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This article is written by Akella Poornima and revamped by Arya Senapati. This article talks about the landmark case of Maneka Gandhi and its impact on law and society. It also explores the interpretations of Article 21 and other fundamental rights in the Golden Triangle.

This article has been published by Shashwat Kaushik.

Table of Contents


Imagine a situation where you have to live without access to clean water, a green environment, nutrition and every other necessity of sustaining life. What a dystopian world that would be! Similarly, when our Constitution deals with the right to life under Article 21, it must encompass the right to live a life with dignity and access to basic sustenance. The means of life are sacrosanct to life itself, and this idea has been interpreted by the judiciary in multiple cases, the primary of which is Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978). This case became a landmark judgment for highlighting the importance of the right to life as an expansive right and for emphasising the interconnectedness of rights in the form of the golden triangle. The judgement deals with various aspects related to the expansive interpretation of Article 21, including peripheral rights, the right to travel abroad, the relationship between Articles 14, 19 and 21, as well as the difference between due process of law and procedure established by law. Principles of natural justice as enshrined in the judgement are also discussed in brief. The article also explores cases similar to Maneka Gandhi and how it overruled established principles in AK Gopalan v. State of Madras (1950). These concepts will be discussed in further detail in the following sections of this article.

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Summary of facts 

The petitioner (Maneka Gandhi) was a journalist whose passport was issued on June 1, 1976, under the Passports Act, 1967. Later on July 2nd, 1977, the Regional Passport Officer, New Delhi, ordered the petitioner to surrender her passport by a letter posted. On being asked about the reasons for her passport confiscation, the Ministry of External Affairs declined to produce any reasons “in the interest of the general public.” 

Therefore, the petitioner had filed a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India stating the size of her passport as a violation of her fundamental rights, specifically Article 14 (Right to Equality), Article 19 (Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression) and Article 21 (Right to Life and Liberty) guaranteed by the Constitution of India.

The respondent countered stating that the petitioner was required to be present in connection with the proceedings that were going on, before an inquiry comission.

Identification of parties

  • Petitioner: Maneka Gandhi
  • Respondent: Union Of India And Other
  • Date Of Judgment: January 25, 1978
  • Bench: Before M.H. Beg, C.J., Y.V. Chandrachud, V.R. Krishna Iyer, P.N. Bhagwati, N.L. Untwalia, S. Murtaza Fazal Ali and P.S Kailasam.

Issues before the Court

  • Whether the Fundamental Rights are absolute or conditional, and what is the extent of the territorial application of such Fundamental Rights provided to the citizens by the Constitution of India?
  • Whether ‘Right to Travel Abroad’ is protected under the umbrella of Article 21 as a peripheral and concomitant right?.
  • What is the connection between the rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India (The Golden Triangle Principle)?
  • What is the scope of the phrase “Procedure established by Law” as mentioned under Article 21?.
  • Whether the provision laid down in Section 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act, 1967, is a violation of Fundamental Rights, and if it is, whether such legislation is a concrete law?
  • Whether the impugned order of Regional Passport Officer is in contravention of principles of natural justice?

Contentions by parties on issues

Petitioner’s Contention

  1. The ‘Right to Travel Abroad’ is a derivative of the right provided under ‘personal liberty’, 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, revoking or impounding the passport of its holder. Hence, it is unreasonable and arbitrary. 
  2. Further, the Central Government acted in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India by not giving the petitioner an opportunity to be heard. Hence, the true interpretation of Article 21, as well as its nature and protection, are required to be laid down. 
  3. Any procedure established by law is required to be free of arbitrariness and must comply with the “principles of natural justice”.
  4. To uphold the intention of the Constituent Assembly and to give effect to the spirit of our Constitution, Fundamental Rights should be read in consonance with each other and in this case, Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India must be read together.
  5. Fundamental rights are entitled to every citizen by virtue of being human and are guaranteed against being exploited by the state. Hence, these fundamental rights should be expansive and comprehensive to provide optimum protection.
  6. To have a well-ordered and civilised society, the freedom guaranteed to its citizens must be in regulated form, and therefore, reasonable restrictions were provided by the Constituent Assembly from clauses (2) to (6) in Article 19 of the Constitution of India. But the laid restrictions do not provide any grounds to be executed in this case.
  7. Article 22 confers protection against arrest and detention in certain cases. In this case, the government, by confiscating the passport of the petitioner without providing her any reasons for doing so has illegally detained her within the country.
  8. In Kharak Singh v. The State of U.P. (1962), it was held that the term “personal liberty” is used in the constitution as a compendium including all the varieties of rights in relation to personal liberty, whether or not included in several clauses of Article 19(1).
  9. An essential constituent of natural justice: “Audi Alteram Partem,” i.e., every individual must be given a reasonable opportunity to be heard, not granted to the petitioner.
  10. Passports Act 1967 violates the ‘Right to Life and Liberty’ and hence is ultra vires. The petitioner was restrained from traveling abroad by virtue of the provision in Section 10(3)(c) of the Act of 1967.

11. The petitioner highlighted the importance of judicial review in cases dealing with administrative action and law, as the judiciary has a vital role in scrutinising the legality of executive actions and orders. By doing so, the petitioner demanded judicial scrutiny of the decision that led to the impoundment of her passports and sought the judiciary to examine whether such action was constitutional or not. 

12. The petitioner also highlighted the standards prescribed by International Human Rights Law and drew a comparison with other jurisdictions. It stated that the right to free movement across borders is a globally recognised right, and restricting international travel is a clear violation of international legal norms. It argued for the necessity of aligning domestic laws with international laws. 

Respondents contentions

  1. The Attorney General of India argued that the ‘Right to Travel Abroad’ was never covered under any clauses of Article 19(1) and hence, Article 19 is independent of proving the reasonableness of the actions taken by the Central Government. 
  2. The Passports Act was not enacted to adversely affect the fundamental rights in any manner. Also, the government should not be compelled to state its grounds for seizing or impounding someone’s passport for the public good and national safety. Therefore, the law should not be struck down, even if it overflowed Article 19.
  3. Further, the petitioner was required to appear before a committee for an enquiry, and hence, her passport was impounded.
  4. Reiterating the principle laid down in A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras (1950), the respondent contended that the word law under Article 21 cannot be comprehended in light of fundamental rules of natural justice.
  5. Further, the principles of natural justice are vague and ambiguous. Therefore, the constitution should not refer to such vague and ambiguous provisions as a part of it.
  6. Article 21 is very wide, and it also contains in itself the provisions of Articles 14 and 19. However, any law can only be termed unconstitutional under Article 21 when it directly infringes on Articles 14 and 19. Hence, passport law is not unconstitutional.
  7. Article 21 in its language contains “procedure established by law,” and such procedure need not pass the test of reasonability.
  8. The respondent also stated that the petitioner’s passport was impounded for national security concerns and established that it is the government’s duty to protect its interests. They argued that such restrictions on international travel are important to prevent subsequent threats and preserve public order. 
  9. The constitutional makers, while drafting this Constitution, debated at length on American “due process of law” and British “procedure established by law”. The conspicuous absence of due process of law from the Constitutional provisions reflects the mind of the framers of this Constitution. The mind and spirit of the framers must be protected and respected.

10. The respondent stressed that the act of impounding passports was done under “executive discretion” as it was necessary in the moment where security concerns were highly escalating, leading to possible disruptions to public order. Therefore, the execution decision was justified. 

Judgment in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, 1978

After thorough analysis of the contentions of both the parties, the court held that:

  1. Before the enactment of the Passports Act 1967, there was no law regulating the passport whenever any person wanted to leave his native place and settle abroad. Also, the executives were entirely discretionary while issuing the passports in an unguided and unchallenged manner. In Satwant Singh Sawhney v. D Ramarathnam (1967), the Supreme Court stated that “personal liberty” in its ambit also includes the right of locomotion and travel abroad. Hence, no person can be deprived of such rights except through procedures established by law. Since the State had not made any law regarding the regulation or prohibiting the rights of a person in such a case, the confiscation of the petitioner’s passport is in violation of Article 21, and its grounds being unchallenged and arbitrary, it is also in violation of Article 14.
  2. Further, clause (c) of Section 10(3) of the Passports Act, 1967, provides that when the state finds it necessary to seize the passport or take any such action in the interests of sovereignty and integrity of the nation, its security, its friendly relations with foreign countries, or the interests of the general public, the authority is required to record in writing the reason for such act and, on-demand furnish a copy of that record to the holder of the passport. 
  3. The Central Government never disclosed any reasons for impounding the petitioner’s passport; rather, she was told that the act was done in “the interests of the general public,”. The reason was given explicitly that it was not really necessarily done in the public interest, and no ordinary person would understand the reasons for not disclosing this information or the grounds for her passport confiscation. 
  4. “The fundamental rights conferred in Part III of the Constitution are not distinctive nor mutually exclusive.” Any law depriving a person of his personal liberty has to stand a test of one or more of the fundamental rights conferred under Article 19.  When referring to Article 14, “ex-hypothesis” must be tested. The concept of reasonableness must be projected into the procedure.
  5. The phrase used in Article 21 is “procedure established by law” instead of “due process of law,” which is said to have procedures that are free from arbitrariness and irrationality.
  6. There is a clear infringement of the basic ingredient of principles of natural justice, i.e., audi alteram partem and hence, it cannot be condemned as unfair and unjust even when a statute is silent on it. 
  7. Section 10(3)(c) of the Passports Act 1967, is not violative of any fundamental rights, especially Article 14. In the present case, the petitioner is not discriminated against in any manner under Article 14 because the statute provided unrestricted powers to the authorities. The ground of “in the interests of the general public” is not vague and undefined, rather it is protected by certain guidelines which can be borrowed from Article 19.
  8. It is true that fundamental rights are sought in case of violation of any rights of an individual and when the State has violated it. But that does not mean, Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression is exercisable only in India and not outside. Merely because state action is restricted to its territory, it does not mean that Fundamental Rights are also restricted in a similar manner.
  9. It is possible that certain rights related to human values are protected by fundamental rights, even if they are not explicitly written in our Constitution. For example, Freedom of the press is covered under Article 19(1)(a) even though it is not specifically mentioned there.
  10. The right to go abroad is not a part of the Right to Free Speech and Expression as both have different natures and characters. 
  11. A.K Gopalan was overruled stating that there is a unique relationship between the provisions of Article 14, 19 & 21 and every law must pass the tests of the said provisions. Earlier in Gopalan, the majority held that these provisions in themselves are mutually exclusive. Therefore, to correct its earlier mistake, the court held that these provisions are not mutually exclusive and are dependent on each other.

Understanding Article 21 of the Indian Constitution

The Indian Constitution is considered the focal point of all the laws and is also the supreme law of the land. The Latin maxim “salus populis suprema lex” adequately explains the importance of constitutional ideals and their role in governing the legal regime in India. As a consequence, the fundamental rights prescribed in the Indian constitution is the strongest defence every citizen has against the state and any action by the state that affects the full realization of the fundamental rights entitled to all the citizens through the force of the constitution. Any law which violates the fundamental rights of an individual is unenforceable and unconstitutional. Similarly, Article 21 of the Indian constitution is one of the most significant and crucial provisions of all the fundamental rights, as Article 21 protects an individual’s “Right to Life and Personal Liberty”. 

Due to this implied importance, Article 21 has a very expansive and comprehensive scope which has been interpreted by the apex court in many cases. One such case is Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, which we discussed above. It is important to understand that the peripheral and concomitant rights attached to Article are so vast that the court is still discovering multiple facets of the provision through contemporary cases like K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India (2017) which stated that the right to life and liberty must be interpreted in such a way that it includes the right to privacy, and cases like  Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India (2018), which dealt with the right to sexual orientation as an extension of Right to Life and Liberty. Therefore, it is safe to say that the framers of the Indian Constitution projected a large amount of significance on Article 21 and its role in encapsulating the state’s commitment towards protecting an individual’s life and liberty, and through dynamic interpretation, the judiciary has recognised the sphere of rights that are necessary to accrue for every individual to enjoy their right to life and liberty. Additionally, as Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India dealt with the right to travel abroad, many other cases have attempted to deal with other rights such as right to clean environment, air, water, sleep, livelihood etc., which are important aspects of life necessary for sustaining life itself. 

The courts have time and again reminded the authorities that the right to life is not to be understood as mere physical existence but as a right to live a dignified life with access to all the necessary elements of life and living. The judiciary’s role in expanding the contours of Article 21 cannot be ignored. The attempt has been to expand the interpretations of Article 21 to match the pace of the developing world and emerging concepts. As society develops, law must develop with it and this measure of transformative constitutionalism, i.e., the idea that constitutional protections must be reviewed, revisited and expanded is necessary to counter the adverse effects of modern developments on human rights. 

The courts have also attempted to explain the term “personal liberty” time and again to include free will with an obligation to not hamper anyone else’s person or property. The courts have effectively interpreted personal liberty to include the right to privacy, freedom of movement and the right to livelihood. The provision attempts to prevent individuals from arbitrary detention and emphasises the necessity of following due process, i.e., legal procedures, regulations and processes necessary to be followed before detaining a person with proper reasoning by force of law. 

Comparative analysis of Article 21 : procedure established by law v. due process

The right to life and liberty as enshrined in the Indian Constitution under Article 21 is an internationally recognised right, and all major jurisdictions like the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, etc. recognise the right to live a life with dignity in a similar manner. The only difference that arises in terms of comparison is between the American jurisdiction and the Indian jurisdiction. This comparison is between the phrases “due process of law” and “procedure established by law” for depriving an individual of their personal liberty. This comparison was largely observed in the case of Maneka Gandhi. 

American due process

The United States of America follows the due process doctrine, which is a consequence of the 14th Amendment of 1868. The lawmakers identified that there are protected interests of an individual that are deprived from him when he is deprived of his personal liberty and detained. The courts initially protected this interest through a concept called “procedural due process,” which required adherence to established procedure for depriving liberty and following a set of guidelines as given by law to determine if the deprivation of liberty was valid or not. Throughout the course of the development of this concept, the courts developed the doctrine of “substantive due process”. This concept allowed the courts to prevent government interference and take an active role in protecting a person’s fundamental right to life and liberty. It goes beyond procedure and asks the question: “is the deprivation of liberty justified and fair?”. The fairness and reasonableness factors come into play when substantive due process is applied. This approach was recognised primarily in the case of Lochner v. New York (1905). In a simpler sense, procedural due process asks whether the actions taken by the government were in accordance with the procedures established and substantive due process asks whether the actions taken by the government while depriving someone of their liberty are just, reasonable and fair. It creates the notion that the individual has an opportunity to be heard before detention. While procedural due process is the standard, substantive due process is also applied in many cases, even after strong opposition and criticism. 

Indian procedure established by law

The Indian jurisdiction follows the principle that says when a person is deprived of his personal liberty, the government must follow procedure established by law while doing so. This principle is similar to the procedural due process concept of American law. It encompassed any sort of procedure laid down by the Indian legislature. The Supreme Court of India, while dealing with the landmark case of A.K Gopalan v. State of Madras, stated that the intention of the framers of the constitution was to strictly follow the procedure that has been set by the lawmakers and nothing else. Mere adherence to procedure set by an enacted law is enough. After almost three decades, when the courts had to deal with the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, they overruled the decision taken in the Gopalan case and held that the term “procedure” mentioned in Article 21 must be a fair and reasonable procedure and must not be arbitrary in any sense. The court stated that the procedure must be in consonance with Article 14, which deals with the right to equality.  J. M Hameedulla stated that: “So far as constitutional rights are involved due process of law imports a judicial review of the action of administrative or executive officers. This proposition is undisputed so far as the questions of law are concerned but the extent to which the Court should go and will go in reviewing determinations of fact has been a highly controversial issue”. The judges held that the process of seizing Maneka Gandhi’s passport cannot simply be understood through the lens of enacted law but has to be scrutinised through ideals of fairness and reasonableness. Since the decision, “procedure established by law” has transformed into having the same effect as “substantive due process,” and every case related to violation of fundamental rights and deprivation of liberty has started getting judged through the interconnected lens of Articles 14, 19, 21 and thorough judicial scrutiny. 

It is also important to note that substantive due process moves away from the narrow interpretation of fundamental rights and creates a broader interpretation to protect the rights effectively without any lacunae or loopholes. The judicial scrutiny is important to prevent the arbitrary exercise of state authority, which can lead to violations of fundamental rights. Therefore, the developments in the field of interpretation of Article 21 have reformed the sphere of natural justice and have been termed the initiators of judicial activism in a fruitful and meticulous manner. 

The golden triangle concept and Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, 1978

The Indian Constitution is considered a living document as it continually evolves and encompasses multiple aspects of human rights and societal rights. It attempts to balance the protections of individual rights with the public interest and state actions to achieve a comprehensive solution. In this attempt, the court recognised the golden triangle of fundamental rights in Maneka Gandhi v.  Union of India to recognise the imperatives of a functioning democracy. Let’s explore the fundamentals of the Golden Triangle, which constitutes Articles 14, 19, and 21.

Article 14: This particular provision embodies the right to equality before the law as a primary fundamental right necessary for individual entitlement through constitutional ideals. This provision ensures that all individuals are treated equally by the state and its authorities or instrumentalities, without any form of discrimination. This protection extends to citizens and non-citizens alike, forms the very foundation for the golden triangle of fundamental rights, and manifests fairness in the process of applying laws and legislation.

Article 19: This provision guarantees every citizen of India the “right to freedom of speech and expression” except for certain reasonable restrictions that are necessary for maintaining public order, health and national integrity. This freedom is important for the healthy functioning of democracy in a society, as unrestricted speech and expression are necessary to dissent and create healthy governance. The nexus between Articles 14 and 19 ensures that every individual is treated equally while exercising their right to free speech and expression. This helps in maintaining uniformity by enabling citizens to articulate their thoughts and opinions.

Article 21: This constitutional protection extends to the right to life and personal liberty and encompasses all the rights that are necessary for having a dignified life with access to all the necessities of life and living. It is the linchpin of the golden triangle, as the rest of the rights can only manifest if the right to life is protected efficiently. The courts have interpreted this article many times to demand that every individual get all the peripheral rights manifesting in Article 21 for an unobstructed life and living. It ensues that no person be deprived of life and personal liberty without fair and reasonable procedure established by law

Harmonious co-existence of all these articles and their effects is necessary to maintain a delicate equilibrium for wholesome protection of human rights as enshrined in the constitution of India. While Article 14 guarantees equality before the law, Article 19 protects freedom of speech and expression, and Article 21 ensures the right to life and personal liberty, their synergy prevents arbitrary application of the law, as observed in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India and many other cases. 

Overruling of the A.K. Gopalan case

In the case of A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras, the main question pertained to the validity of the Preventive Detention Act, 1951 and whether the process of detaining individuals under the said Act falls under the scope of Article 21. A.K. Gopalan argued for the application of due process of law to analyse whether detentions conducted are fair and reasonable, but the Supreme Court took the stance that the word “due” is nowhere mentioned in Article 21, and therefore, adherence to established procedure is enough to detain an individual. The court said that the legislature has the final word when it comes to procedure. The court also stated that Articles 19 and 21 are mutually exclusive and cannot be stated as complementary to each other. It further held that a law cannot be declared unconstitutional merely because it goes against the principles of natural justice. Justice Fazl Ali gave a dissenting opinion in this matter and stated that Articles 19 and 21 are interconnected, and the court, by ignoring the principles of natural justice, is paving the way for situations of dictatorship. This criticism was upheld, and the judgement of A.K. Gopalan was overruled in the case of Maneka Gandhi, where the courts held that “procedure established by law” must be a fair and reasonable procedure. The application of Article 21 goes beyond executive action and also applies to preventive detention. Principles of natural justice must be upheld while depriving a person of their personal liberty. This progressive judgement gave rise to judicial activism and advocated for strict judicial scrutiny employing the golden triangle to adjudge the fairness of a procedure established by law.

Administrative Law aspects of The Maneka Gandhi judgement

The Maneka Gandhi case served as a landmark judgment for administrative law as it touched upon various aspects of the law and explored them through thorough analysis of the facts and the contentions. Few of the concepts of administrative law discussed in Maneka Gandhi are: 

Post Decisional Hearing

Administrative law proposes that the interest of public, public morality and public health are good enough grounds to exclude the applicability of principles of natural justice. Whenever the administration takes a prompt action for the interests of the public, it is not bound by the scrutiny of natural justice principles. An opportunity to be heard in such matters can delay the proceedings and hamper public interest largely. In the Maneka Gandhi case it was observed by the courts that even in such situations of emergency, an individual must be provided with certain safeguards to prevent administrative abuse of power or misuse of administrative discretion. J. Bhagwati stated that “Courts make every effort to salvage this cardinal rule to maximum extent permissible in every case”. By saying so, he meant that the exclusion of natural justice principles would not be right simply because the power to impound the passport would be frustrated if the person is given an opportunity to be heard. It would have been the right thing to do for the authorities to give the party a reasonable opportunity to be heard immediately after the passport was impounded. This remedial measure is necessary to strike a balance between the interests of the public and natural justice. This measure is what is known as post decisional hearing. Wherein a party is given an opportunity to be heard immediately after an administrative decision is taken. This case became the first one to include post decisional hearing in any matter but it is not unheard of in the sphere of Indian administrative law. In Sadhu Singh v. Delhi Administration (1995), the court ordered for a periodical review of a detention order once every six months. The courts have also noted that summary action can lead to administrative errors as the authorities have access to incomplete information based on which a fair decision cannot be taken. Therefore, post-decisional hearing was offered as a remedy in the Maneka Gandhi case to prevent such errors. The court also specified that even though post decisional hearing is a good remedy, prior hearing must be the rule and post decisional hearing must be the exception.

Applicability of Natural Justice Concepts

In the Maneka Gandhi case, the judgment delivered by J. Bhagwati discusses the applicability of principles of natural justice on administrative action. He says that since the principles of natural justice seek to establish fairness in any process, it must be applicable on both quasi-judicial and administrative functions. He substantiates his opinion by referring to the landmark English case of Ridge v. Baldwin (1964) that states that the distinction between quasi-judicial and administrative function is insignificant when it comes to the applicability of natural justice principles. The pre-established position was that when it comes to administrative law, principles of natural justice shall only apply to judicial or quasi-judicial functions but after the Maneka Gandhi case, the court decided that there is no necessity of labeling these functions and creating a distinction as natural justice principles are about fair play and such fairness must always be upheld. 

Statutory requirement to give reasons

In the Maneka Gandhi case, the Passports Act was the statute which was used to impound the passport of the petitioner and she was not allowed to travel abroad. The Passports Act invariably states that it is a legal necessity to provide reasons for impounding the passport of an individual and the authority making such an impoundment must furnish the reasons in writing to the individual whose passport is seized. On the contrary, the statute states that the authority can deny furnishing the reasons if at all there is a concern of protection of public interest. In short, unless furnishing the reasons for seizing someone’s passports poses a threat to public interest, the authority must furnish such reasons on demand of the individual. In the Maneka Gandhi case, the courts held that they have the power to scrutinize whether the reasons for not disclosing the reason for impoundment of a passport, is fair and valid or not. Therefore, the idea that the government is the only judge of such administrative actions is wrong and courts have a role to play in deciding whether such administrative actions fall under the statutory validity of provisions and their interpretations. In this case, the government did not produce any reasons and refused to do so stating that such disclosure shall hamper public interest but the courts held that the refusal of disclosing reasons is not valid as there is no nexus between public interest and furnishing of reasons in this particular case. 

Effect of failure to follow natural justice principle or furnishing reasons

The courts held that the refusal to furnish reasons when there is no harm to public interest and the non-observance of principles of natural justice while taking an administrative action will lead to quashing of the same and this is an established principle that needs no support through citations. 

Cases succeeding Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India

The judgment given by the apex court in Maneka Gandhi v. The Union of India became a cornerstone for interpreting fundamental rights and brought about a paradigm shift in the process of shaping and understanding the rights of an individual, especially the right to life under Article 21. Subsequently, many other cases broadened its horizons and provided a wholesome understanding of fundamental rights as enshrined in the Indian constitution. Some of these cases include:

Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration (1979)

Through this case, the Supreme Court of India highlighted the importance of proper conditions of imprisonment and the validity of the “death penalty” as an extreme form of punishment. The apex court stated that prisoners are not devoid of their fundamental rights and are very well deserving of the protection of constitutional rights. By this measure, the right to life and dignity also extends to prisoners. The court also stated that the death penalty must be carried out after strict scrutiny of the matter and after abiding by stringent guidelines drawn while considering the essentials of human dignity and life. Even in the case of convicts, they can’t be made devoid of these rights. 

Francis Coralie Mullin v. Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi (1981)

The urgency was felt by the apex court of the country to deal with the matter of custodial violence that was suffered by detained individuals and other such rights that these detained individuals are entitled to. The question of law pertained to the right to life of detainees. After discussing the matter in depth, the court held that right to life must be interpreted as right to live with basic human dignity, which is countered by any form of torture, cruel act, inhuman and degrading treatment, etc. These are all violations of the fundamental rights of detainees, and Article 21 forbids such acts. The court reiterated the Maneka Gandhi judgment in this matter and stated that the dimensions of Article 21 must encompass a dignified life. 

Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation (1985)

This matter came before the court when the pavement dwellers and hawkers in Mumbai  were evicted, and the primary argument was that such an act done by the state clearly violates the fundamental right to livelihood. The court stated that the right to life as defined under Article 21 must include the right to livelihood, as it is one of the essentials for sustaining life. Therefore, the act of evicting pavement dwellers without providing them with any other alternative to shelter or livelihood is violative of their fundamental rights. This case also highlighted the importance of the golden triangle of fundamental rights, as did Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India. 

Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan (1997)

The case deals with the predicament of a social worker who was harassed sexually while trying to stop a case of child marriage. The court had to deal with the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace through this case. The court highlighted that the right to work with dignity is a right that falls under the right to life under Article 21, and therefore it is important to have legislative measures in place to prevent cases of sexual harassment at the workplace. The court laid down certain guidelines called the Vishaka Guidelines, which were later converted into the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act 2013. 

These cases formed the basis for the expansive interpretation of Articles 21, 14 and 19 as the golden triangle and took inspiration from the precedent set by Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India. Subsequently, the courts dealt with many such cases to enlist the rights peripheral to the right to life and initiated an interconnected approach to fundamental rights by applying the golden triangle principle. The continual interpretations of fundamental rights which are reflected in such cases distinctly talk about the interplay of Article 14 (Equality), Article 19 ( Speech and Expression) and Article 21 (Life and Personal Liberty)

Territorial extent of Fundamental Rights

The fundamental rights mentioned in the Indian constitution are not absolute in all circumstances but are qualified based on specific reasonable restrictions and limitations on application. One such limitation is the geographical or territorial application or extent of fundamental rights. Fundamental rights are limited by jurisdictional boundaries in terms of their extent of application. This aspect was reflected and discussed in the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India. The courts held that Article 21 guarantees the right to travel abroad within its expansive interpretation and this right is applicable to citizens and non citizens alike. 

In this regard Justice M Hameedullah Beg stated that: “The right to go abroad, as held in Satwant Singh Sawhney’s case, is included in “personal liberty” within the meaning of Art. 21 and is thus a fundamental right protected by that Article. This clearly shows that there is no underlying principle in the Constitution which limits the fundamental right in their operation to the territory of India. If a fundamental right under Art. 21 can be exercisable outside India, there is no reason why freedom of speech and expression conferred under 19(1)(a) cannot be so exercisable.”

In terms of the golden triangle, Article 19, which guarantees freedom of speech, expression, assembly, association, movement etc. is subject to certain reasonable restrictions, but in terms of territoriality, this right is available to only the citizens of India, residing within or outside India, irrespectively. These rights can be curtailed by certain reasonable restrictions, like the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relationships with foreign countries, public order, decency and morality. 

Comparatively, Article 21 is not just limited to citizens of India. It is not limited by territorial boundaries and extends the right to life with dignity to all individuals, irrespective of their citizenship status. All citizens and non-citizens fall within the purview of this protection, and the Supreme Court too has interpreted the article to recognise that it can apply to all persons irrespective of their nationality. 

Critical analysis of the judgement in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, 1978

Overruling the judgment given in A.K. Gopalan was appreciated nationwide, and this case has become a landmark in history since it broadened the scope of fundamental rights. The respondent’s contention that any law is valid and legit until it is repealed was highly criticized by judges. Also, by providing a liberal interpretation to the Maneka Gandhi case, the court set a benchmark for coming generations to seek their basic rights, whether or not explicitly mentioned under Part III of the constitution. Today, the courts have successfully interpreted different cases in order to establish socio-economic and cultural right under the umbrella of Article 21, such as –  Right to Clean Air, Right to Clean Water, Right to freedom from Noise Pollution, Speedy Trial, Legal Aid, Right to Livelihood, Right to Food, Right to Medical Care, Right to Clean Environment, a part of Right to Life & Personal liberty. The judgment opened new dimensions in the judicial activism and PIL’s were appreciated and judges took interests in liberal interpretation wherever it was needed in the prevailing justice. The many facets of the judgment included:

  1. Dynamic Constitutionalism: The judgment made clear that the constitution is a dynamic and living document and will continually evolve as society evolves. This concept is elucidated in the expansive interpretation of Article 21 by the courts in the case. 
  2. Ambiguous Interpretation of Process: The “procedure established by law” phrase was not dealt with properly as the court simply emphasized on “fair and reasonable”” procedure which was highly vague. Critics said that such a loophole can lead to inconsistent application of the provision, which can be truly harmful 
  3. Need for proper tests: Legal scholars stated the importance of having proper tests to determine the reasonableness and fairness of procedures for detaining an individual’s liberty as such tests would be fool-proof measures of violation of fundamental rights and prevent any inconsistent applications. 

As a whole, the judgment is highly appreciated for its transformative nature and progressive standpoint, which are necessary for giving rise to public interest litigation for the protection of fundamental rights.


As a whole, what started as a mere action of seizing a journalist’s passport led to a judgment which has been precedential in every way and has led to many international jurisdictions taking inspiration from the case and appreciating the judgment for its progressive and transformative outlook on constitutional ideals. It is necessary to understand that the role of the state is to protect and preserve the life of every individual, but the courts stated that the obligation of the state is not merely limited to the physical existence of the person but also towards the necessary means of sustaining life and living a life with dignity. It is essential for the state to make provisions for sustaining the life of an individual by entrusting them with rights peripheral to Article 21, i.e., right to sleep, right to food, right to livelihood, right to clean air and water, right to privacy and many more. The courts also highlighted the necessity of natural justice in the process of depriving an individual of their personal liberty by providing individuals with an opportunity to be heard in a fair and reasonable manner. Therefore, the case also highlighted the role of the judiciary in scrutinising such administrative and executive action to prevent the arbitrary and partial exercise of their powers. It has been observed in the recent times that such an interpretation of fundamental rights in Maneka Gandhi has led to many PILs and cases where individuals are seeking redressal for violations of their fundamental rights and are aware of their constitutional entitlements, which leads to a healthy democracy and hopeful future. 

Frequently Asked Question (FAQs) on Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India

What is the importance of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India case in the realm of Indian Constitutional Law?

The case is known for its significant contributions towards the interpretation of fundamental rights, especially Articles 21, 14 and 19. It expanded the horizons of Article 21 to state that the right to life does not entail mere physical existence but a right to live with dignity. It also touched upon principles of natural justice and liberty. 

On what grounds was the passport of Maneka Gandhi impounded by the state?

The government stated that the executive decision for impounding the passport was: “interest of the general public” and “security of the state”. 

What Articles of the Indian Constitution for the Golden Triangle?

Article 14 , Article 19 and Article 21 constitute the “Golden Triangle of Fundamental Rights” to reflect on the interconnectedness of such rights in terms of application and interpretation. 

What was the Apex Court’s interpretation of Article 21 in the case?

The apex court stated that Article 21 is expansive and includes a lot of rights that are necessary for sustaining the right to life and a right to live a life of dignity. It also emphasised on the importance of fairness, reasoning and natural justice in the process of depriving an individual of their personal liberty.  

What was the impact of the Maneka Gandhi case on extraterritorial application of Fundamental Rights?

A: The courts acknowledged that while certain fundamental rights like Article 19 are limited to citizens, others like Article 14 and 21 also apply to non-citizens and have an extraterritorial application. Especially when it comes to the right to life and liberty, extraterritorial implications are present and must be acknowledged.


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