Article 21 of Indian Constitution | PDF of Article 21 Indian Constitution | Find Your Advocate

Article 21 of Indian Constitution:-

Article 21

 What is Article 21 Of the Indian Constitution?

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

The right to life is illusory without a right to the protection of the means by which alone life can be lived. And, the right to life can only be taken away or abridged by a procedure established by law, which has to be fair and reasonable, not fanciful or arbitrary such.” (Olga Tellis vs Bombay Municipal Corporation,1985 SCC (3) 545) Discuss the law relating to the right to live in India.

Is Article 21 an absolute right?

The inception of the phraseology of Article 21 with a negative word is used in connection with the word deprived. The motive of the fundamental right as laid down under Article 21 is to pre-empt any infringement of personal liberty and denial of life except according to procedure established by law. This categorically means that this fundamental right has been put in place against state only. Whereas any act committed by any private individual that proves to be encroaching upon the personal liberty or deprivation of life of other persons would be remedied under Article 226 of the constitution or under general law. But in the case of state sponsored violation of the rights given under Article 21, executed by any private individual will be covered under the ambit of Article 21. (Maheshwari) Right to Life means the right to lead meaningful, complete and dignified life. It does not have restricted meaning. It is something more than surviving or animal existence. The meaning of the word life cannot be narrowed down and it will be available not only to every citizen of the country. As far as Personal Liberty is concerned, it means freedom from physical restraint of the person by personal incarceration or otherwise and it includes all the varieties of rights other than those provided under Article 19 of the Constitution. Procedure established by Law means the law enacted by the State. Deprived has also wide range of meaning under the Constitution. These ingredients are the soul of this provision. The fundamental right under Article 21 is one of the most important rights provided under the Constitution which has been described as heart of fundamental rights by the Apex Court. (Maheshwari)

Case Laws of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution :-

In the case of Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India and others the honourable court took opportunity to further expand the horizon of Article 21 in respect of bonded labour and weaker section of the society. It was stated that Article 21 assures the right to live with human dignity, free from exploitation. The onus was put on state to live up to the constitutional obligation to ensure that infringement of the fundamental rights of any person, especially when he or she belongs to the weaker section of the community and not in a position to wage a legal battle against a formidable opponent who is taking advantage of the condition of the person and exploiting him/her, is not carried out. The judgement binds both central and state government to ensure observance of the various social welfare and labour laws enacted by Parliament for the purpose of securing to the workmen a life of basic human dignity in compliance with the directive principles of the state policy. The meaning of the word life includes the right to live in fair and reasonable conditions, right to rehabilitation after release, right to live hood by legal means and decent environment. The expanded scope of Article 21 has been explained by the Apex Court in the case of Unni Krishnan v. State of A.P. and the Apex Court itself provided the list of some of the rights covered under Article 21 on the basis of earlier pronouncements and some of them are listed below  
(1) The right to go abroad. (2) The right to privacy. (3) The right against solitary confinement. (4) The right against hand cuffing. (5) The right against delayed execution. (6) The right to shelter. (7) The right against custodial death. (8) The right against public hanging. (9) Doctors assistance Some of the provisions of Directive Principles of State Policy later have been made law to ensure that the benefit reach to the targeted population, like: Right to Education, Right to Food. MNERGA which is contested by some quarters of the pundits and intellectuals can be interpreted as the recognition of Right to Work by the citizens of the country which came after long fought battles waged at various arenas. All these rights that are legally recognized by the state are constituent ingredients of Article 21 which talks about Right to Life. Although the Indian Constitution does not explicitly mention health or health care as a fundamental right, the justiciability of right to health is based on right to life and liberty. The various Directive Principles, which talks about health and health care, are Articles 39, 41, 42, and 47. These articles act as guidelines that the State must pursue towards achieving certain standards of living for its citizens. It also shows clearly the understanding of the State that nutrition, conditions of work and maternity benefit as being integral to health. Although the DPSP are a compelling argument for the right to health, this alone is not a guarantee. Bhore Commission Report in 1946 laid down the foundation of India’s health policy. The report identified primary health care as the lowest common unit of the national health care system, and built the first patterns for primary health care facilities and health personnel in the public sector. The articulation of primary health care as a basic right to which people should have access to irrespective of their financial capability was a watershed in the Bhore Commission report. Based on the aforesaid thinking module over the years, India subscribed to the Alma Ata Declaration of 1978, where it maintained to attain the objective of Health for All based on a primary health care approach.2 The Indian judiciary has interpreted the right to health in many ways. Through public interest litigation as well as litigation arising out of claims that individuals have made on the State, with respect to health services etc. As a result there is substantial case law in India, which shows the gamut of issues that are related to health. 

In State of Punjab and Others vs Mohinder Singh: settled that the right to health is integral to right to life. Government has a constitutional obligation to provide health facilities Apart from recognizing the fundamental right to health as an integral part of the Right to Life, there is sufficient case law both from the Supreme and High Courts that lays down the obligation of the State to provide medical health services.
In Paschim Banga Khet Mazoor Samiti vs State of West Bengal: the question that was posed to the court was whether the non-availability of services in the government health centres amount to a violation of Article 21? The court opined that Article 21 imposes an obligation on the State to safeguard the right to life of every person. Preservation of human life is thus of paramount importance. The government hospitals run by the State and the medical officers employed therein are duty-bound to extend medical assistance for preserving human life. Failure on the part of a government hospital to provide timely medical treatment to a person in need of such treatment results in violation of his right to life guaranteed under Article 21. Therefore, the failure of a government run health centre to provide timely treatment is violative of a person’s right to life. Further, the Court ordered that Primary health care centres be equipped to deal with medical emergencies. It has also been held in this judgment that the lack of financial resources cannot be a reason for the State to shy away from its constitutional obligation.
In a more recent judgement apex court has gone down to further expanding the scope and horizon of Right to Food. The right to life and human dignity also encompasses the right to have food articles and beverages which are devoid of harmful residues such as pesticides and insecticides, the Supreme Court had said. A PIL was filed in the Supreme Court seeking to set up an independent technical panel to evaluate the harmful effects of soft drinks on human health, particularly on children, in response to which the apex court had said: "We may emphasize that any food article which is hazardous or injurious to public health is a potential danger to the fundamental right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. A paramount duty is cast on the States and its authorities to achieve an appropriate level of protection to human life and health....” (Right to life also includes right to pure food, beverages: SC, 2013) The bench in its 26 pages judgement also mentioned that food item not including pesticides residues, veterinary drugs residues, antibiotics residues, solvent residues are important constituents for the enjoyment of life and its attainment. Food articles without the aforesaid harmful contents are important for the substantialization of right to life and human dignity. With the emerging world order and evolution of state machinery to control the lives of citizen we get to see complex challenges are thrown to Article 21 and versatile interpretation of Article 21 is being proposed by state. Keeping pace with the new contestation to Right to Life, time around Article 21 is required to be given new readings. Below is case in example where Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi has given a new twist to the liberal interpretation of Right to Life in a recent argument at Supreme Court.
A plea was filed in the apex court for the scarping of Aadhar scheme as it contains personal data of citizens and which can be in violation of Right to Privacy of the citizen that comes under the ambit of Right to Life. In an argument against the plea Mukul Rohtagi brought out the following argument:
"Right to Privacy is not a fundamental right under our Constitution. It flows from one right to another right. Constitution makers did not intend to make right to privacy a fundamental right. There is no fundamental right to privacy so these petitions under Article 32 should be dismissed."
Now this sets a dangerous precedence with respect to citizens’ right to privacy. We have seen in last couple years, especially after the emergent crisis of “global terrorism”, governments around the world have gone all out to snoop on private data in lieu of security threat. In India we have cyber monitoring mechanism, NETRA and CMS which snoops on private metadata to put everyone under the scanner of surveillance. This snooping on private data impinges citizens’ personal space and grossly immoral.
In Indian context our evolving jurisprudence over the years has cleared the path to recognize Right to Privacy as an integral part of Right to Life. In Govind vs. State of Madhya Pradesh (1975), the Supreme Court after noticing the decision in Kharak Singh vs. State of UP (AIR 1963 SC 129) held that “many of the fundamental rights of citizens can be described as contributing to the right to privacy”. In Kharak Singh, the Court while holding that privacy was not a guaranteed constitutional right also held that Article 21 was the repository of residuary personal rights and recognised the common law right to privacy.
Integral to the Court’s approach to privacy in Govind and since is the recognition of man’s “inviolate personality”, the inner man, “rights inherent and inalienable” and “private space” in which man may become and remain ‘himself”. It also referred to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights which recognises the “right to respect for private and family life”. Importantly, by equating “privacy-dignity claims” and suggesting that these deserved to be “examined with care and to be denied only when an important countervailing interest is shown to be superior”, the Court, following Kharak Singh, by implication derived the right to privacy from the notion of dignity of the individual, which while not specifically spelt out as a fundamental right is referred to in the Preamble of the Constitution as an aim to be secured by and under the national Charter. (KUMAR, 2015)
Indian constitution does not explicitly mention the constituent ingredients of Right to Life, but over the course of time and evolving jurisprudence has made liberal interpretation of Article 21. It might not stand complete today as society and its aspiration changes over time and keeping pace with that to counter new and complex questions the jurisprudence also need to be readjusted in sync to new social order. At best we can say that it’s better to not to settle down on any limit of Right to Life and what leads to a meaningful and dignified life. Reading of Article 21 should be always made to stand on toe to adjust and readjust the aspiration of changing social orders and the aspiration of people with special focuses on marginalized people so that their interests are also served to the best capacity of state.

Pdf of article 21

Pdf Of Article 21 of The Indian Constitution :- Click Here


 Action Aid. (n.d.). Retrieved August 27, 2015, from KUMAR, A. (2015, August 10). Privacy, a non-negotiable right. Retrieved August 27, 2015, from Maheshwari, V. (n.d.). Retrieved August 27, 2015, from Right to life also includes right to pure food, beverages: SC. (2013, October 23). Retrieved August 27, 2015, from Right to Privacy Not a Fundamental Right': Centre Tells Supreme Court. (2015, July 23). Retrieved August 27, 2015, from  

Action Aid. (n.d.). Retrieved August 27, 2015, from KUMAR, A. (2015, August 10). Privacy, a non-negotiable right. Retrieved August 27, 2015, from Maheshwari, V. (n.d.). Retrieved August 27, 2015, from MODY, Z. (2013). 10 JUDGEMENTS THAT CHANGED INDIA. New Delhi, India: Penguin Books India. Right to life also includes right to pure food, beverages: SC. (2013, October 23). Retrieved August 27, 2015, from Right to Privacy Not a Fundamental Right': Centre Tells Supreme Court. (2015, July 23). Retrieved August 27, 2015, from


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