Article 21
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This article is written by Sneha Mahawar, from Ramaiah Institute of Legal Studies. The article discusses the concept of Life, Liberty, and Privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1949.

Introduction

Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1949 states-

“Protection of life and personal liberty – No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.”

According to Justice Bhagwati, J., Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1949 “embodies a constitutional value of supreme importance in a democratic society” as stated in the case of Francis Coralie vs. Union Territory of Delhi. This article has been considered as the heart of the Constitution of India and considered as one of the most progressive provisions and an organic one in our living constitution. It is recognized as the foundation of all our laws and legal system.

Only when an individual or a person is deprived of his/her “life” or “personal liberty” by the “State” as it is defined in Article 12 of the Constitution of India, 1949 then only Article 21 of the Indian Constitution can only be claimed as a right. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution does not include within its ambit violation of a right by private individuals.

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution applies to all which means to every natural person that is every individual, citizen, non-citizen, or, even an alien.

Concept of ‘right to life’ 

Each individual has a Right to Life, it is a fundamental right that is promised and assured by the government of our country to all the natural persons (citizen, non-citizen, alien) within its jurisdiction. This right is promised and assured under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The right to life is considered as a primary right as without the existence of this right none of the other rights would be of any value. The term ‘Life’ used in Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1949 not only includes the mere act of respiring but also includes the right to live with human dignity, right against sexual harassment, right to reputation, right against rape, the right to livelihood, right to growth, right to health, right to shelter, right to pollution-free air, right to nourishment, etc. It is the only article of the Indian Constitution which has received the widest possible interpretation. It is considered as the heart of the Indian Constitution. 

Case laws

  • Kharak Singh vs. State of Uttar Pradesh 

In this case, Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1949, was interpreted by the Supreme Court and held that the term ‘Life’ is not the mere existence of a living being, it is more than that. The right to life is also violated when any living being is deprived of any limb by which that human being enjoys their life, or communicates with the outer world.

In this case, for the first time, the question was raised whether the right to privacy could be implied from the existing fundamental rights such as Article 19(1)(d) of the Constitution, Article 19(1)(e) of the Constitution, and Article 21 of the Constitution was raised in the court of law. The seven-judge bench held that Article 21 of the Indian Constitution does not include the right to privacy but Justice Subba Rao though was in minority in the judgement but paved the way for the right to privacy to be incorporated in Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1949. 

  • Sunil Batra vs. Delhi Administration

In this case, it was held by the Supreme Court that the ‘right to life’ also incorporates the right to lead a healthy life and to enjoy all aspects of a human body in their best conditions. This right would also incorporate the right to protection of an individual’s tradition, culture, heritage, the right to live in peace, to sleep in peace, and the right to repose and health and all that gives meaning to the life of a person or an individual being. 

  • Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India

In this case, it was interpreted by the Supreme Court which gave a new dimension and aspect of Article 21 of the Constitution. It was held by the Supreme Court that the right to life is not only limited to physical rights but also incorporates the right to live with human dignity. The same view was considered and taken into the picture while deciding upon the case of Francis Coralie vs. Union Territory of Delhi.

  • Chandra Raja Kumar vs. Police Commissioner Hyderabad

In this case, the Court held in its judgement that the right to life also incorporates the right to live with human dignity and in a decent manner and, thus, conducting of beauty contest is unacceptable to the dignity or decency of the women and violates Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1949 only if the contest is indecent in nature, obscene in character or intended for the act of blackmailing. 

  • State of Maharashtra vs. Chandrabhan

In this case, the Court held that paying of Rs. 1/- per month to a suspended public servant when he is convicted during the pendency of his appeal is regarded as unconstitutional on the ground that it is an act which is considered as violative of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. This provision was contained in Bombay Civil Service Rules, 1959, and was struck down in this case. 

  • Vishakha vs. State of Rajasthan

In this case, the Supreme Court of India declared that the right to life includes right against sexual harassment at workplace. Thus, harassing any working female at work violates Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1949 along with Article 15 of the Constitution, and Article 14 of the Constitution. The same view was considered while deciding the case of Apparel Export Promotion Council vs. A. K. Chopra.

  • D.T.C. vs. D.T.C. Mazdoor Congress

In this case, it was held by the Court that the right to life also incorporates the right to livelihood. Moreover, no employee can be terminated from his services without serving a notice, or providing reasonable reasons, or giving him a chance of hearing, as it is violative of the provisions stated in Article 21 of the Constitution. 

  • U.P. Avas Vikas Parishad vs. Friends Coop. Housing Society Limited

In this case, the Court declared that the right to life is inclusive of the right to shelter, and thus, the right to shelter is also guaranteed and protected under Article 21 of the Constitution. 

  • State of Punjab vs. M.S. Chawla

In this case, it was held by the Court that the right to life also incorporates the right to health within its ambit and is protected and guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. 

  • State of Maharashtra vs. Maruti Sripati Dubal

In this case, the Bombay High Court delivered a landmark judgement and held that the right to life includes within its ambit the right to die, and both are protected under the provisions of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Thus, by delivering this judgement the Court struck down Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860

Concept of ‘right to personal liberty’ 

The term ‘Liberty’ means free from control or restrictions. It is a condition of being free from imprisonment, slavery, or, forced labour. Thus, personal liberty means the freedom of an individual person from all kinds of controls and restrictions imposed on that individual. Every citizen of any other person owns this right and it is the duty of the government to protect such rights of its citizens. In Indian Courts, the term liberty has received a far more expansive interpretation in comparison to the English Courts. The Supreme Court of India has held that liberty is not mere physical freedom but it also includes all those rights and privileges that have been recognised as being essential for the happiness of a free individual. 

Case laws

  • Satwant Singh Sawhney vs. Assistant Passport Officer, New Delhi

In this case, the Supreme Court of India held that the term ‘Personal Liberty’ includes the right to travel abroad and is protected, promised, and assured under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

  • State of Maharashtra vs. Prabhakar Pandurang

In this case, the petitioner wrote a book while he was in his sentence and requested to send his book to his wife for publication. The request was denied. The Court held that this denial is considered as violative of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, each individual has a right to write a book. 

  • D.K. Basu vs. State of West Bengal

In this case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India held that each arrestee has their rights and also laid down the guidelines to be followed to detain an individual. If the guidelines are not followed then it will be an act which is violative of the provisions laid down in Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1949.

Concept of ‘right to privacy’ 

The Right to Privacy is recognised as a shadow of the right to life and personal liberty. Although there is no specific reference in the Indian Constitution that the right to privacy is a part of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1949 but it is considered as a ‘penumbral right’.

The Black’s Law Dictionary reads the meaning of ‘Privacy’ as “right to be let alone; the right of a person or an individual to be free from unwarranted publicity; and the right to live without unwarranted interferences by the public in matters with which the public is not necessarily concerned. Every individual enjoys the right to privacy and invading into that space without proper authorisation is punishable by law. The Right to Privacy includes right against tapping of telephone, the right to disclosure of dreadful disease to the public, right against illegal detention, etc. 

Case laws

  • PUCL vs. Union of India

This case is considered as a landmark case as, after the delivery of the judgement of this case, the right to privacy was protected under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1949. 

In this case, the Court held that the right to privacy falls within the ambit of right to life and personal liberty and is protected and guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1949. 

  • R.M. Malkani vs. State of Maharashtra

In this case, the Supreme Court of India held that the Court will protect innocent citizens against wrongful interference by tapping phone conversations but this protection will not be available to the guilty citizens. Section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act, 1885 permits the tapping of the telephone in India under specific grounds. 

  • Mr. ‘X’ vs. Hospital ‘Z’

In this case, a lady who was to get married was tested HIV positive, the doctor disclosed this information to her fiance, the lady filed a suit against the doctor. The Supreme Court of India held that since the right to privacy is a part of the right to life and the right to life also incorporates the right to health thus, doctors did not violate the right to privacy.

Conclusion

Hence, the Supreme Court of India has held that even lawful imprisonment does not spell farewell to all the fundamental rights. A prisoner also retains all the rights enjoyed by a free citizen except only those ‘necessarily’ lost as an incident of imprisonment. Although not clearly written in the Indian Constitution but Article 21 of the Indian Constitution includes, Right to life and personal liberty along with the right to privacy. Thus, under this concept of right to life and the right to personal liberty, the right to privacy is also hidden and plays an indispensable role in an individual’s life. 

References


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