Case Analysis: Maneka Gandhi v. Union Of India (1978)

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Court: Supreme Court Appellant: Maneka Gandhi Respondent: Union Of India

Bench: Justice M.Hameedullah Beg, Justice Y.V.Chandrachud, Justice P.N Bhagawati, Justice V.R Krishna Iyer, Justice N.L Untwalia, Justice Syed Murtaza Fazalali, Justice P.S. Kailasam

Judgement Date: 25 January 1978


The Maneka Gandhi case is very important in the history of the Indian legal system. It is a landmark case in which the court widened the scope of Article 21 of the constitution which provides the right to life. It impacted the judicial attitude towards the protection of personal liberty given in Article 21. Since then, the courts have shown a lot of care and sensitivity towards the protection of fundamental rights. After this case, the court was named the watchdog of democracy.


The first major case that was filed in the Supreme court related to violation of Article 21 of the constitution is Ak Gopalan vs State of Madras (1950). In this case, the petitioner was detained under Preventive Detention Act 1950. The petitioner challenged this in the Supreme court by saying that it is violating Article 14, 19, 21 of the Indian constitution. The petitioner stated that “law” in the constitution also refers to principles of natural justice and the expression “procedure established in law” also means that the law is reasonable and not arbitrary. But the Supreme Court rejected the plea of the petitioner by stating that “law” in the Constitution cannot be read as rules of natural justice, it only means the enacted laws. The court also said that Article 19 and Article 21 are connected as “personal liberty” in Article 21 should not be included with freedom from arrest and detention and other freedoms guaranteed by Article 19.

The court also rejected the contention that “due process of law” in the American Constitution and ” procedure established by law” is in any way similar, the court stated that first of all the word ” due” was absent from Article 21 and secondly, the expression “procedure established by law” means enacted laws by legislation and nothing less. So it can be said that whether the law is arbitrary or fair or reasonable does not matter at all, if legislation enacts any law then it will always be a valid procedure. After the Ak Gopalan case, Article 21 did not provide any protection against the arbitrary laws of legislation. Article 21 only protected arbitrary executive action. For example: if an individual has been detained or deprived of his liberty by an executive arbitrarily without their being supported by valid law then the court protected that individual. After this came to the case of Maneka Gandhi in which the Supreme court overruled its Ak Gopalan judgement by giving a wider interpretation of fundamental rights of citizens provided by the Constitution


Maneka Gandhi, the petitioner who was a journalist, her passport was issued on June 1 1976. However, in the year 1977, the passport authority issued a letter to the petitioner to surrender her passport under section 10(3)(c) of the Passport act 1967 a week after receiving the letter. After receiving the letter, the petitioner responded by asking the authorities for specific reasons behind this order, but the authorities responded by saying that in its “interest of sovereignty and integrity of the state” and petitioner’s passport was revoked. Then, the petitioner filed a writ petition under Article 32 in the Supreme court for violation of fundamental rights under Article 14, 19,21 of the Indian constitution. She stated that the order of revoking her passport was void as she was not given the opportunity of being heard in her defence.

Issues before the Court:

● Are the provisions under Articles 21, 14 and 19 are anyway connected or they are mutually exclusive??

● Whether Section 10(3)(c) of Passport Act 1967 is a violation of Article 14 and Article 19 of Constitution??

● Whether the power of passport authority to impound or revoke any individual’s passport is arbitrary??

● Is “Right to travel abroad” included in Article 21 of the constitution??

● What is the scope of “procedure established by law” given in Article 21 of the constitution??

● Whether the word ” law” in Article 21 of the constitution can also be read as rules of natural justice??

Important Provisions related to the case:

● Article 14 – Article 14 of the Indian Constitution defines equality before the law. It states that the state should discriminate against citizens on the basic grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, everyone is equal before the law

● Article 19 – Article 19 of the Indian constitution provides certain rights regarding freedom of speech

● Article 19(1)(a) – Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian Constitution states that all citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression

● Article 21 – Article 21 of the Indian Constitution states that no one is deprived of life except the procedure established by life. It protects life and personal liberty to the citizens

● Article 32 – Article 32 of the Indian Constitution provides the right to citizens to seek justice from the supreme court if their fundamental right has been violated.

Passport act 1967

● Section 10(3)(c) – Section of 10(3)(c) of the Passport act 1967 gives the right to the passport authority to revoke the passport of any individual to protect the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India

● Section 10(5) – Section 10(5) of Passport Act 1967 states the passport authority shall record a brief statement of the reasons for invoking an individual’s passport and provide it to the passport holder.

Arguments presented by petitioner side in court:

● The petitioner was not given the opportunity of being heard by the passport authority. “Audi Alteram Partem” means the chance to be heard is an important ingredient of natural justice and proper legal system but the petition was not given this chance

● Article 14, Article 19, Article 21 are not mutually exclusive. They are connected as these three articles together constitute principles of natural justice.

● Section 10(3)(c) of the passport act violates Article 21 that is right to life and personal liberty

● The passport authority’s order to revoke the petitioner passport has infringed her right to freedom of movement.

● The scope of “procedure established by law” should be widened. There is no “due process of law” in the Indian Constitution, unlike American Constitution. But then also the law ” procedure established by law” should be free from arbitrariness and should be free, reasonable and fair.

Arguments presented by Respondent in court:

● The respondent said that the petitioner had to appear before the government committee for a hearing but she failed to do so that is the reason the petitioner passport was revoked

● Section 10(3)(c) is not a violation of Article 14 as it is a procedure established by law

● The “law” does not mean rules of natural justice in the Indian constitution opined by the court in Ak Gopalan case hence Article 14, Article 19, Article 21 are mutually exclusive

● Indian constitution does not have “Due process of law” unlike American constitution instead there is “procedure established by law, therefore a law need not be reasonable and have to comply with Article 14, 21

● The Right to travel abroad is not included in Article 21 of the Indian constitution

Judgement by the court:

● The court gave the expression “personal liberty” in Article 21 a wide interpretation. Personal liberty includes a variety of rights “which go to continue the personal liberty of man”. Personal liberty cannot be read in a narrow restricted sense. The right to travel abroad is also included in Article 21 of the Indian constitution.

● The court rejected the plea of the petitioner that Section 10(3)(c) of Passport act 1967 is the violation of article 14, 19, 21 of the Indian constitution as impounding an individual’s passport on grounds of ” interest of sovereignty and integrity of the state” is not at all vague and wrong.

● The court stated that Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Indian constitution are not at all mutually exclusive. There is a unique relation or nexus established between these articles. Any law prescribing a procedure to deprive an individual’s liberty and life has to comply with all the requirements of Article 19. Similarly, any procedure of law established in Article 19 has to meet up the requirements of Article 14. Justice Krishna Iyer was said “No article in constitution pertaining to Fundamental right is an island” He gave an example that “a man is not dissectible into separate limbs, cardinal rights in an organic constitution have a synthesis”.

● The court said that the “law” in Article 21 does not only mean enacted law but also refers to rules and principles of natural justice.

● The court overruled its judgement in the Ak Gopalan case and reinterpreted the expression “procedure established by law” used in Article 21. Any law prescribed under ” procedure established by law” should be fair and reasonable. According to Justice Bhagwati ” The procedure cannot be arbitrary, unfair or unreasonable”. Any procedure which is not right or fair and is arbitrary does not meet the requirements of Article 21 of the constitution and is no procedure.

Analysis of Judgement:

This Judgement by the Supreme court sets a benchmark for all coming generations. Unlike in the Ak Gopalan case, this time the court gave a quite liberal and progressive interpretation of fundamental rights, mainly Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Widening the scope of ” procedure established by law” was most appreciated as it provided the citizen’s protection against any arbitrary laws. After this judgement, there was no difference between ” procedure established by law” in the Indian Constitution and “due process of law” used in the American constitution. This judgment also helped to secure the fundamental rights of citizens provided in the constitution. The court gave Article 21 of the Indian constitution an expansive interpretation. Justice Krishna Iyer said, ” The spirit of a man is the root of Article 21. Personal liberty makes for the worth of the human person”. Over the years, Article 21 has become the most essential right of citizens provided by the Indian constitution. The “Golden Triangle Test” was introduced by the court that any law which is depriving a person’s liberty must not only answer Article 21 but meet also the requirements of Article 14 and Article 19 of the Indian constitution.

Impact of Judgement:

This judgement by the Supreme court had a great and positive impact on the Indian legal justice system and constitutional law in India.

● It had a significant impact on administrative law in India.

● It impacted the administration of criminal justice in India. After this, the judgement only, the courts started providing some rights to prisoners and tried to humanise and regulate the administration of prison and criminal justice.

● This judgement helped Article 21 to be bright back to life. Article 21 had a deep and great impact on constitutional jurisprudence. Article 21 has now become the source of many substantive and procedural laws.


Overruling of the Ak Gopalan case was appreciated by the public where the court gave quite a regressive decision. The decision in Maneka Gandhi’s case restored people’s trust in the Indian judiciary and legal system. By this decision, there was no differentiation left between “procedure established by the court” in the Indian constitution and “due process of law” in the American Constitution. Widening the scope of Article 21 was much appraised by citizens. After this, Article 21 became the most important and essential fundamental right provided by the constitution. Principles of natural justice were also recognised. Overall, it can be said this case is very important in the Indian legal system regarding the protection of fundamental rights and will be also considered and referred to by future generations whenever there will be a violation of fundamental rights.


This case analysis has been done by Akash Kumar Chakrabarty. He is a 6th semester BALLB student at Asian Law College.

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