This article is written by Paridhi Goel, a student from Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA. This is an exhaustive article which deals with the description of Article 14, 19 and 21 that together form the Golden Triangle of the Indian Constitution. The article discusses how certain landmark judgements have proved that these articles indeed safeguard the rights of the people and are important to the Constitution.
Table of Contents
India chose the path of democracy after Independence as it had experienced the horrors of what happens when the government is vested with all the powers. To ensure that the people are not deprived of the freedom that they gained after independence, the political leaders decided to provide the country with a written constitution that laid down all the laws and provisions protecting the citizens of the country and also safeguarding their basic rights. This constitution turned out to be the Supreme Law of India, as it described all the principles, procedures, rights, powers, and duties of the government as well as the citizens. It gave India the title of being a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic that enshrines the principles of equality, liberty, justice, and fraternity.
The citizens enjoyed certain basic rights which the framers of the constitution gave a special status to and called them the Fundamental Rights. These rights were fundamental because they formed a foundation on which the democracy could function according to the wishes of its citizens and it also allowed the people to keep a check on the conduct of the government so that they do not turn dominant. Out of these rights, it was realized that Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution of India were connected and together they protected the people from any arbitrariness of the government. These articles were named the ‘Golden Triangle of the Indian Constitution’ where Golden was symbolic of being ‘important’ for the freedom of the citizens of India and Triangle symbolized that these provisions are to be read together and collectively interpreted. Many cases have been fought in the past regarding the fundamental rights, and it took one historic judgment to observe that these articles cannot be read in isolation. Since that judgment, every case concerning Article 21 alone is tested along with the provisions of Articles 14 and 19.
The Fundamental Rights are embodied in Part III of the Indian Constitution covering all civil and political rights of the citizens. These rights are essentially human rights that are regulated by the constitution to protect the freedom and liberty of the people in case of infringement of power by the government. They prevent the country from establishing an authoritarian or dictatorial rule and are necessary for the development of the individuals of the country. The fundamental rights are a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. Many times, a question has been asked whether this part can be amended by the Parliament or not if required. We will discuss the debates later however, the important thing to note is that these rights were incorporated in the constitution to ensure that the Laws rule the country and not the government. These rights are essential to upholding the concept of ‘Rule of Law’. These Fundamental Rights are as follows-
- Right to Equality (Articles 14 to 18)
- Right to Freedom (Article 19)
- Right Against Exploitation (Articles 23-24)
- Right to Freedom of Religion (Articles 25 to 28)
- Cultural and Educational Rights (Articles 29-30)
- Right to Constitutional Remedies (Articles 32 to Article 35)
Under the ambit of Right to Freedom, Article 20 and Article 21 are mentioned separately.
Formerly the constitution of India was enshrined with seven Fundamental Rights however, Right to Property was removed from the list of the Fundamental Rights by the 44th Constitutional Amendment Act of 1976. Now it is just a legal right, not a fundamental one. These rights impose limitations on the powers of the State. The Government cannot abridge these fundamental rights and if any such law is passed by the Parliament which is against any of these rights, that law is declared unconstitutional. Also, these Fundamental Rights are not absolute and are subject to reasonable restrictions so that the people do not misuse these rights for their own interests. From these Fundamental Rights, Articles 14, 19 and 21 form the Golden Triangle of the Constitution.
Article 14 talks about ‘equality before the law’, where the State shall not deny any person equality before the law or equal protection of law within the territorial limits of India. The state cannot discriminate on grounds of race, caste, religion, sex, creed or place of birth. This means that the State has to treat all the people alike in terms of privileges and liabilities. On the other hand, ‘equal protection of laws’ requires the State to give special kind of treatment to certain persons going through different or abnormal situations in order to establish equality among all. This keeps a check on the arbitrary actions of the government if any and protects the dignity of an individual. The simple concept of this article is that the equals should be treated equally and the unequal would have to be treated unequally only to ensure equality among all the people.
Article 19 is about Right to Freedom. This freedom includes a few specific actions that constitute a basic right for persons. This article says that all the citizens shall have the right
- To freedom of speech and expression;
- To assemble peacefully and without arms;
- To form associations or unions;
- To move freely throughout the territory of India;
- To reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; and
- To practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.
These rights are subject to certain restrictions to maintain peace and order in the country and also to ensure that the people do misuse this right for their own personal interests. Any citizen who practices his right beyond the limitations laid down by the constitution will be held liable for an offence.
Article 21 is about Protection of Life and Personal Liberty. It says that no person shall be deprived of his personal liberty except according to the procedures established by law. Right to Life includes the right to live with human dignity, right to livelihood, right to health and so on. This right gives liberty to the people from the State, to act in a way they want to.
Rule of Law
The three elements of the Golden Triangle that are Article 14 (Right to Equality), Article 19 (Right to Freedom) and Article 21 (Right to Life and Personal Liberty), are of prime importance to the concept of rule of law as together they give full protection to the rights of the citizens by ensuring that the government does not encroach upon these rights through arbitrariness. Article 14 is primarily interpreted as a fundamental right against arbitrariness. Moreover, it also keeps a check on the laws by codifying the concept of ‘Equality before Law’. Rule of Law is a legal principle stating that the country should be governed by the prevailing Law and not by the elected representatives of the people that is the government. It holds the Law as superior to all the actions and decisions of the State. Since the Constitution of India embodies all the laws and legislation, it is regarded as the supreme power in the land from which the legislative and executive can derive their authority.
A question had come up for consideration in the case of Shankari Prasad Singh Deo vs. Union of India asking whether the fundamental rights could be amended under Article 368. The Supreme Court held that the Parliament had the power to amend the Part III of the Constitution that is the Fundamental Rights under Article 368 making a constitutional amendment valid if it abridges any of the fundamental rights.
This case was overruled by the Apex Court in IC Golaknath and others vs. State of Punjab stating that the Parliament had no power to amend Part III of the Constitution following the principle of Rule of Law. However, by the Constitution (24th Amendment) Act, 1971, inserted a new clause which restored the power of the Parliament to amend by way of addition, variation or repeal any provision of the constitution in accordance with the procedure laid down in Article 368.
The Supreme Court overruled the decision made in the Golaknath case by challenging it in the case of Kesavananda Bharati vs. the State of Kerala. It stated that the amending powers of the Parliament are not unlimited but subject to certain restrictions which meant that the Parliament Could not destroy or amend the basic structure of the constitution. Since Rule of Law was seen as a basic feature of the constitution, the parliament did not have the power to amend it.
Recognition of the Triangle
The framers of the Indian Constitution had incorporated the Fundamental Rights from the beginning to safeguard the rights of the citizens from the State. At this time, the Fundamental rights of equality, freedom, and life and liberty were individual rights protecting their individual agendas. Even after securing the basic rights of the people, there have been many instances when these rights have been violated by the government for their own personal needs. One such example is of the Emergency of 1975 declared under Article 352 of the Indian Constitution when all the fundamental rights were suspended and people could not move to the court to enforce these rights. Several other instances have taken place where the people have approached the judiciary to give a clear understanding of the enforcement of the fundamental rights by the government and the people. In a landmark case of A.K. Gopalan vs. the State of Punjab, 1950, the main debate revolved around the ‘procedure established by law’ on the point that can such procedure be arbitrary or should it always be fair, conforming with the principles of Natural Justice. It was decided by majority that the Right to Life under Article 21 did constitute the principles of Natural Justice. No procedure of law could suffer from unreasonableness or any problem. It was held that the fundamental rights have to be interpreted as ‘separate’ rights and not overlapping each other. After this, in another historic case – Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India, it was observed by the Supreme Court that Article 21 is not to be read in isolation; instead, all the violations and procedural requirements under Article 21 are to be tested for Article 14 and Article 19 as well. Thus, it was this case that laid down a new threshold that the legality of every law should be tested on the basis of the Golden Triangle of Article 14, 19 and 21 that is equality, freedom and personal liberty.
The Judiciary in India serves a crucial part in the functioning of the Country and is burdened with a load of solving all the problems of the people in such a way that they are satisfied with the decision and it does not violate any provision laid down in the Indian Constitution. It is the Judiciary itself that highlighted the importance of Articles 14, 19 and 21, that together they safeguard the rights of the people and should be read together when dealing with an issue that concerns one of these articles. Initially, there was no Golden Triangle, however, as soon as it was realised that right to equality, freedom and personal liberty when combined, can play a major role in operating the judicial system, in keeping a check on the government and in protecting the rights of the citizens. The constitution has kept in mind both providing fundamental rights for securing the interests of the people and laying down the Fundamental Duties of the citizens so that the government can keep a check on its citizens.
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