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Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India and Anr.

Case nameManeka Gandhi v. Union of India and Anr.
CourtSupreme Court of India
BenchM. H. Beg (Chief Justice), Y. V. Chandrachud, V. R. Krishna Iyer, P. N. Bhagwati, N. L. Untwalia, S. Murtaza Fazal Ali, P. S. Kailasam
Decided on1978
Relevant statuteArticle 21 of Indian Constitution
CitationAIR 1978 SC 597 ; (1978) 1 SCC 248

Facts of the case :

The petitioner Maneka Gandhi’s passport was issued on 1st June 1976 as per the Passport Act of 1967. On 2nd July 1977, the Regional Passport Office (New Delhi) ordered her to surrender her passport. The petitioner was also not given any reason for this arbitrary and unilateral decision of the External Affairs Ministry, citing public interest.

The petitioner approached the Supreme Court by invoking its writ jurisdiction and contending that the State’s act of impounding her passport was a direct assault on her Right of Personal Liberty as guaranteed by Article 21. It is pertinent to mention that the Supreme Court in Satwant Singh Sawhney v. Ramarathnam held that right to travel abroad is well within the ambit of Article 21, although the extent to which the Passport Act diluted this particular right was unclear.

Issues Before the Court :

  • Are the provisions under Articles 21, 14 and 19 connected with each other or are they mutually exclusive?
  • Should the procedure established by law be tested for reasonability which in this case was the procedure laid down by the Passport Act of 1967?
  • If the right to travel outside the country is a part of Article 21 or not?
  • Is a legislative law that snatches away the right to life reasonable?

Contentions by Appellant :

  • Through the administrative order that seized the passport on 4th July 1977, the State has infringed upon the Petitioner’s Fundamental Rights of freedom of speech & expression, right to life & personal liberty, right to travel abroad and the right to freedom of movement.
  • The provisions given in Articles 14, 19 & 21 should be read together and aren’t mutually exclusive. Only a cumulative reading and subsequent interpretation will lead to the observance of principles of natural justice and the true spirit of constitutionalism.
  • India might not have adopted the American concept of the “due process of law”, nevertheless, the procedure established by law should be fair and just, reasonable, and not be arbitrary.
  • Section 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act violates Article 21 insofar as it violates the right to life & personal liberty guaranteed by this Article.
  • Audi Altrem Partem i.e. the opportunity of being heard is invariably acknowledged as a vital component of the principles of natural justice. Even if these principles of natural justice are not expressly mentioned in any of the provisions of the Constitution, the idea behind the spirit of Fundamental Rights embodies the very crux of these principles.

Contentions by Respondent :

  • The respondent stated before the court that the passport was confiscated since the petitioner had to appear before a government committee for a hearing.
  • The respondent asserted that the word ‘law’ under Article 21 can’t be understood as reflected in the fundamental rules of natural justice, emphasising the principle laid down in the A K Gopalan case.
  • Article 21 contains the phrase “procedure established by law” & such procedure does not have to pass the test of reasonability and need not necessarily be in consonance with the Articles 14 & 19.
  • The framers of our Constitution had long debates on the American “due process of law” versus the British “procedure established by law”. The marked absence of the due process of law from the provisions of the Indian Constitution clearly indicates the constitution-makers’ intentions.

Ratio Decendi :

Maneka Gandhi’s case, gave the term ‘personal liberty’ widest possible interpretation and gave effect to the intention of the drafters of the Constitution. This case, while adding a whole new

dimension to the concept of ‘personal liberty’, extended the protection of Art. 14 to the personal liberty of every person and additional protection of Art. 19 to the personal liberty of every citizen.

Judgement :

  • While delivering the landmark judgment the court altered the face of the Constitution by stating that though the maxim used in Article 21 is “procedure established by law” rather than “due process of law” nevertheless, the procedure mentioned therein must necessarily be free from the vices of irrationality and arbitrariness.
  • The court overruled Gopalan by stating that there is a unique relationship between the provisions of Article 14, 19 & 21 and every law must pass the tests of the said provisions. Earlier in Gopalan case, the majority held that these provisions in itself are mutually exclusive. Therefore, to correct its earlier mistake the court held that these provisions are not mutually exclusive and dependent on each other.
  • The court held that the scope of “personal liberty” is not be construed in narrow and stricter sense. The court said that personal liberty has to be understood in the broader and liberal sense. Therefore, Article 21 was given an expansive interpretation. The court obligated the future courts to expand the horizons of Article 21 to cover all the Fundamental Rights and avoid construing it in narrower sense.
  • The right to travel abroad as held in Satwant Singh is within the scope of guarantees mentioned under Article 21.

Dissected by Suyash Tripathi

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