To Access this website in Hindi Medium - Click Here

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution: Protection of Life and Personal Liberty

The Government of India Act, 1935 provided for the establishment Article 21 of the Indian Constitution declares that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law. It comes under the Part III of the Indian constitution and is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed to all citizens of India. In this article, we will discuss various other rights and liberties that are a part of Article 21.

Article 21 of Indian constitution

  • Article 21 is a fundamental right and is included in Part-III of Indian Constitution. 

  • This right is available to all citizens as well as non-citizens alike. 

  • Supreme Court has described this right as the “heart of fundamental rights”

  • According to Justice Bhagwati, Article 21 “embodies a constitutional value of supreme importance in a democratic society.”

  • Article 21 secures two rights: The right to life and the Right to personal liberty.

  • Article 21 cannot be suspended during an emergency. 

Meaning and Scope of Article 21 of Indian Constitution

The right to life in Article 21 of Indian constitution does not mean animal existence or the mere act of breathing. It guarantees the right to a dignified life. Some of the rights that are currently included in the ambit of Article 21 includes (mentioned in Menaka Case):

  • Right to live with human dignity.

  • Right to the decent environment including pollution-free water and air and protection

  • against hazardous industries.

  • Right to livelihood.

  • Right to privacy.

  • Right to shelter.

  • Right to health.

  • Right to free education up to 14 years of age.

  • Right to free legal aid.

  • Right against solitary confinement.

  • Right to a speedy trial.

  • Right against handcuffing

  • Right against inhuman treatment.

  • Right against delayed execution.

  • Right to travel abroad.

  • Right against bonded labor.

  • Right against custodial harassment.

  • Right to emergency medical aid.

  • Right to timely medical treatment in a government hospital.

  • Right not to be driven out of a state.

  • Right to a fair trial.

  • Right of prisoner to have necessities of life.

  • Right of women to be treated with decency and dignity

  • Right against public hanging.

  •  Right to hearing.

  • Right to information.

  • Right to reputation.

  • Right of appeal from a judgment of conviction

  • Right to social security and protection of the family

  • Right to social and economic justice and empowerment

  • Right against bar fetters

  • Right to appropriate life insurance policy

  • Right to sleep

  • Right to freedom from noise pollution

  • Right to electricity

Now, let us look at some of the historic judgments that widened the scope of Article 21:

  1. Kharak Singh vs. the State of UP and Others: Right to privacy was included in Article 21 by this case.

  2. Sunil Batra vs. Delhi Administration: In this case, Supreme Court deemed the fatal handcuffs for the convicted persons as unconstitutional as it suggests inhuman behavior towards the prisoner. The court reiterated the clause “protection to the convicted and accused person” under Article 21.

  3. Mohini Jain vs. the State of Karnataka, 1992 SC: The SC held that the Right to life also includes the Right to education.  

  4. Unni Krishnan vs. the State of Andhra Pradesh, 1993 SC: In this case, SC fixed the age that right to education is a fundamental right to the children for the age of 6-14 years.

  5. Subhash Kumar vs. the State of Bihar: SC included the right to get pollution-free air in the ambit of the right to life. 

  6. Lachma Devi vs. Attorney General of India: In this case, SC made the execution of a death sentence at a public place unconstitutional. 

Important Cases Related to Article 21 of the Indian Constitution

  1. A.K Gopalan vs. the State of Madras, 1951: The Supreme court has taken a narrow interpretation of Article 21 in this case. It held that the protection under Article 21 is available only against arbitrary executive action and not from arbitrary legislative action. This means that the state can deprive a person of the rights available in Article 21 based on a law.

  2.  Maneka Gandhi vs. UOI, 1978: In this case, the SC overruled its judgment of the Gopalan Case by taking a wider interpretation of Article 21. It ruled that the right to life and personal liberty of a person can be deprived by law on the condition that the procedure prescribed by that law is reasonable, fair, and just. Further, it clarified that the right to life does not merely mean animal existence. It held that all those aspects of life which go to make a man’s life meaningful, complete, and worth living will be included in this. 

FAQs Regarding Article 21 of the Indian Constitution

Q. What is Article 21 of the Indian Constitution?

A:  Article 21 of the Indian Constitution is a fundamental right that declares that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.

Q. What is Article 21A?

A: Article 21 A declares that the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years. It is added by the 86th Constitution Amendment Act, 2002. 

Current Affairs analysis