In this article Shivangi Sinha discusses, Article 21, Right to life and Personal Liberty”.
Article 21 ensures every person right to life and personal liberty. Both the terms, life and personal liberty has been given a very expansive and wide amplitude covering a variety of rights. Its deprivation is only possible through the procedure established by law. The expression “life” has been broadly interpreted by the Supreme Court, which has given it, an expansive scope.
Munn v. Illinois
In the case of Munn v. Illinois, the Court referred to the observation of Justice Field, wherein he stated that by the term ‘life’ as here used something more is meant than a mere animal existence. Thus, it embraces within itself not only the physical existence but also the quality of life.
The expression personal liberty
The expression personal liberty does not only mean freedom from:
- False or Wrongful confinement
The Supreme Court of India held that it encompasses those rights and privileges that have long been recognized as being essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men. The expression procedure established by law has also been a subject matter of interpretation. It means the procedure laid down by statute or procedure prescribed by the law of the State.
Expanding Horizon of Article 21
The fundamental right to life and personal liberty which has become an inexhaustible source of many other rights and mentioned under the following subheads:
Right to Live with Human Dignity
- The Supreme Court in the case of Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India held that right to life embodied in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, is not merely a physical right but it also includes within its ambit, the right to live with human dignity.
- In the case of Francis Coralie vs. Union Territory of Delhi it was held that right to live includes the right to live with human dignity with bare necessities of life such as:Adequate nutrition
- Clothing, and
- Shelter over the head and facilities for:Reading
- Writing, and
- Expressing oneself in diverse form.
Right against sexual harassment at workplace
- In the case of Vishakha vs. the State of Rajasthan, the court declared that sexual harassment of a working woman workplace amounts to a violation of rights under Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Indian Constitution. The guidelines have been laid down in order to protect the rights of a woman at workplace
- Following which the Sexual Harassment of woman at Workplace (prevention, prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013 was passes
Right to clean environment
- The Right to life under Article 21 means a life of dignity to live in a proper and healthy environment.
- The maintenance of various things like:Health
- Proper sanitation system, and
- Preservation of environment comes under the purview of the Article 21.
- In the case of Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum vs Union of India the Supreme Court held that though industries are vital for the country’s development, having regards to the pollution caused by them, the principle of ‘sustainable development’ has to be adopted as the balancing concept.
Right to know or right to be informed
- It has been recognized by the Courts, in the case of Reliance Petrochemicals Ltd. vs. Proprietors of Indian Express Newspapers that right to know falls under the scope of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution as an essential ingredient of participatory democracy.
Right of prisoners
- The protection under Article 21 is also available to those who have been convicted of any offense. Even though he is deprived of his other rights, but he is entitled to the rights guaranteed under Article 21.
- In the case of Sunil Batra vs. Delhi Administration, the petitioner sentenced to death on charges of murder and robbery was held in a solitary confinement since the date of his conviction by the session court, pending his appeal before the High Court.
- The petitioner filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court, contending that solitary confinement itself is a substantive punishment under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and only the Courts had the authority to impose such punishments and not the jail authorities, thus, it violates Article 21.
- The Supreme Court accepted his contentions and held that the conviction of a person for a crime does not reduce him to non-person vulnerable to a major punishment imposed by jail authorities without observance of due procedural safeguards, thus violative of Article 21.
Right against illegal detention
- In the case of D.K. Basu vs. State of West Bengal, the Supreme Court laid down the guidelines to be followed by the Central and the State investigating authorities in all cases of arrest and detention.
- The petitioner wrote a letter addressed to the Chief Justice drawing his attention to certain news items published in the Telegraph and the Indian express, regarding deaths in police lockups and custody and this letter was treated as a writ petition by the Court.
- The court not only issued the guidelines but, also went to the extent that any failure by the officials to comply to such guidelines would not only subject them to departmental actions but would also amount to contempt of Court.
Right to Legal Aid
- It has been held, in the case of Hussainara Khatoon vs. State of Bihar, that right to free legal aid at the cost of the State to an accused who cannot afford legal services for reasons of poverty, indigence or incommunicado situation is a part of fair, just and reasonable procedure under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
- In the case of Khatri vs. the State of Bihar, it has also been held that the trial court is under the obligation to inform the accused of his right to free legal aid.
Right to speedy trial
- The Code of Criminal Procedure does not specifically guarantee speedy trial nor it has the Indian Constitution guaranteed under any of the Fundamental Rights but the Indian Judiciary in the case of Hussianara Khatoon vs. the State of Bihar, has made it settled decision that the right to speedy trial is an inalienable right under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
Right to compensation
- A new judicial trend has manifested a new trend of providing compensation. In the case of Rudul Shah vs. the State of Bihar, the petitioner was kept in jail for 14 years even after his acquittal.
- He was released only after a writ of habeas corpus was filed on his behalf.
- The Supreme Court held that under Article 21, the petitioner is entitled to an award of INR 35,000 as compensation against the State of Bihar as he was kept in the jail for 14 long years after his acquittal.
Disclosure of dreadful diseases
- No law has yet been enacted in India defining the rights and duties of HIV infected persons. Therefore, to fill in the legal gap, the Court has laid various decisions.
- In the case of Mr. X. vs. Hospital Z, the issue in consideration was whether the disclosure made by a doctor to the fiance of a person suffering from HIV positive, amounts to infringement under Article 21? The Court herein opined that the lady proposing to marry such a person is entitled to all human rights, which are available to any human being and the right to be told that person is suffering from a deadly disease which is sexually communicable, is her right to life guaranteed under Article 21.
- The court also held that when two fundamental rights, namely the right to privacy and that if life clashes the right which would advance the public morality or public interest would alone be enforced through the process of Court.
Right to Privacy
- In the recent and the most debated case of Justice K.S. Puttuswamy (Retd.) vs. Union of India and Other, the Supreme Court’s 9 judges constitutional bench held privacy to be a fundamental right under the Constitution of India.
- The Privacy Bench unanimously held that the right to privacy is a fundamental right protected under the Constitution.
Six judgments of Judges
Justice Chandrachud, Chief Justice JS Khehar, Justice Agrawal and Justice Abdul Nazeer (Leading Judgment). Justice Chelameshwar, Justice Bobde, Justice Sapre, Justice Nariman and Justice Kaul have written separate judgments providing their own findings, conclusions, and observations (referred to as Single Judgment(s)). A consolidated order holds that:
- Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution; and
- The earlier judgments of the SC in Kharak Singh and MP Sharma to the extent they held otherwise, are overruled.
Right to die with dignity
- The Court held that the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution does not include the right to die. But later in Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India the Supreme Court held that passive euthanasia can be allowed under exceptional circumstances under the strict monitoring of the Court.
- The difference between active and passive euthanasia is that in active euthanasia something is done to end the patient’s life while in passive euthanasia something is not done that would have preserved the patient’s life.
- Supreme Court of India held in the case of Common Cause vs. Union of India that right to die with dignity is a fundamental right.
- The right to life and liberty as envisaged under Article 21 of the Constitution is meaningless unless it encompasses within its sphere individual dignity.
Right to choose a life partner
- In the case of Shakti Vahini vs. Union of India, the petitioner, an NGO, had approached the Apex Court, seeking directions to the State Governments and the Central Government to take preventive steps to combat honor crimes.
Article 21 weaves a string of an endless yarn of welfare legislation. Its scope and interpretation has been time and again defined and redefined, giving it the widest possible amplitude and judiciary has played an important role in lining up the actions of a welfare state.