Protection of Life and Liberty

IAS Prelims 2023

Article 21 – Protection of life and personal liberty

No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.


Article 21 declares that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. This right is available to both citizens and non-citizens.

In A.K.Gopalan vs State of Madras Case (1950), the Supreme Court has taken a narrow interpretation of the Article 21. It held that the protection under Article 21 is available only against arbitrary executive action and not from arbitrary legislative action. Secondly, the Supreme Court held that the ‘personal liberty’ means only liberty relating to the person or body of the individual.

In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India Case (1978), the Supreme Court overruled its judgement in the Gopalan case by taking a wider interpretation of the Article 21. It ruled that the right to life and personal liberty of a person can be deprived by a law provided the procedure prescribed by that law is reasonable, fair and just. It has introduced the American expression ‘due process of law’. The protection under Article 21 should be available not only against arbitrary executive action but also against arbitrary legislative action.

Court held that the ‘right to life’ as embodied in Article 21 is not merely confined to animal existence or survival but it includes within its ambit the right to live with human dignity and all those aspects of life which go to make a man’s life meaningful, complete and worth living. It also ruled that the expression ‘Personal Liberty’ in Article 21 is of the widest amplitude and it covers a variety of rights that go to constitute the personal liberties of a man.

The Supreme Court has declared the following rights as part of Article 21:
(a) Right to live with human dignity.
(b) Right to decent environment including pollution free water and air and protection against hazardous industries.
(c) Right to livelihood.
(d) Right to privacy.
(e) Right to shelter.
(f) Right to health.
(g) Right to free education up to 14 years of age.
(h) Right to free legal aid.
(i) Right against solitary confinement.
(j) Right to speedy trial.
(k) Right against handcuffing.
(l) Right against inhuman treatment.
(m) Right against delayed execution.
(n) Right to travel abroad.
(o) Right against bonded labour.
(p) Right against custodial harassment.
(q) Right to emergency medical aid.
(r) Right to timely medical treatment in government hospital.
(s) Right not to be driven out of a state.
(t) Right to fair trial.
(u) Right of prisoner to have necessities of life.
(v) Right of women to be treated with decency and dignity.
(w) Right against public hanging.
(x) Right to hearing.
(y) Right to information.
(z) Right to reputation.