any other fundamental right at his discretion.

so, Just two days after the imposition of emergency, i.e. on 27 June 1975, the President issued an order under Article 359 and suspended Articles 14, 21 and 22 under the Fundamental Rights.

At the same time, it was also added in the order that by using Article 32 and Article 226, one cannot approach the court for restoration of suspended rights.

[Note – Here two things are worth knowing (1) Now even if emergency is imposed, the President cannot suspend Articles 20 and 21. After the end of the Emergency, such a provision was added to the Constitution through the 44th Constitutional Amendment of 1978. (2) Article 32 and Article 226 are the powers conferred on the Supreme Court and the High Court respectively to protect the Fundamental Rights.]

The case started from here, In 1971, the Internal Security Maintenance Act i.e. MISA was created for preventive detention. Using which the government imprisoned thousands of people and deprived them of their freedom.

Mainly there are two types of detention – 
(1) Punitive detention – It means arresting a person after a crime and depriving him of liberty.
(2) Preventive Detention – It means to take away the liberty of a person by arresting him in advance so that he does not commit a crime in future. MISA was a law made for this purpose. Under which all the big leaders including Jayaprakash Narayan, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Morarji Desai etc. were jailed by Indira Gandhi during the Emergency.

habeas corpus case 1976

So overall the situation was such that about 40 thousand people including big leaders were lodged in jails across the country under preventive detention law and could not even go to court to demand their freedom because Article 14, 21 and 22 were suspended.

Nevertheless, thousands of people filed petitions in the High Court on the ground that personal liberty is not limited to Article 21 alone. Rather, it is also found in the natural law (i.e. right to life, right to justice etc.) and the judgments pronounced by the court from time to time.

Still, it was very difficult for the High Court to conduct the trial as the power conferred under Article 226 could not be exercised. That is why when the High Court decided to hear the MISA, there was a lot of opposition from the public prosecutors.

ADM Jabalpur case

Actually, under MISA, DM and ADM were given the right that they can take people into custody under this law. Jabalpur ADM also detained many people under MISA but they challenged this law in High Court under Habeas corpus petition. The High Court also accepted this. That is why it is also called habeas corpus case.

[Note – Habeas corpus is a power enjoyed by the Supreme Court and the High Court, under which it can ask the person to appear in the court. And if he is wrongly detained, the court can release him. You can read the given article to understand it in detail; Right to constitutional remedies]

It is said that at that time about 9 High Courts decided to hear it. But seeing this happening, the central government amended the MISA and added some of the following provisions to it-

(1) Made a rule that even after 3 months, a person can now be kept in custody and there is no longer an advisory board for that.

In fact, under Article 22 , there was a provision that a person placed in preventive detention could not be kept for more than 3 months unless the Advisory Board ** asked to do so.

** The Advisory Board consists of persons who are either Judges or Judges of High Courts or are qualified to be appointed as Judges.

(2) The source of the right to personal liberty is only Article 21 and not any natural law or other law. That is, on the basis of natural law, etc., the court could no longer be reached.

And the biggest thing in all this was that this revised MISA was put in the 9th Schedule. [ There is a separate article on what is the Ninth Schedule and Can there be judicial review of the Ninth Schedule?, must read it. To know here, you can understand that any law which is included in the Ninth Schedule cannot be reviewed by the Court].

Now the Central Government has taken its stand that the Court has no right to hear now as MISA is in the Ninth Schedule, Article 19 is already suspended under Article 358 and Article 14, 21 and 22 are suspended under Article 359. So when Articles 21 and 22 are suspended then there is no point in hearing the Habeas corpus petition.

matter before the Supreme Court

The matter went to a Constitutional Bench of 5 judges of the Supreme Court. The question before whom was (1) Whether the President has the right to use Article 359 in the name of preventive detention to deprive any person of the personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21. And can he be prevented from filing a petition in the court? (2) Whether a petition filed under habeas corpus in the High Court by persons detained under MISA can be dismissed on the basis of Presidential order made under Article 359?

Supreme Court decision

The Bench, while delivering the 4-1 verdict, held all the acts done by the government to be correct on the basis of the procedure established by law and in a way acquitted the government of all these acts.

A majority of 4 judges (Chief Justice AN Ray, Justice M Hamidulla Baig, Justice PN Bhagwati and Justice YV Chandrachud) upheld the declaration of emergency and suspension of Article 21.

Secondly, in view of the Presidential order, no person has the right to place habeas corpus or any other writ petition under Article 226 before the High Court to challenge the legality of the order of detention.

That is why this decision of the Supreme Court is still seen as a stain on it. Barring only one judge, HR Khanna, everyone had the same opinion.

KS Puttaswamy case 2017

In 2017, the Supreme Court in KS Puttaswamy vs Government of India held that the case of ADM Jabalpur was flawed. And in this way, after almost 40 years, the decision given in ADM Jabalpur was rejected.

So after rectifying something like this, the Court said “No civilized state can consider encroachment on life and personal liberty without the authority of law. Neither life nor liberty is a reward given by the state nor does the constitution create these rights but the right to life existed even before the advent of the constitution.

Let us tell you here that this was the case in which privacy was considered as the right to life under Article 21.

Overall this was the habeas corpus case 1976, hopefully understandable. The link of other articles is given below, read it also. and don’t forget to share and join our facebook group;

Conflict Between Fundamental Rights and DPSP

Procedure established by law and due process of law 

Basic Structure of the Constitution and Kesavananda Bharati Case

complete process of constitutional amendment

AK Gopalan case 1950 and Maneka Gandhi case 1978 

Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP)

Parliamentary system of Government 

habeas corpus case 1976

Important Links,
एम लक्ष्मीकान्त – भारत की राजव्यवस्था
मूल संविधान भाग 3
Fundamental rights in India
ADM Jabalpur: The Case that was but should never have been!
SC overrules Emergency-era habeas corpus verdict