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The Constitution of India is the supreme law of our land which articulates the basic framework demarcating fundamental political code, structure, procedures, powers, and duties of government institutions and sets out fundamental rights, directive principles, and the duties of citizens. It is getting stronger and stronger proving its dynamism as a living document even after 103 successful surgeries in terms of amendments. It races with the pace of the changing needs of society.

Article 21 is the basic foundation or the bedrock of our constitution. Though it is the living document strangely the concept of the “Life” mentioned under Article 21 has never evolved further as it could gain only one addition over the last 70 years viz Article 21(A) – Right to Education. Hence this paper attempts to explore the core content envisaged under the scope and meaning of Article 21 of our Constitution. The reason attributed to this phenomenon may be its wide application to the Criminal Jurisprudence as it Article is strongly embedded with two other neighbours (Article 20- Protection in respect of conviction of offence and Article 22- Protection against Arrest and detention) to restrict its expansion to other branches of law. It is often understood that this Article is being misued to gain shelter as it serves as an umbrella to evolve undue benefits. At the same time our Apex court over the last four decades have delivered landmark judgements enlarging the scope of this Article to ensure that many new rights are identified. However this paper studies further scope for the present needs of the society where deprival of many of them has led to disruption in the overall Constitution Scheme. It states as under:

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

Thus the three important components embedded in this single sentence article are : (a) Life (b) Personal Liberty (c) Procedure established by Law..

Justice Field in the famous case “Munn v. Illinois” the word “life” is more than mere animal existence and it embraces within itself not only the physical existence but also the quality of life. The expression “Personal liberty” not only means freedom from arrest, detention and false or wrongful confinement but also covers those rights and privileges that are essential to achieve happiness with freedom.

Supreme Court of India examined the “Right to personal liberty” under Article 21 in the case of A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras: AIR 1950 SC 27 (Preventive Detention Act, 1950) has narrowed down the meaning and scope of “personal liberty” and held that the term “personal liberty” relates only freedom of the physical body and that Articles 19 (1) (d) and Article 21 have to treated separately.

Justice Bhagwati P.N. in Francis Coralie Mullin case (The Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act, 1974)  (1981 AIR 746, 1981 SCR (2) 516) said that “The fundamental right to life which is the most precious human right and which forms the ark of all other rights must therefore be interpreted in a broad and expansive spirit so as to invest it with significance and vitality which may endure for years to come and enhance the dignity of the individual and the worth of the human person. Now obviously, the right to life enshrined in Article 21 cannot be restricted to mere animal existence. It means something much more than just physical survival.”

Supreme Court has enlarged  the meaning and expression of “personal liberty” in many cases to reach an interpretation that could best protect the liberty and freedom of an individual in its judgement in Kharak Singh v. State of UP: AIR 1963 SC 129(Regulation 236 of Chapter XX of the U.P. Police Regulation) where it held the regulation as ultravires Article 21 and Article 19 (1) (d) of the Constitution and held that domiciliary visits by the police every night to check and monitor the doings of Kharak Singh were violative of his right to personal liberty and right to freedom of movement as “personal liberty meant much more than mere animal existence”.

In R.C. Cooper v. Union of India: AIR 1970 SC 564- (Banking Companies (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Act, 1969 the Apex court overruled the ratio laid down in A. K. Gopalan case and rejected the mutual exclusivity theory. In case effect of any act violates the fundamental rights of citizens,

Supreme Court in the  Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India­­­: AIR 1978 SC 597 (Passports Act, 1960)  gaven widest possible interpretation was given to words and expression “personal liberty” observing that the expression “personal liberty” in Article 21 is of widest amplitude and it covers variety of rights which constitute the personal liberty of a man and Article 21 and Article 19 go together and they mutually co-exist to the extent that if there is a law prescribing a procedure for depriving a person of his personal liberty and though there is no infringement of the fundamental right under Article 21 but any such law and procedure would have to meet the challenges of Article 19.




New Rights under Article 21

Reasons that impact of Life and Dignity of Citizens.


Right to Live with Dignity

The Right to live with dignity includes adequate nutrition, clothing, shelter and to express one self.


Right to Livelihood

Right to life includes right to livelihood because no person can live without the means of living. State must guarantee jobs for all for livelihood so that they will not migrate to other places seeking employment


Right against Illegal Detention

It recognises the rights of the arrested persons by providing a fair and reasonable mechanism to be followed in confinement of persons so that no person is illegally detained. 


Right to Free Legal Aid

Litigation can become unthinkably expensive affecting the rights of indigent persons to have their just and fair claims adjudicated in the courts of law. Though free legal services and it shall be the duty of the state to provide assistance to such poor persons and have their claims adjudicated without burden of legal fees and expenses.


Right for  Speedy Trial

Justice Delayed is Justice Denied. Right to speedy trial for every citizen is to be made statutory to meet the ends of Justice and fix a specific period for disposal.


Right against sexual harassment at workplace

Though Supreme Court has laid down important guidelines to protect and prevent any kind of sexual harassment of a working woman at her workplace, this Right should be embedded in the Constitution.


Right to Clean Environment

Right to live life of dignity in healthy environment with proper sanitation system and free of pollution.  It is the duty of the State to ensure availability to every citizen


Right to Die with Dignity

Euthanasia under some exceptional circumstances and strict monitoring of the court “Living Will” of a patient to withdraw medical support in case if the person concerned goes into irreversible state of coma. Law should allow the person under coma to die with dignity.


Right to Health & Free Medical Treatment of Terminal Diseases

Medical Treatment for any citizen suffering from dreaded terminal diseases have become unaffordable though Government hospitals take care. But still they are deprived of free treatments.


Right to Disclosure of Dreadful Disease by any spouse before marriage

Every person has been held entitled for all human rights including the right to be told about any dreadful and deadly disease and seek for medical test before marriage


Right to Choose life partner

It would help to nullify honour killings and related crimes in the society and eliminate Casteism


Right to Food, Cloth & Shelter

No job results in poverty and deprives the majority of population to fight for these basic entities of life even during pandemics. Citizen should claim as a Right to Life and Dignity


Right to enforce Prohibition, bank on public smoking and drugs in the society

Majority is opposed for Drinking , smoking and Drugs but somehow it cannot be controlled as any citizen has to stay a silent spectator suffering to the evil impacts and crimes on account of these unhealthy practices


Right Against obscenity and violence in any form of public entertainment

Many crimes in society are influenced by entertainments like Cinema, pubs, etc denting Social Order and Morality of any society.


Right Against Misinformation in Social Media

Of late a lot of fake messages and unauthentic information are doing rounds in social media without any check leading to panic and unrest in the minds of citizens.


Right to Recall elected Representatives

Electorate should have the right to recall any of its’s representatives on account of Blatant Corruption, Crime, Moral turpitude, Non Performance due to illness, etc adjudicated by any lowest court.

There are many specific laws provided to curb the above social wrongs and protect the affected. There are many landmark judicial precedents too established by many courts in our country to safeguard and uphold all these above propositions. But these implied rights coming under the scope and ambit of Article 21 is often taken up to Court for adjudication since it is expressly not provided under the constitution.  Hence, in true reality there is no guarantee spelt out under our Constitution for any citizen to stake his claim as a matter of right to lead his life with Choice and Dignity.Artcile 21 needs to be developed further to ensure that all wisdom reiterated from time to time under the basic structure of our Constitution defined in its’s Preamble.

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Category Constitutional Law, Other Articles by - Parthasarathi Loganathan