A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras (Interpretation of key Fundamental Rights including Article 19 & 21)

A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras (Interpretation of key Fundamental Rights including Article 19 & 21)

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Case Details

Citation:1950 SCR 88: AIR 1950 SC 27 : (1950) 51 Cri LJ 1383
Court:Hon’ble Supreme Court of India
Decided on:May 19, 1950
Petitioner:A.K. Gopalan
Respondent:State of Madras
Intervener:Union of India
Corum:Constitutional Bench (Hiralal Kania CJ and Saiyid Fazl Ali, M. Patanjali Sastri, Meher Chand Mahajan, B.K. Mukherjee and S.R.Das, JJ.)


A.K.Gopalan v State of Madras is marked as one of the momentous judgements delivered by the Supreme Court of India. It is remembered as the first case where the Supreme Court of India after is formation in 1950 delivered a judgement where the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has precisely examined and interpreted the key components of the Constitution of India, the fundamental rights under Article 19 and 21. The Apex Court, however, was not able to rise and shine with the delivery of this judgement as it was later considered a failure on the part of the judiciary. As the Supreme Court at that time took a narrow view of fundamental rights under Article 19 and 21.


In this case, Mr A.K.Gopalan popularly known as AKG was an Indian Communist leader who was serving the Communist Party of India. He was detained ‘preventively’ under Section 3(1) of the provisions of the Preventive Detention Act, 1950. According to Mr Gopalan, he was detained in the jail of Madras since December 1947 without a trial. He was sentenced to imprisonment under the ordinary criminal law but those sentences were set aside. One of the orders of Madras State Government on 1st March 1950 was served to him when was still detained.

Mr Gopalan filed a petition under Article 32(1) of the Constitution of India for a writ of habeas corpus against the order under Section 3(1) served to him according to the provision of the Preventive Detention Act, 1950. In the writ of habeas corpus, he challenged the grounds of legality of the Act 4 of 1950 under which the order was served to him. He contended that the provisions of the Preventive Detention Act, 1950 transgress and thus amounts to a violation of the Fundamental Rights under  Article 13, 19, 21 and 22 of the Constitution of India. He also challenged the order on the ground that it was issued with mala fide reasons to him.

Arguments Advanced

The question of the legality of Act 4 of 1950 was argued upon the most and in length by the counsels from both the parties.

Petitioner’s Argument

Advocate M.K. Nambiar (S.K. Aiyar and V.G.Rao with him) appeared for the petitioner.

The counsel for the petitioner mainly contended on the legality and validity of the provisions of the Preventive Detention Act, 1950 which they believed is in violation of the Fundamental Rights of the Article 13, 19, 21 and 22. They considered it so because:

  1. The provisions of Preventive Detention Act, 1950 violated the freedom conferred to every citizen by  Article 19(1)(a) to (e) and (g) and the impugned law under the Act 4 of 1950 did not satisfy the test of Article 19(2) to Article (6). The petitioner’s right of free speech as and where he wanted was taken away.
  1. Article 19 also confers personal liberty as a Fundamental Right and it is being violated of the detainee by the impugned order.
  1. They believed that Article 19 (1) and Article 21 should be read together as the Substantive Rights to the citizen are dealt in Article 19 (1) and the procedural aspects of the personal liberty are dealt in Article 21 and that deprivation of life and personal liberty of a person except the procedure established by law.
  1. The freedom of movement of the petitioner conferred by Article 19 (1) (d) as it states that it expressly gives the right “to move freely throughout the territory of India” was abridged by the detention order given by the Madras State Government, the State, therefore, must prove that such detention or restriction by an impugned legislation must be a reasonable restriction on the interest of the general public. 
  1. They put forward that the words “territory of India” mentioned in Article 19(1)(d) are superfluous, and unnecessary in the article 19(1)(d) because the Parliament is the supreme authority to make laws which will be operative only within the territory of India. The preventive detention thus abridges the right to move freely. 
  1. The words “procedure established by law” does not refer or mean any form of legislation (lex) but is means nothing less than the “due process” of law (jus) that needs to be followed and is thus violative of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The petitioner has relied upon the Constitution of the United States of America the corresponding provision is found in the 5th and 14th Amendments where the provision. 
  1. The requirements of Article 22(4) to (7) is not satisfied. It is on this basis pointed out that the Section 3 of the said Act in question has not laid any objective test nut leaves it on the authority to define and whether a said person comes under the legislative heads.

The Supreme Court in the majority held that the contention put forward from the petitioner side do not make any sense and were not valid. 

 Respondent’s Argument

Advocate K. Rajah Aiyar, Advocate-General of Madras (C.R. Pattabhai Raman and R. Ganapathi, with him,) representing the State of Madras.

Advocate M.C. Setalvad, Attorney-General of India (Jindralal with him) representing the Union of India.

The respondent argued that Section 19 and 21 should not be read together and should be read it  by itself. The article mentioned in 19 (1) (a) to (g) also should be considered separately from a different point of view of a similar right in the other citizen.  

They urged that the words “procedure established by law” is adopted by the Japanese Constitution to avoid the usage of the word “due process” and is thus has a different meaning of both words. It, therefore, is not violative of Article 21. The interpretation of the word “due process” of law as in the United States of America Constitution was taken up as law including both the substantive rights and procedural right is not required to be taken in Indian Courts and no justification to adopt will stand sufficient in the Court. The debates of the Drafting Committee were also referred and relied upon by the respondents in respects of the wording of the clause in order to clear the doubts of ambiguity.

Laws Involved

  • Article 13, 19, 21 and 22 of the Constitution of India
  • Section 3(1) of the Preventive Detention Act, 1950
  • 5th and 14th Amendments of the Constitution of the United States of America
  • The Constitution of Japan


The judgement of A.K.Gopalan v State of Madras was delivered by the then Chief Justice of India Hiralal Kania, CJ.

In the above case, the court with the majority of four held that “the word “law” used in Article 21 of the Constitution of India only means the procedural due process and since the preventive detention law under which Gopalan was detained was a valid law, Gopalan’s detention was lawful even though the law may violate some of his other Fundamental Rights such has his Right to Freedom of Movement under Article 19, or, the detention was arbitrary under Article 14.”

Reasoning by the Court

Supreme Court by the majority judges held that the words which are the same in two different provisions cannot be understood in the same light and considered it has that the words have the same meaning. In respect to the contention raised by the petitioner of the violation of the Fundamental Right under Article 21 and the meaning and usage of the words “procedure established by law” does not amount to mean “due process”. If the legislature would have meant that these two words have the same meaning or refer to the same thing the framers of the constitution would have expressed it clearly. The word law means lex and not just so they cannot abridge and violate Article 21.

Hiralal Kania CJ speaking for the majority:

“To read the word “law” as meaning rules of natural justice will land one in difficulties because the rules of natural justice, as regards procedure, are nowhere defined and in my opinion the Constitution cannot be read as laying down a vague standard. This is particularly so when in omitting to adopt “due process of law” it was considered that the expression “procedure established by law” made the standard specific. It cannot be specific except by reading the expression as meaning procedure prescribed by the legislature. The word “law” as used in this Part has different shades of meaning but in no other article it appears to bear the indefinite meaning of natural justice. If so, there appears to be no reason why in this article it should receive this peculiar meaning.”

Thus it came out that Fundamental Rights were separate and independent in themselves and are not interconnected. The doctrine of the ‘procedural due process’ has been relied on.

Dissenting Opinion by Justice Fazl Ali

Justice Fazl Ali was in stark contrast to the opinion of the majority of judges. According to him the phrase “procedure established by law” as in under Article 21 of the Constitution of India should be interpreted liberally. He was also of the view, unlike the majority that Fundamental Rights in Article 19 are read with Article 21 and Article 22 which discusses the procedural rights of the same.

Justice Fazl Ali relied on the Constitution of Danzig and said that:

“There is however no authoritative opinion available to support the view that this freedom is anything different from what is otherwise called personal liberty. The problem of construction in regard to this particular right in the Constitution of Danzig is the same as in our Constitution. Such being the general position, I am confirmed in my view that the juristic conception that personal liberty and freedom of movement connote the same thing is the correct and true conception, and the words used in Article 19(1)(d) must be construed according to this universally accepted legal conception.”

Critical Analysis

The judgement given by the majority judges was an attempt by them to expound the jurisprudence of a new Constitution for people who just got independent from colonial rule. They held that the law prescribing the detention was preventive in the interest of the general public and so it does not require to satisfy the test of reasonableness even if it overlapped the Fundamental Rights as provided in the Constitution of India.

The Decision of the Court was Flawed 

The decision and interpretation by the majority were done wrongly has they have narrowly interpreted Article 21. The court has rejected the Natural Law Jurisprudence while applying their judicial mind in the above-given case as they have taken a positivistic approach. It has given less weightage and neglected the freedoms and the rights conferred through Fundamental Rights by the Constitution of India.

Dissenting Opinion was Accepted 

The dissenting opinion of Justice Fazl Ali was accepted by the majority of the 11 judge bench in R.C.Cooper v Union of India were the court quashed the nationalisation of the banks on the grounds that unreasonable compensation was paid. Later in case of A.D.M. Jabalpur v Shivakant Sukla, the court held that the right of life and liberty was from the inception of the Constitution and therefore, could not be taken away by the state. 

It is however in the case of Maneka Gandhi v Union of India in the year 1977 that the dissenting opinion of Justice Fazl Ali was taken up as law and was impounded. The court by accepting the dissenting opinion from here took a complete turn and the Apex Court held that the reasonableness of the procedure established by law should be reviewed by the court so that it is reasonable, just and fair and is free from any arbitrariness.


  1.  A.K.Gopalan v State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 27.
  2. R. C. Cooper v. Union of India, (1970) 1 SCC 248.
  3. A.D.M.Jabalpur v Shivkant Sukla, 1976 AIR SC 1207.
  4. Maneka Gandhi v Union of India, 1978 AIR SC 597.
  5. Supreme Court rights old judicial wrongs in landmark Right to Privacy verdict, shows State its rightful place Firstpost https://www.firstpost.com/india/supreme-court-rights-old-judicial-wrongs-in-landmark-right-to-privacy-verdict-shows-state-its-rightful-place-3984011.html

Gloria Hancy Purty

Gloria Hancy Purty


Gloria is a crisp and fluent writer. She is a student of an esteemed Gujarat National Law University. Apart from her creative writing skills, she likes painting and has also made some engrossing paintings. For any clarifications, feedback, and advice, you can reach her at editor@lawcirca.com

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