The Protection Of ‘Personal Liberty’

INTRODUCTION

When one brings into mind the relevancy of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, one essentially and by all means, brings into consideration the basic principles pertaining to natural justice which have been enshrined in the Indian Constitution via the support of fundamental rights that have been guaranteed under Article 21 and 14 respectively. Having mentioned the same, post the period of Emergency, this case was considered to be one of the most vital judgements that have so far been passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court, that have held a special role in shedding light on the liberal tendencies that have gone through a major shift towards ensuring the protection of personal liberty. 

Ever since the passing of this landmark judgement, the Apex Court ensured to display tremendous amount of diligence towards the sheer protection and enforcement of fundamental rights. In addition to the same, this pioneering case also held an extravagant role in overturning and overruling the precedent that had been brought about in the case of A. K. Gopalan v. State of Madras.

A FACTUAL SUMMARY OF THE CASE

The petitioner in the mentioned case was a journalist whose passport had been seized under Section 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act, 1967 wherein the said Act as per the stipulated provision empowers the authorities to seize the passport of the individual, with respect to the sovereignty and the integrity of India. It is however imperative to mention that the reasons pertaining to such an impoundment be communicated with the affected parties, wherein an exception can be made by taking into consideration the interests of the general public. After questioning the reasons relating to the confiscation of her Passport, the Ministry of External Affairs repudiated their intentions to produce any reason, by claiming that the same was being done “in the interests of the general public.” 

In pursuance to the said event, a writ petition under the applicability of Article 32 of the Indian Constitution was filed by the petitioner before the Hon’ble Supreme Court wherein the claims related to the violation and the need for the enforcement of fundamental rights with respect to the arbitrary action of the mentioned authorities was brought into light, by taking into regard the applicability of Articles 14, with further amendments involving the applicability of Article 21 (right to life and personal liberty), Article 19(1)(a) emphasizing on the right to freedom of speech and expression, and most importantly, Article 19(1)(g) of the Indian Constitution, that concentrates upon the right to freedom of movement. 

RELEVANT ISSUES OF THE CASE

It would be pertinent to mention the various issues that were contemplated in the present case, which can be elucidated under the following:

  • Whether there is any nexus with respect to the rights that have been guaranteed under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution? 
  • Whether there is any scope related to the “procedure established by law?”
  • Whether the concept of Fundamental Rights can be regarded as conditional or absolute or whether there is a necessity to determine the same that has been provided to citizens by the Indian Constitution?
  • Whether Section 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act, 1967 can be witnessed in violation of Fundamental Rights and if it fulfills the same, whether such a legislation can be regarded as a concrete law?
  • Whether there has been a contravention of the principles pertaining to natural justice in the Impugned Order of the Regional Passport Officer as per the provision stipulated under the mentioned Act? 
  • Whether there has been a protection of the “right to travel abroad” under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution? 

A DELIBERATION ON THE CONTENTIONS THAT WERE RAISED IN THIS CASE

CONTENTIONS THAT WERE RAISED BY THE PETITIONER

Several contentions were raised by the Petitioner with regard to the facts and the circumstances of the present case, which can be noted under the following:

  • That the Central Government, by all means, acted in sheer violation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution wherein the petitioner was deprived of the basic opportunity to be heard. 
  • That the aspect pertaining to the “right to travel abroad” can be considered as a derivative of the right known as the right to personal liberty and no citizen, under any means can be deprived of the said right, except according to procedure established by law. On the other hand, while the Passports Act, 1967 has not prescribed a particular method for confiscating or revoking the passport of its rightful holder, such actions by the mentioned authorities are arbitrary and reasonable. 
  • It would be imperative to mention that any procedure that has been established by law, must act in compliance with the requisite principles of natural justice. 
  • An essential principle pertaining to the principles of natural justice, is ‘’Audi Alteram Partem,’’ wherein every citizen is given the chance to be heard, which was however not granted to the Petitioner. 
  • Furthermore, the postulated provisions of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution must be essentially read in synchronization wherein a conglomerated reading of the same will give effect to the spirit of not just the makers of the Indian Constitution, but also the extraordinary legal document, known as the Constitution of India. 
  • In furtherance to the same, with respect to the impugned order relating to the impoundment of Passport on the 4th of July, 1977, it was contended that the respondent had not just violated the Petitioner’s right to freedom of movement, but had also encroached on the petitioner’s right(s) to freedom of speech and expression, her right to life and personal liberty alongside the right to travel abroad. 

CONTENTIONS THAT WERE RAISED BY THE RESPONDENT

The contentions that were raised by the respondent can be elaborated under the following:

  • The respondent after reiterating the principles specified in the case of A. K. Gopalan v. State of Madras, contended that the concept of law with reference to Article 21 of the Indian Constitution cannot be comprehended by taking into regard the principles related to natural justice. 
  • Furthermore, the Attorney General of India stated that the right to travel abroad, was never in actuality, covered under the Clauses postulated under Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution, and therefore, Article 19 can be regarded to be independent, thereby proving the reasonable nature of the actions undertaken by the Central Government. 
  • In addition to the same, it was further contended by the respondent that the principles related to natural justice are ambiguous and vague. Therefore, the Indian Constitution should avoid reading such ambiguous and vague provisions as a part of the same.
  • Having stated the same, it was further contended that the ambit of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution is in general, very wide that is inclusive of provisions known as Article 14 and 21. However, any particular law can be regarded to be unconstitutional with reference to Article 21, when it is witnessed to directly violate Articles 14 and 19. 
  • Their reliance on Article 21 of the Indian Constitution must be noted wherein it was stated that the language containing “procedure established by law” need not pass the constitutional test of reasonability, because of which the same should not be seen in conformity with Articles 14 and 19 of the Indian Constitution.
  • That the sheer spirit and the mind of the framers must be respected and protected, wherein the Constitutional makers while drafting the Indian Constitution had debated at various lengths on the American pattern relating to the “due process of law” and the British procedure that has been established by law. Therefore, it was stipulated that the conspicuous absence of such a due process of law with respect to the Constitutional provisions is seen to reflect the framers and the mind of the Indian Constitution. 

A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE JUDGEMENT: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS

This landmark judgement that was delivered on the 25th of January, 1978 changed the landscape of the Indian Constitution, as it not just expanded the scope of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, but also went back to making India a true, welfare state as has been promised as per the Preamble of the Indian Constitution. 

The major views and findings of the Hon’ble Court can be elaborated under the following:

  • It was held by the Hon’ble Court that with reference to the phrase that was utilized for the interpretation pertaining to Article 21 of the Indian Constitution that is in context to “procedure established by law” in place of “due process of law,” it was held that it is imperative that the procedure be free from any kind of irrationality and arbitrariness. 
  • Furthermore, the Hon’ble Court also held that the very scope of personal liberty must not be construed in a strict and narrow sense, wherein the same should be understood in a liberal and broader sense. In totality, Article 21 was given a wider meaning, which was added on by the insistence of the Hon’ble Court towards obligating future courts to expand the mentioned horizons as has been identified under Article 21 to ensure the coverage of all Fundamental Rights instead of construing it in a narrow sense. 
  • That being brought under one’s attention, the Hon’ble Supreme Court also overruled the precedent that had been set in the case of A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras by emphasizing that there should, by all means be a unique dynamic of the provisions known as Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution, wherein it is pertinent that every law passes the test of the mentioned provisions. 
  • Furthermore, it was also held that the provision as has been postulated under Section 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act, 1967 should not be violative of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution or Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(g) for that matter and also later went on to clarify that the aforementioned provision had not contradicted Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. Given the mentioned provision, provides for an adequate opportunity to be heard, the Hon’ble Court therefore rejected the contentions raised by the Petitioner that the phrase, that is “in the interests of the general public” is not vague. 
  • In furtherance to the aforementioned view, the Hon’ble Supreme Court however contended and held that Section 10(3)(c) and 10(5) is essentially an administrative order, and is henceforth open to challenge, with respect to the order being of a nature that is male fide, culminating to the denial of natural justice, and is not just unreasonable but is also ultra vires of the Indian Constitution. 
  • The Apex Court, while reiterating the principles that were laid out in the case of Satwant Singh Sawhney v. D. Ramarathnam, observed that while taking into regard the ambit of personal liberty, one must also consider the right to travel abroad, which must act in synchronization with the said concept. All in all, under no conditions can an individual be deprived of their rights, except in accordance to a procedure that has been established by law. The confiscation or the revocation of the petitioner’s passport is violative of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, wherein the said grounds being arbitrary and unchallenged, is also violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
  • It would be crucial to mention that in context to Section 10(3)(c) of the Passports Act, 1967 that is in circumstances where the State finds it imperative to confiscate the passport or do any particular activity that acts against the interests of the integrity or the sovereignty of the nation, its friendly relations with other countries, its security or with regard to the interests of the general public, it is important for the respective authorities to provide or record the adequate reasons in writing, and also furnish a copy of that particular record to the passport holder. 

THE REPERCUSSIONS OF THE MANEKA GANDHI JUDGEMENT: CONCLUDING REMARKS

All in all, it must be acknowledged that few judgements that have been passed in the Indian Legal History, that have had a life-changing effect as the Maneka Gandhi judgement has had so far. Apart from being such a well-written and balanced judgement, it also greatly established the interlinking of Articles 14, 15 and 19 of the Indian Constitution, which particularly specified that whilst it is of sole importance to secure the Fundamental Rights of every citizen, it must also be made sure that the procedure is not irrational or arbitrary. 

After the passing of the mentioned judgement, the Hon’ble Supreme Court restored its position of being looked at as the watchdog of democracy and also showed its intentions of safeguarding the thought processes of the Constitution makers. In fact, what makes this judgement all the more appealing is the aspect provided by a majority of judges wherein it was stipulated that for any legislation or provision to be declared as bonafide, reasonable and just, it is pertinent that the said law or provision be devoid of any kind of arbitrariness. Having mentioned the same, the greatest repercussion of this judgement is that today’s unanswered questions and problems of the Indian Parliament have been solved with lucid attention, in consideration to the interpretation pertaining to Article 21 of the Indian Constitution that has been derived in the mentioned case.

Dayakar Arra – Advocate | Call: 8790587665

Crime Today News – JUDICIARY


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