1. Protection of life and personal liberty.—No person shall be deprived of is life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

The right to life includes those things which make life meaningful. For example, the right of a couple to adopt a son is a constitutional right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution (see, Philips Alfred Malvin v. Y.J. Gonsalvis and others, AIR 1999 Ker. 187). The right to life enshrined in Article 21 guarantees right to live with human dignity. Right to live in freedom from noise pollution is a fundamental right protected by Article 21 and noise pollution beyond permissible limits is an inroad into that right. (Noise Pollution (v), in re, (2005) 5 SCC 733.

The majority in the case of A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 27, gave a narrow meaning to the expression ”personal liberty” within the subject matter of Articles 20 to 22 by confining it to the liberty of the person (that is, of the body of a person). The majority of the judges also took a narrow view of the expression ‘procedure established by law’ in this case. In the State of Maharashtra v. Prabhakar Pandurang Sanzigri, AIR 1966, SC 424, Subba Rao J. considered the inter-relation between Articles 19 and 21 as was discussed by the majority Judges in the A.K. Gopalan’s case and came to the conclusion that “that view was not the last word on the subject”.

The expression ‘liberty’ in the 5th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution has been given a very wide meaning. The restricted interpretation of the expression ‘personal liberty’ preferred by the majority judgement in A.K. Gopalan’s case namely, that the expression ‘personal liberty’ means only liberty relating to or concerning the person or body of the individual, has not been accepted by the Supreme Court in subsequent cases.

That the expression ”personal liberty” is not limited to bodily restraint or to confinement to prison, only is well illustrated in Kharak Singh v. State of U.P, AIR 1963 SC 1295. In that case the question raised was of the validity of the police regulations authorising the police to conduct what are called as domiciliary visits against bad characters and to have surveillance over them. The court held that such visits were an invasion, on the part of the police, of the sanctity of a man’s home and an intrusion into his personal security and his right to sleep, and therefore violative of the personal liberty of the individual, unless authorised by a valid law. As regards the regulations authorising surveillance over the movements of an individual the court was of the view that they were not bad, as no right to privacy has been guaranteed in the Constitution.

However, in Gobind v. State of M.P., AIR 1975 S.C. 1378, Mathew, J. asserted that the right to privacy deserves to be examined with care and to be denied only when an important countervailing interest is shown to be superior, and observed that this right will have to go through a process of case-by-case development. Mathew, J. explained that even assuming that the right to personal liberty, the right to move freely throughout the territory of India and the freedom of speech create an independent right to privacy as emanating from them, the right is not absolute and it must be read subject to restrictions on the basis of compelling public interest.

Refusal of an application to enter a medical college cannot be said to affect person‘s personal liberty under Article 21 (State of A.P. v. L. Narendranathan, (1971) 1 S.C.C. 607).

In Satwant Singh Sawhney v. A.P.O., New Delhi, AIR 1967 S.C. 1836, it was held  that  right  to  travel  is  included  within  the  expression  ‘personal  liberty’ and, therefore, no person can be deprived of his right to travel, except according to the procedure established by law. Since a passport is essential for the enjoyment of that right, the denial of a passport amounts to deprivation of personal liberty. In the absence of any procedure prescribed by the law of land sustaining the refusal of a passport to a person, it‘s refusal amounts to an unauthorised deprivation of personal liberty guaranteed by Article 21. This decision was accepted by the Parliament and the infirmity was set right by the enactment of the Passports Act, 1967

It  was  stated  in  Maneka  Gandhi  v.  Union  of  India,  AIR  1978  S.C.  597, that ”personal liberty” within the meaning of Article 21 includes within its ambit the right to go abroad, and no person can be deprived of this right except according to procedure prescribed by law. In this case, it was clearly laid down that the fundamental rights conferred by Part III of the Constitution are not distinct and mutually exclusive. Thus, a law depriving a person of personal liberty and prescribing a procedure for that purpose within the meaning of Article 21 has still to stand the test of one or more of fundamental rights conferred by Article 19 which may be applicable to a given situation.

Procedure  established  by  law:

 The  expression  ‘procedure  established  by  law’ means procedure laid down by statute or procedure prescribed by the law of the State. Accordingly, first, there must be a law justifying interference with the person‘s life or personal liberty, and secondly, the law should be a valid law, and thirdly, the procedure laid down by the law should have been strictly followed.

The law laid down in A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 27, that the expression „procedure established by law‟ means only the procedure enacted by a law made by the State was held to be incorrect in the Bank Nationalisation Case (1970) 1 S.C.C. 248. Subsequently, in Maneka Gandhi’s case (AIR 1978 SC 49), it was laid down, that the law must now be taken to be well settled that Article 21 does not exclude Article 19 and a law prescribing a procedure for depriving a person of ‘personal liberty’ will have to meet the requirements of Article 21 and also of Article 19, as well as of Article 14.

The procedure must be fair, just and reasonable. It must not be arbitrary fanciful or oppressive. An interesting, follow-up of the Maneka Gandhi’s case came in a series of cases.

In Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, AIR 1980 S.C. 898, it was reiterated that in Article 21 the founding fathers recognised the right of the State to deprive a person of his life or personal liberty in accordance with fair, just and reasonable procedure established by valid law.

Presently, this term personal liberty extends to variety of matters like right to bail, right not to be handcuffed except under very few cases, right to speedy trial, right to free legal aid etc.

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