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

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As per Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.” 

Article 21 is a superb example of the Constitution of India's transformative nature. The Indian judiciary has given Article 21 a broader sense and significance. These interpretations of the 'right to life' and ‘right to liberty’ have their own set of complications. Let's discuss it in a simple way.

Important Points to Consider in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution:

  • Part III of the Indian Constitution contains Article 21 and is a fundamental right.
  • All citizens, as well as non-citizens, have access to this right.
  • This right has been called the "heart of fundamental rights" by the Supreme Court.
  • Article 21 "embodies a fundamental value of supreme importance in a democratic society," according to Justice Bhagwati.
  • Two rights are guaranteed under Article 21: the right to life and the right to personal liberty.
  • During an emergency, Article 21 cannot be suspended.
  • The right expressly states that no one's life or liberty may be taken away except in accordance with legal procedures. 
  • The term "state" encompasses not only the government, but also government departments, local governments, legislatures, and other entities.
  • Any private individual infringing on another person's rights does not constitute a violation of Article 21. 
  • In this situation, the victim's remedy would be under Article 226 or general law.

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List of Rights Under Article 21:

  1. Right to live with human dignity.
  2. Right to the decent environment including pollution-free water and air and protection
  3. against hazardous industries.
  4. Right to livelihood.
  5. Right to privacy.
  6. Right against solitary confinement.
  7. Right to a speedy trial.
  8. Right against handcuffing
  9. Right against inhuman treatment.
  10. Right not to be driven out of a state.
  11. Right to a fair trial.
  12. Right of a prisoner to have necessities of life.
  13. Right of women to be treated with decency and dignity
  14. Right against public hanging.
  15.  Right to hearing.
  16. Right to information.
  17. Right to reputation.
  18. Right against delayed execution.
  19. Right to shelter.
  20. Right to health.
  21. Right to free education up to 14 years of age.
  22. Right to free legal aid.
  23. Right to travel abroad.
  24. Right against bonded labor.
  25. Right against custodial harassment.
  26. Right to emergency medical aid.
  27. Right to timely medical treatment in a government hospital.
  28. Right of appeal from a judgment of conviction
  29. Right to appropriate life insurance policy
  30. Right to sleep
  31. Right to freedom from noise pollution
  32. Right to electricity
  33. Right to social security and protection of the family
  34. Right to social and economic justice and empowerment
  35. Right against bar fetters

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Some Landmark Judgements Related to Article 21:

Article 21 of the Indian constitution defines life as more than just animal existence or the act of breathing. It ensures the right to a decent existence.

Mohini Jain vs. the State of Karnataka, 1992 SC

The SC held that the Right to life also includes the Right to education.  

AK Gopalan Case (1950)


Article 21 had a rather limited scope until the 1950s. The Supreme Court ruled that the phrase "procedure established by law" in the Constitution conveyed the British concept of personal liberty rather than the American concept of "due process" in this case.

Sunil Batra vs. Delhi Administration

In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that the use of deadly handcuffs on convicted criminals is illegal since it reflects inhumane treatment of the prisoner. The court reaffirmed Article 21's "protection of the convicted and accused person" clause.

Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India Case (1978)


The Gopalan case was reversed in this case. Articles 19 and 21 are not watertight compartments, according to the Supreme Court. Article 21's concept of personal liberty encompasses a wide range of rights, some of which are enshrined in Article 19, providing them with "additional protection." The court went on to say that a statute that falls under Article 21 must also meet the conditions of Article 19. That means that any legal procedure for depriving someone of their life or liberty must be fair, reasonable, and arbitrary.

Francis Coralie Mullin vs. Union Territory of Delhi (1981)


The court ruled in this decision that any procedure for depriving someone of their life or liberty must be rational, fair, and just, rather than arbitrary, whimsical, or fantastical.

Subhash Kumar vs. the State of Bihar

The right to clean air was placed in the scope of the right to life by the Supreme Court.

Lachma Devi vs. Attorney General of India

In this case, SC made the execution of a death sentence at a public place unconstitutional.

Olga Tellis vs. Bombay Municipal Corporation (1985) 


This case reaffirmed the former position that any method that deprives a person of their fundamental rights must follow the rules of fair play and fairness.

Unni Krishnan vs. State of Andhra Pradesh (1993)


The Supreme Court supported the enlarged interpretation of the right to life in this instance.

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Article 21 A - Right to Elementary Education

The Right to Elementary Education is guaranteed under Article 21A of the Indian Constitution, which was inserted in 2002 as part of the 86th Amendment. It stipulates that children from 6 to 14 years have the right to free education. Article 21A of the constitution went into force on April 1, 2010, and anyone who violates it can face serious consequences.