Article 21 of the Constitution of India

  • Post category:Blog
  • Reading time:9 mins read

Written by: Kajal Kumari


Article 21 of the Constitution of India deals with the Protection of life and personal liberty which states that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law. Article 14, 19, and 21 of the Indian Constitution together comprise the golden triangle in the Constitution.

Procedure established by Law:

The procedure established by law has been taken from the Constitution of Japan. It connotes the supremacy of written law as enacted by the Legislature. The procedure established by law is distinct from the due process of law often used in American Constitutional Practice. In the U.S. the judiciary enjoys the power to decide upon the justness or other laws passed by the Legislature. Whereas in India, the power of the judiciary is just confined to the aspect of whether parliament has violated its jurisdiction or not.

The distinction between Procedure established by Law and Due process of Law is that while the former was intended to permit Courts to question laws merely on procedural irregularities, the latter allowed the Judges to delve into the merits and substance of law as well.

In R.C. Cooper v. Union of India, 1970, it was held that even where a person is detained in accordance with the procedure established by law as mandated by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, the protection conferred by various clauses of Article 19 does not cease to be available to him and the law authorizing such detention has to satisfy the test of Article 19(1) of the Constitution of India. The attempts of the Courts should be to expand the reach and ambit of fundamental rights rather than attenuate their meaning and content.

Expanding the scope of right to life under Article 21:

  1. First Generation Human Rights- They are basically civil and political in nature like the right to life, equality before the law, freedom of speech and expression, etc.
  2. Second Generation Human Rights- They are basically economic, social, and cultural in nature like the right to health, food, housing, livelihood, etc.
  3. Third Generation Human Rights- These are the rights that go beyond civil and social rights like the right to a clean and healthy environment, the right to natural resources, etc.

Maneka Gandhi’s case[1] was a turning point in the Supreme Court’s interpretation of articles 14 and 21. In India, first-generation human rights have been given the status of fundamental rights enforceable by the Court of law. On the other hand, several second-generation human rights were encompassed in the constitution as a non-binding aspiration in the nature of Directive Principles of State Policy like Article 39A and Article 41 of the Constitution of India.

After the Maneka Gandhi case, the Supreme Court moved from a pedantic approach to a purposive approach in construing the sweep of the right to life under the constitution. The most striking aspect of Supreme Court interpretation of substantive due process was that it empowered the Court to expand the limited phraseology of the right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution to include a wide range of unenumerated rights derived from Article 21, these rights cover areas such as rights of prisoners, protection of women and children and environmental rights.

In Francis Coralie v. Union of India, 1978, it was held that the right to life is not restricted to a mere animal existence. It means something more than just physical survival. The right to life is not confined to the protection of any faculty or limb through which it is enjoyed, but it also includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it namely the bare necessities of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing, and shelter, freely moving about and mixing with fellow human beings.

In People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India, 1997, the Supreme Court held that telephone tapping is a serious invasion of an individual’s right to privacy which is a part of his right to life and personal liberty enshrined under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and it should not be reported by the State unless there is a public emergency or interest of public safety requirements. The Court laid down a number of guidelines to regulate the discretion vested in the State under Section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 for the purpose of telephone tapping and interception of messages.

Whether Right to Life includes Right to die or not:

In Gyan Kaur v. State of Punjab, 1996, the constitution bench of the Supreme Court overruled Rathinam Case[2] and held that right to life under Article 21 does not include the right to die. The ‘right to die’ is inherently inconsistent with ‘right to life as is ‘death’ with ‘life’. Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 was declared constitutional. Right to life is a natural right embodied in Article 21 but suicide is unnatural termination of life, incompatible and also inconsistent with the concept of the right to life.

In Aruna Shanbaug v. Union of India, 2011 SC, it was contended that the continued existence of Aruna Shanbaug was in violation of her right to live with dignity. The Supreme Court issued a number of guidelines legalizing passive euthanasia in India but rejected the plea of the petitioners. Active Euthanasia is illegal in India.

Right to Privacy:

In Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) v. Union of India, 2017, a nine-judge bench of the Honourable Supreme Court unanimously declared that the right to privacy is a fundamental right under the Indian Constitution. It is an inalienable natural right intrinsic to life, liberty, and dignity. Justice Chelameshwar held that even if privacy is not expressly found in the constitution, it may be implied from the phrase personal liberty in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.


Article 21 of the Constitution of India also guaranteed the right to privacy or the right to be let alone.[3] Article 21 is intended to ensure basic human dignity to all. The right to a speedy trial is right implicit in the guarantee of life and personal liberty enshrined in Article 21.[4]


[1] Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, 1978.

[2] P. Rathinam v. Union of India, 1994.

[3] R. Rajgopal v. State of Tamil Nadu, 1994.

[4] Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar, 1979.

Previous Posts

Delhi’s Air Pollution Governance

Laws For Prevention Of Animal Cruelty

Constitutional Amendments in India

The Crypto Currency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021

Creative Commons: Impact On Indian Copyright Law