Case Brief |Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India
Petitioner – Maneka Gandhi
Respondent – Union of India
The Petitioner Maneka Gandhi was a journalist whose passport was issued as per the Passport Act of 1967 on 1st June 1976.
On July 2nd 1977 the regional passport office, New Delhi issued a letter dated July 7th, 1977 addressed to the petitioner in which she was asked to surrender her passport under section 10(3) (c)  of the Act in the public interest within 7 days from the date of receipt of the letter.
As soon as the petitioner got the notice of such impound she reverted to the authorities asking for a specific detailed reason as to why her passport shall be impounded. The Ministry of External Affairs however answered that the reasons are not to be specified in the interest of the general public.
Therefore in response, the petitioner Maneka Gandhi approached the Supreme Court by filing a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India for the enforcement of Fundamental Rights mentioned under Article 14 against the arbitrary of the authorities.
The petition filed was further amended and enforced specifically of Article 14 Right to Equality, Article 19 Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression and Article 22 Right to Life and Liberty guaranteed by the Constitution of India.
- Are the provisions under Article 21, 14 and 19 connected with each or are the mutually exclusive?
- Determining the scope of the phrase “Procedure established by Law”
- Whether the Right to travel abroad is protected under the umbrella of Article 21.
- Whether a legislative law that takes away Right to Life is reasonable.
- Whether the impugned order of Regional Passport Office is in contravention of principles of natural justice
Article 21 can only be claimed when a person is deprived of his “life” or “personal liberty” by the State as defined in Article 21. Article 21 secures 2 rights (i) Right to life (ii) Right to Personal liberty
The petitioner’s plea that the impugned provisions, Section (10) (c) of the Act was violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. It also violates the Right to Life and Personal liberty guaranteed by this article.
In other words, personal liberty means freedom from physical restraint and coercion which is not authorized by law. Article 21 of the constitution says “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”.
Article 21 guaranteed the Right to life and Right to Personal liberty only against the arbitrary action of the executive and not from the legislative action.
The concept of personal liberty first came up for consideration of the Supreme Court in A.K Gopalan’s case. In this case, the petitioner had been detained under the Preventive Detention Act, 1950.
The petitioner challenged the validity of his Detention on the ground that it was violative of his Right to freedom of movement. The Right which is sought to be restricted by section 10(3) (c) and the order is the right to go abroad and that is not named as a Fundamental Right.
The Right to travel abroad is a derivative of the right provided under personal liberty and no citizen can be deprived of this right except according to the procedure prescribed by law. The Passport Acts 1967 does not prescribe any procedure for confiscating or revoking or impounding a passport of its holder.
It was held that section 10(3) (c) confers unguided and unfettered power on the Passport Authority to impound a passport and hence it is a violation of Article 14.
It was also said that when the order impounding a passport is made by the Central government, there is no appeal or revision provided by the statute and the judgement of the Central government that is in the public interest to impound a passport is final and conclusive.
The power vested in Passport Authority and particularly in the Central government is thus unregulated and unrestricted and this violates Article 14.
The court held that though the phrase used in Article 21 is a procedure established by law instead of due process of law, however, the procedure must be free from arbitrariness.
The court also respects and protects the sanctity of the Constitution makers from what the legislation was trying to portray. The procedure made by law must satisfy certain requisites in the sense of being fair, reasonable and just and it cannot be arbitrary depriving the citizens of their fundamental rights.
The benefits that arrived from this to the Indian citizens can be observed from the results of this case. Courts have successfully interpreted different cases to establish cultural rights, social-economic rights under the frame of Article 21 such as the Right to clean air, Right to clean water, Right to freedom from noise pollution, Right to livelihood, Speedy trial, Right to clean environment, Right to Food, Right to medical care, Legal aid et cetera as a part of Right to life and personal liberty.
The court also rested the argument by holding that each Fundamental Rights are not exclusive from each other instead they are mutually dependent on each other
The court while delivering the judgement changed the Constitution’s landscape by contending that though the language used in Article 21 is a procedure established by law, such procedure must not be arbitrary and irrational and that the constitution framers never intended that the procedure need not necessarily be fair, just and reasonable.
The court also overruled the Gopalan case by saying that there exists a special relationship between the provisions of Articles 19, 14 and 21 and each law must pass the tests of the said provisions. The court stated that the interpretation of Personal liberty should not be constructed in a narrow and strict sense but should be done in a liberal and broad sense.
The right to travel abroad is also guaranteed under Article 21, the court said that Section 10(3)(c) and 10(3)(c) is an administrative order, and as a result, can be challenged on grounds of unreasonable basis, and denial of natural justice.
The court by delivering the judgement served the common people and it was accepted worldwide that this case had become a landmark case in history since it broadened the scope of Fundamental Rights.
The court came upon the contention of the Respondent when it contended that the procedure established by law need not necessarily be just, reasonable and fair. This contention of respondent’s that any law is valid and legit as long as it is not repealed by the legislature was criticized harshly by the judges.
The court correctly rejected this argument from the respondents and gave the Right to Life and Personal Liberty a new expansive and liberal interpretation. By providing this liberal interpretation to Maneka Gandhi the court had set a benchmark or landmark for the coming cases and generations to seek their basic Fundamental rights whether or not mentioned under Part III of the Constitution of India.
The judgement opened new possibilities and dimensions in the judicial activism and Public Interest litigations were appreciated and accepted and judges took a closer look, interest in liberal interpretation whenever it was needed in the prevailing justice.
This judgement has paved the way for the courts to interpret Article 21 in a manner that is advantageous for the common people, citizens of the country. The judiciary because of this judgement has found a new instrument to use for fulfilling the objective and goals created.
The court was held that Section 10(3) (c) of the Passport Act confers vague and undefined power on the Passport Authorities, it violates Article 14 of the Constitution Right to travel. If a law is depriving a person’s of liberty, it has to fulfil the requirements of Articles 14 and 19 also.
To conclude, the Maneka Gandhi case has the term Personal liberty widest possible interpretation and giving effect to the intention of the drafters of the Constitution. This case also extended the protection of Article 14 to the Personal liberty of every citizen.