This article is written by Vanshika Poddar, who discusses the integrities of the right to sleep under Article 21 of the Constitution while analysing why sleep is important and how different jurisdictions have perceived this notion of granting sleep as a fundamental right of an individual.

It has been published by Rachit Garg.


The Indian Constitution, under Part III, envisages the different fundamental rights extended to its citizens but also contains a few rights extended to every individual. The most crucial of all is Article 21, which entails a bunch of rights that every individual deserves, clubbed together under one roof. Starting with the basic rights, such as the right to eat and walk freely, to the more complicated rights, such as the right to privacy or sleep, are encompassed under Article 21. The right to sleep is one of the multiple rights that the Indian Constitution provides. This fundamental right has been guaranteed against state actions, as opposed to private nuances. For instance, if one’s right to sleep is affected as a result of highway construction and repair work at odd hours, one could file it as a violation of Article 21. However, if there is loud music being played in one’s neighbourhood, causing interruption to one’s peaceful sleep, then an action can be brought under the tort of nuisance. 

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Through this article, we shall discuss the development of Article 21, which has led to the development of the right to sleep.

Interpretation of Article 21 of the Constitution

Article 21 reads, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except in accordance with the procedure established by law.” This article provides every person’s right to life and personal liberty, including non-citizens and people whose citizenship is unknown. As the paramount fundamental right, the Article confers an inexhaustible source of many rights. As discussed by Justice PN Bhagwati in Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India (1983), the right to life includes the right to live with human dignity, and the magnitude of the components of this right depends upon the extent of the country’s economic development. In his words, “This right to live with human dignity, enshrined in Article 21, derives its life breath from the Directive Principles of State Policy and particularly clauses (e) and (f) of Article 39 and Articles 41 and 42“. 

This Article, while providing for a wide range of rights, also restricts personal liberty, provided that such restriction is based upon the procedures established by law. While understanding the terms procedure set by law in the ADM Jabalpur case (1976), the Court stated that these terms mean nothing more than the process laid down by the state government. This means:

  • There must be an existing law that interferes with the right to personal liberty;
  • Such existing law must be a valid law;
  • The process for interference must be mentioned in the existing law.

Any departure from the above can be construed as violating Article 21.

Importance of Article 21 of the Constitution

The landmark judgement of AK Gopalan v. State of Madras (1950) first highlighted the interpretation of Article 21 explicitly concerning depriving individuals of their right to personal liberty by the procedure established by law. Under this case, the validity of the Preventive Detention Act 1950 was questioned, stating whether such a procedure would mean any procedure laid down by an enacted law or whether the process should be fair and reasonable. 

The law in question dealt with Section 14 of the Preventive Detention Act, which did not provide for mentioning the grounds for detaining a person. Such a comprehensive process cannot be termed a valid procedure to deprive someone of their liberty as envisaged by Article 21. This Article must be treated as the basic structure of the Indian Constitution failing, which would affect its paramount position amongst all the prevailing laws. Though this judgement focused primarily on the law protecting one’s body, the dissent by Justice Fazl was not given much importance. He stated, “Articles 19, 20, 21 and 22 to some extent overlapped each other“, thereby indicating that much priority must be given to the reasonableness of the law in question to prevent situations of dictatorship – one that would take away the importance of Article 21 in its entirety. 

This statement was once again brought to light during RC Cooper (1950), wherein the judges emphasised the reasonableness of laws. The object test, as under AK Gopalan, was substituted with the effect test, giving the people the right to be protected against all kinds of infringement of fundamental rights, including Article 21. 

Widening the scope of Article 21 of the Constitution

The Maneka Gandhi era- Right to Travel

Article 21 has been an ever-developing law in itself. The rise of this development began in 1978, when Maneka Gandhi brought a case against the passport issuing authorities, who denied giving access without disclosing any reasonable grounds, stating that such non-disclosure was in the general public’s interest. In this case, the primary opinion of the bench was that impounding was null and void as there was no reasonable opportunity given to the petitioner to be heard in her defence. The case proved the catalytic agent that formed various judicial opinions on Article 21. It not only broadened the interpretation of the Article but has been proven to be a fruitful source to protect the rights of the people.

The concept of personal liberty was given the broadest amplitude that covers those rights that, in one way or another, constitute a person’s liberty. Depriving an applicant of the right to know why the application was rejected harmed their liberty. It was here that Justice Krishnan Iyer stated that the right to travel abroad falls under the ambit of Article 21.

Rights of accused and prisoners

As stated above, Article 21 must be read broadly, and no person must be deprived of their liberty except when required by law. The term person here also includes those who have been accused of committing a criminal offence or have been imprisoned after being convicted. Some of these rights have been discussed below:

Rights relating to the arrest of a person

The directions relating to a person’s arrest were laid down in Joginder v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1994), where it was inevitable that arrest must be made only after reasonable suspicion and belief of a crime being committed. Failing this may lead to harm to the reputation and self-esteem of a person. Besides this, three important rights were focused on with respect to the arrest:

  1. The right to inform family members of the arrest,
  2. The right to consult a lawyer, and
  3. The right to know the grounds of arrest

Often, it has been seen that arrested persons have been subject to unwanted custodial deaths. To avoid this, guidelines were formulated in the case of D.K. Basu v. State of West Bengal (1997), which protected the personal liberty of those under arrest.

Right to a fair and speedy trial

Keeping a person in confinement for a period longer than required by law because they have committed a crime is also considered belated by Article 21. In Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar (1979), it was stated that unnecessarily long custody without trial is against one’s personal liberty, and a fair trial of such an under-arrest person must be considered under Article 21.

Right to bail and free legal aid

It is seen that people attempt to impose frivolous grounds to ensure that a person is not granted bail, and even if one is granted bail, the terms are often unfair. Babu Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1978) held that imposing such harsh and unjust conditions while granting bail is incorrect, following Article 21. Similarly, just because a prisoner is poor and cannot afford legal aid alone, such services cannot be taken away from him, as it is his right under Article 21.

Right against solitary confinement

The Sunil Batra cases have been a landmark concerning the right against solitary confinement as enshrined under Article 21. In Sunil Batra I (1975), the accused was awarded solitary confinement not because of disciplinary action but because he was to get the death penalty. He pleaded this to be against Article 21, as prisoners have a right to move and mingle unless the same is to be curtailed for specific reasons. Similarly, reasonable treatment in prison was violated when Sunil Batra II (1979) took place, where a letter intimating the torture of a fellow prisoner by the prison warden was sent to the authorities.

Right to human dignity and quality of life

As has been reiterated multiple times, human rights and dignity are to be extended to a quality life and not that of mere animal existence. This was also highlighted in the Bandhua Mukti Morcha case (1984), which stated that Article 21 is the heart of fundamental rights and that it is essential that people, including workers, are protected and free from exploitation.

Right to education

Considering that Article 21 contains multiple rights, Article 21A was brought to life in the case of Unnikrishnan v. State of Andhra Pradesh (1993), where the Court mandated the right to education for all up to the age of 14 years. This age limit was put in place considering the developmental stage of a child and the need for primary education for all to improve the standard of living of the people.

Right to shelter and livelihood

In Chameli Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1995), it was brought to light that the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 guarantees, in any civilised society, the right to food, water, decent environment, education, medical care and shelter. Here, shelter includes an adequate living space in a safe and decent structure with clean surroundings, air, light, water, electricity and sanitation, along with other civic amenities. 

Right to privacy

This right is not unknown and has been in the news ever since Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Another v. Union of India and Others (AADHAR Judgement) (2018). However, even before that, there have been incidents that mandated that a person’s privacy be respected. In Mr. X v. Hospital Z (2002), the question of whether the patient’s medical condition about AIDS must be revealed to his family members is raised. Here, the medical practitioner’s guide specifically provides that whatever communication takes place between the patient and his doctor is private and confidential. Therefore, it is important that the patient’s right to privacy is taken care of and that no sensitive information is communicated unless required for the benefit of the patient. At the same time, the authorities found it to be important that a person marrying the patient is entitled to know if their partner has a deadly disease.

Right to sleep

How often have you wondered whether sleeping peacefully can be accorded a right, considering that good sleep leads to a healthy life? Considering that pollution levels have been on the rise, noise is considered a form of pollutant, and noise pollution control regulations were brought into place. Every age group is accorded a minimum number of hours of sleep, which is important to improve their quality of life, brain activity and mood. Sleep not only ensures that your body has adequate energy but, interestingly, de-stresses the heart, helps improve metabolism and produces hormones that promote alertness in the mind. Besides, not getting enough sleep may lead to problems that may affect one’s capacity to think clearly. This ratio was also taken into account by the Madhya Pradesh High Court in the matter of Sayeed Maqsood Ali v. State of Madhya Pradesh (2001), wherein it stated that every citizen is entitled to live in a decent environment and the right to have a peaceful night’s sleep.

Keeping this in mind, steps have been taken to ensure that rest is also to be considered a fundamental right under the wide umbrella of Article 21. The first such instance, though not brought under Article 21, was seen in 1996, when the High Court of Calcutta disposed of a writ petition broad before it, which questioned the interference with the right to use microphones and loudspeakers while praying daily puja and other religious activities. While understanding the importance of respecting and permitting practising religion, the authorities made it clear to maintain a volume and noise level so that any unnecessary nuisance or annoyance could be prevented [Om Birangana Religious Society v. The State and Ors. (1996)]. Apart from this instance, specific judicial decisions have been brought in place that specifically deal with the right to sleep as part of Article 21.

Noise pollution and the right to sleep

Noise can be defined as a sound that lacks an agreeable quality or is unpleasing and loud. Various courts have discussed the issues relating to the adverse effects of noise pollution and the negative impact on an individual’s sleep. For instance, the Delhi High Court observed in Free Legal Aid Cell Shri Sugan Chand Aggarwal Alias Bhagat Ji v. Govt. of NCT of Delhi and Others (2001):

Noise is a pollutant which causes material injury to the rights of an individual. It contaminates the environment, causes nuisance and affects the health of a person, and therefore, it exceeds a reasonable limit and offends Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The sweetest music, if it disturbs a person who is trying to concentrate or to sleep, is noise to him, just as the sound of a pneumatic riveting hammer is noise to nearly everyone.

Noise pollution has been known as a nuisance when it affects the rights of others or when it causes danger or annoyance to the public or people in general. This offence has been punishable under Sections 290 and 291 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Furthermore, the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, gives the district magistrate the power to remove such nuisance under Section 133. In this record, the Calcutta High Court held the use of husking machines at night to be a nuisance and interruptive of the sleep of others in the case of Bhuban Ram and Ors. v. Bibhuti Bhushan Biswas (1919), and the occupier was held to be liable under the IPC.

The effect of noise pollution on an individual’s sleep, including that of a foetus, was discussed in the case of Re: Noise Pollution (2005), where the right to sleep, the freedom to not listen, and the right to remain silent were discussed. The fact that people are not able to sleep due to the rise in pollution levels can result in a great deal of inconvenience and discomfort for people, including adverse health effects. Therefore, the Supreme Court prohibited using a trumpet or any sound amplifier at night between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., except in public emergencies.

Religion-related noise pollution was also taken into account by the Supreme Court in Church of God (Full Gospel) v. KKR Majestic Colony Welfare Assn. (2000), where it issued directions to control noise pollution to ensure that such activities do not disturb old or infirm persons, students or children who were sleeping in early hours. The Court also analysed the ‘natural right to sleep’ entitled to young babies.

Judicial decisions

Kharak Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1962)

This case holds prime importance with respect to the validity of Regulation 236 of the UP Police Regulations, which permits domiciliary visits at night. The petitioner in the present case has stated that this regulation is violative of Article 21 of the Constitution since it negates one’s right to peaceful sleep. He stated: “Frequently the chaukidar of the village and sometimes police constables enter his house, knock and shout at his door, wake him up during the night and thereby disturb his sleep. On a number of occasions, they have compelled him to get up from his sleep and accompany them to the police station to report his presence there.” While, on the one hand, it is important to keep an eye on an accused, it is also important that a person is not deprived of his liberty so as to deduce his capacity from that of an animal’s existence. Such disturbances can impair one’s sleep and can be treated as violations of the right to sleep. It is here that the regulation authorising such a visit was struck down as unconstitutional. 

Burrabazar Fireworks Dealers Association v. Commissioner of Police, Calcutta (1997)

The manufacture, sale, dealing and storage of fireworks without any restriction and the permission to burst firecrackers without any restriction were in question here since they affect the community’s safety, health and peace. This petition was challenged by another petition stating that allowing the former would go against the dealers’ right to carry on trade and business under Article 19 of the Constitution. The Calcutta High Court here took into account that no fundamental right is absolute, and certain restrictions are important so that the rights of other citizens are not violated. It stated that “A citizen or people cannot be made a captive listener to hear tremendous sounds caused by bursting out from a noisy firework. Tremendous sound is unacceptable not only to human beings but all other animals, and people have a right to sleep and leisure.Article 51A was also brought into the picture, which casts a duty to protect and improve the natural environment and to have compassion for all living creatures. The pollution control board was ordered to make decisions to manage the sound level of fireworks that would be used in the state and to protect the right to sleep and leisure, besides the other rights of the people living in the state.

People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. State of Gujarat and Ors (2000)

The petition herein was filed on behalf of the hutment dwellers, who were deprived of their huts as a result of forceful removal, stating that the land was public property that belonged to the State of Gujarat and was under the control of the municipal corporations, urban development authorities and housing boards of Ahmedabad and Vadodara. The removal was based on the grounds of the development of urban areas in the interest of the general public and other members of society and the fact that proper and timely notice was given to these dwellers to vacate the encroached land. The question arose that when land is divided into public and private properties, those without land do not have the right to sleep, eat, urinate, take baths or perform other biological functions. This situation results in a worse condition than that of an animal. In this case, the precedent set in previous judicial decisions concerning one’s right to life and personal liberty under Article 21, including the right to sleep, was discussed at length. It was stated that to ensure that people with low incomes are not deprived of their right to basic human amenities, the state must identify and earmark certain land that must be provided to these dwellers. However, the matter of alternate accommodation was to be decided on a case-to-case basis.

Ramlila Maidan v. Home Secretary, Union of India (2011)

Suo moto action was taken against the brutal actions of police against those sleeping in Ramleela Maidan, which was given on rent for a yoga training camp organised by Baba Ramdev. Four days into the campaign, Baba Ramdev started a hunger strike against corruption with a mass crowd of over 50,000 people. Considering that the strike was not called off, people involved in the strike were sleeping in that area in unity. At midnight, around 12 a.m., the police started the lathi charge and used tear gas to remove the crowd. Many lives were lost, and people suffered with burns and injuries. A two-judge bench stated this to be a violation of not only the right to assemble peacefully and without arms, along with the freedom to speech and expression, but also the right to sleep as per Article 21.

Right to sleep in foreign countries

The concept of the right to sleep is not one that is aloof from those sitting abroad. However, unlike India, there are not many states that expressly recognise this right as a fundamental right. On the other hand, with time, states have started to understand the importance of sleep and have, in one way or another, tried to ensure that the right to sleep of the people is not disturbed. The reason for this remains the importance that sleep holds in the overall development of people’s minds. For instance, the Vagrancy Act of 1824, which was functioning in the United Kingdom for a period of almost 200 years, made it a criminal offence to “rough sleep and beg”. This meant that homeless people and those in need could not lodge in any barn or outhouse, which seemed to be a threat to travellers, gipsies and any other individual, and had to take shelter in unoccupied or public property. However, recently, the UK government announced that they are planning to repeal the act to ensure that people without adequate support are not left out wandering looking for a place to sleep.

Another instance is an application filed by an anti-noise group in the United Kingdom, which called for a good night’s sleep to be considered a human right. The matter was brought before the European Court of Human Rights in October 2001, which stated that overnight flights that fly in and out of Heathrow Airport in West London are detrimental to the residents’ basic human rights since they disturb their good night’s sleep. The group called for management to look into the matter and decrease the number of flights between 11:30 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. The Court considered this to be a violation of human rights and directed the government to consider this direction.

The European Union, back in 2017, launched the Homeless Bill of Rights 2017, a campaign to ensure humanitarian rights for people without homes. The key notion behind this Bill was not the inadequate protection standards for the rights of people without homes but to oppose the criminalisation of people without homes. This notion stretched to those legislations that prevented the use of public benches and other public spaces by the homeless for the purpose of sleeping or during their daily basic human activities. The idea for this Bill originally originated in the United States of America but was not readily adopted. However, the USA has very recently decided to adopt the Homeless Bill of Rights, 2023, which has readily acknowledged the rights of the homeless, including the right to sleep. The Bill not only permits the use of public places as shelters with certain restrictions but also allows the registration of complaints regarding inadequate shelter facilities.

Furthermore, though not many, there have been a few judgments that are acting as precedents set by foreign courts on this matter.

Foreign judgments

Harper v. Showers (1999)

The situation here was similar to the Kharak Singh case, where the prisoner was housed in a manner that was cruel and unusual punishment. He was placed in cells near psychiatric patients who would scream and beat on metal toilets. He was moved to fill the cells formerly housed by psychiatric patients and was subjected to malicious and sadistic acts that deprived him of cleanliness, a peaceful mind and sleep. It was argued by the petitioner that “sleep undoubtedly counts as one of life’s basic needs”. The 8th amendment of the US Constitution was referred to, which, though it does not mandate comfortable prisons, is a protection against calculated harassment unrelated to prison needs. Hence, the Court accepted this petition, stating that these allegations are not meritless.

Jane Doe v. Kelly (2017)

In this case, the right to sleep of the detainees who were confined to US customs and border protection facilities was questioned. It was stated that such detainees were denied beds, bedding and sleeping. The District Court here stated that if the detainees were held long enough to require them to sleep in such facilities, then it was the responsibility of the requisite authority to make sure that they provided conditions that met basic human needs. It would not be a question of reconsideration that allowing them to sleep would reduce the capacity of the facility to detain people in comparison to the capacity prior to this decision. It is only logical to assume that every human who arrives at the station in the middle of the night and is transferred only the next day would be required to sleep while in custody, as is part of human nature.

Robert Martin v. City of Boise (2019)

This matter dealt with the right to sleep of homeless people who did not have access to shelter homes. An anti-camping ordinance was passed that criminalised the use of bedding supplies in order to camp on and around public property without providing for any exceptions. It was ruled that the city could not punish homeless people who had been camping or taking shelter on public properties and using bedding supplies, specifically when no beds were available in the city’s homeless shelter. The Court emphasised that such anti-camping ordinances would prohibit individuals from undertaking activities they cannot avoid because they are humans. Depriving people of their basic human rights because they are poor and cannot afford a shelter would not be human-like.


According to Dr. Harish Shetty, MD- Psychiatry, MBBS- Psychiatrist, “sleep is a daily necessity and plays a paramount role in our day-to-day life.” An individual’s immune system is closely related to one’s sleeping cycle. It is, therefore, important to understand why the right to sleep constitutes a pivotal fundamental right that must be available to every individual. As stated by Dr. Shetty, “Our brain processes data and produces long-term memories while we sleep.” Depriving any individual of this process would be inhumane. 

The Article’s initiative and judgments stated above show how the loss has been progressing and adapting to the fundamental human needs that were initially overlooked. It, therefore, becomes the duty of a judge to ensure that in these evolving times, the laws continue to evolve and rights such as the right to sleep are not overlooked. At the same time, it is also important to differentiate between when and how these rights are violated and when it is a mere process to safeguard the greater good and avoid the multiplicity of frivolous cases.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is the right to sleep an express right under the Indian Constitution?

The right to sleep under the Indian Constitution is an implied right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. Considering the innumerous interpretations that can be drawn under the terms “life” and “personal liberty”, it was not possible to specify all the possibilities under the Article itself.

Does the right to sleep permit individuals to sleep anywhere at any time?

No, a fundamental right is an absolute right. It is for this reason that every fundamental right comes with certain restrictions. While exercising one’s right, the rights of others mustn’t be affected. Therefore, no, the right to sleep does not permit individuals to sleep anywhere at any point in time. This right has been designed to ensure a peaceful sleep and that the individuals around you are not disturbed.

Are the homeless people or those in the slums correct when they exercise their right to sleep while sleeping on the pathways?

There have been various judgments, specifically by foreign courts, that state the rights of people without homes. One side of the coin allows them to sleep on the pathways, while the other side condemns this as affecting the rights of others. One resolution to this issue could be setting up shelters for homeless people, like those in the US.

How is noise pollution related to the right to sleep?

The quality of sleep is often linked to the surroundings in which one sleeps. Therefore, the higher the noise pollution rates, the worse the quality of undisturbed sleep will be. Here, precedents and regulations prohibiting higher sound levels at night help regulate the right to sleep.


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