Case Name : Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India
Citation : 1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621
Bench : M.H. Beg, C.J. , P.N.Bhagwati, Y.V.Chandrachud, V.R.Krishna Iyer, N.L.Untwalia, P.S. Kai asam, S.Murtaza Fazal Ali
Maneka Gandhi case is another landmark ruling in the series of progressive judgements. The judgement was a unanimous declaration of the sitting bench of the Supreme Court. This Judgement came aftermath the judgement of Supreme Court on Satwant Singh case1 in which Supreme Court had declared that Right to travel abroad comes within the ambit of Article 212. To overcome and combat this decision there was a need for the legislature to come up with a legislation which can empower the administrative authorities in one way or the other. So Parliament enacted Passports Act 1967 which empowers passport authorities to impound the passport of persons travelling on certain grounds as mentioned in the Passports Act3. Thus Passport Act can also be called as one of the measures which the government was taking at that time to empower itself against law, a step taken within the course of ongoing tussle between the Government and the Judiciary. This created a basis for this case. Aggrieved from this, petition was filed in the Supreme Court of India.
The case is the product of a petition filed by Maneka Gandhi. The facts of the case are that the Maneka Gandhi was issued a passport under the Passport Act 1967. On July 2, 1977 she received a letter from the Regional Passport Officer, New Delhi asking her to surrender her passport under section 10(3)(c) within 7 days from the day on which the letter has been received. Mrs. Gandhi wrote a letter to the officer asking a copy of the statement of reasons for the order. However, the office refused to provide any such reasons on the grounds of “interests of the general public”. Aggrieved with this the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the constitution for the enforcement of the rights under Articles 144 against the arbitrary steps of the passport office, under 19(1)(a), 19(1)(g)5 i.e. Right to freedom of movement, and Article 21 i.e. Protection of Life & Personal Liberty. Petitioner contended that the order passed by the administrative authorities is void and it takes away the petitioner’s right to be given a fair chance of hearing to present her defense.
To have an in depth understanding of the subject matter of this case and to analyse each and every aspect of it and how it has been dealt with in this case, we need to understand few concepts in brief.
This was the first case in which the concept of “personal liberty” came into consideration for the first time. In this case the petition challenged the constitutional validity of the Preventive Detention Act,1950 under the provision of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. In this case it was argued by the petitioner that whether the validity of any law shall be decided by the fact that it is a procedure established by law or the law along with being established by law shall also conform to the principles of natural justice. The main debate was around the scope of the word “procedure established by law” on the point that can such procedures be arbitrary or unreasonable or should it always be just, reasonable and fair. The majority bench however rejecting all the arguments of the petitioner held that the word law u/a 21 doesn’t necessarily be in conformity with the principles of natural justice7.
(In Maneka Gandhi the court overruled the A.K.Gopalan case and stated that procedure established by law also conforms with the principles of Natural Justice.)
Passports Act, 1967
It is an act of the Parliament of India passed in 1967. It is concerned with the matters related to the travel, passport documents, regulates the Indian citizens departure from India and also regulates other persons and for matters concerned. The act is applicable to the whole of India. The act has replaced the British Indian Passport Ordinance 1967 and was enacted by Act 15 of 1967 and Passport Act of 1920. The act replaced the Indian passport ordinance 1967.
In this case, we are concerned with the interpretation of section 10(3) and 10(5) of this act and how it has been dealt in this case.
So let’s start with understanding what section 10(3) of this act says:
This provision of the Passport authority states that government can impound or revoke a passport or travel document, if the passport authority finds it necessary in the interests of the country in any way possible as mentioned in this provision.
This section states that when a passport authority makes an order under sub section 1 for varying or cancelling the endorsements and under sub section 3, for cancelling the passport or travel permit, it has to create a statement of reason for that and should be producing it to the person concerned on demand unless it is in the national interest of the country.
These two provisions of the case posed problems for the petitioner in this case and hence are contended in this case which we will discuss later.
Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1950 provides that, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”
Equality before law The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
19. Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech etc
(a) to freedom of speech and expression
(e) to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India.
(These above mentioned 2 provisions of Article 19 are concerned with the subject matter of this case. We will see their relation later in the discussion)
Principle of Natural Justice
“The principles of natural justice constitute the basic elements of fair hearing, having their roots in the innate sense of fair play and justice which is not the perverse of any particular race or country but is shared in common by all men”.8
Concept of Audi Alteram Partem
It is a latin phrase which means “listen to the other side”. This principle state that no person can be judged without giving a fair chance of hearing. This principle upholds natural justice.
- Changed Scope of the word “Procedure Established by Law.” as accordance to the principles established by law.
- Does Article 21 involves Right to travel Abroad
- Whether a legislative law that takes away Right to life is reasonable.
- Nexus between the Articles 14, 19 and 21.
Contentions of Petitioner
It was contended by the petitioners that the Fundamental Rights to freedom of speech & expression, Right to travel abroad, Right to life and personal liberty & Right to freedom of movemen are infringed by the respondent by impounding of the passport on 4th July, 1977 without providing any reason. The Article 14, 19 and 21 are supposed to be read together and there is a need of a procedure established by law which is reasonable, fair and constitution.
Petitioners in their argument also said that Section 10(3)(c) of the passports act is violative of Article 21 by restraining the petitioner to travel abroad. This law is unconstitutional because the right to travel abroad is generally accepted as a basic freedom covered under personal liberty provided in Article 21. They also argued whether it is procedure established by law or due process of law, there shouldn’t be any unreasonability and arbitrability. Petitioners also invoked the maxim of “Audi Alteram Partem” and recognized it as an essential element of the principles of natural justice. It was contended that whether or not specifically mentioned these principles forms the very spirit of our Fundamental Rights and other constitutional provisions and we are bound to follow them.
Contentions of Respondent
Respondents argued that the reason for the impoundment of the passport is mandatory presence of petitioner in some committee’s enquiry. They further said that article 21 cannot be related with natural justice principles because these principles are very confusing, vague and ambiguous. Also they are nowhere explicitly mentioned in our constitution.
They contended that the “procedure established by law” under article 21 need not pass the test of reasonability and it need not be in conformity with Article 14 and 19. They said in their arguments that constitution makers deliberately after all consideration included “procedure established by law” and not “due procedure for law. Thus it is reasoning based and we should respect it.
The judgement which came out in this case was quite path changing and has had a great impact on Indian Judiciary till now.
This landmark ruling was declared 25th January 1978. It expanded the role played by Article 21 by expanding its scope. It was a unanimous decision by the 7 judges bench with some differences on certain points amongst them.
The Supreme Court in its Judgement had the following findings:
- The Supreme Court dealt with the clash between the british judiciary system of “procedure established by law” and the american judiciary system of “due process of law”. Though we have adopted the former one but it does not restrict us to adopting the path of reasonability. Thus the procedureJudgment Analysis shouldn’t be arbitrary and irrational. Just not mentioning the principles of natural justice outrightly doesn’t mean that it does not affect the constitution.
- As contended by the respondents that its our constitution makers who adopted the path of “procedure established by law” but they did not mean it to be unreasonable and did not take their ways from adopting rationality. Thus article 21 should be construed in fair and just manner.
- The court also over ruled the the Gopalan and created an interconnection between the Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India and declared that these provisions are mutually dependent.
- Court stated that the term “personal liberty” should be construed in much more wider and liberal sense. Article 21 should be given wider interpretation and should cover all the Fundamental Rights and narrower view should be abandoned and hence declared as held in “Satwant Singh” is within the scope of Article 21.
- Section 10(3)(c) of Passport Act 1967 is not violative of neither Article 21 nor Article 19(1)(a) or 19 (1)(g) as contended. The court also held that the provisions are also not in contradiction of Article 14 because the provision provides for an opportunity to be heard.
- The court declared that Section 10(3)(c) & 10(5) are an administrative order and hence can be challenged on the grounds of mala fide, unreasonable and denial of natural justice. Court also forbidden the use of section 10(5) of the Act unless there is any expediency.
- The rights discussed under 19(1)(a) & 19(1)(g) are not confined to the territorial limits of India.
The court here in Maneka Gandhi successfully overruled the rulings of Gopalan case and has given an order which is rational. The court through this judgement upheld the sanctity of the thought process of our Constitution drafters. It upheld that though not specifically mentioned, there is a need for every “procedure established by law” to pass through the test of natural justice in order to prevent arbitrariness and irrationality. The court also accepted that Right to Travel Abroad as a very important composition of Right to Liberty, if this right is not granted, liberty is distorted. By this judgement court increased the scope of Article 21 of the Constitution and made it the duty to interpret Article 21 in a manner which serves the people’s interest at most. The ruling also created an inter relation between Article 14, 19 and 21.
What is the Interconnection between Articles 14,19 and 21?
These 3 articles are together called as the Golden Triangle of the Constitution of India. Court declared that fundamental rights are not distinct to each other but they shine with each other and are mutually dependent. It stated that procedural law has to meet the requirements and pass the test also in each case. of Article 14, 19 and 21 hereby adopting the widest possible interpretation of the right to life and personal liberty. It stated that article 21 has a very wide reach and covering the issue raised and given additional protection under Article 21. Article 21 is supposed to be controlled by Article 19 hence making it mandatory to fulfill the requirements of Article 19. The Court observed:“The law must therefore now be settled that Article 21 does not exclude Article 19 and that even if there is a law prescribing a procedure for depriving a person of personal liberty, and there is consequently no infringement of the fundamental right conferred by Article 21 such a law in so far as it abridges or takes away any fundamental right under Article 19 would have to meet the challenges of that Article.” Thus a law “depriving a person of ‘personal liberty’ has not only to stand the test” of Article 21, but it must stand the test of Article 19 and Article 14 of the Constitution as well.
This is the reason it is called the golden triangle of the Indian constitution.
Thus, here after reading the judgement it is easy for us to conclude that Maneka Gandhi judgement is one of the most balanced by the Supreme Court of India. Court by invoking the doctrine of Audi Alteram Partem here made right to defense a very clear right. The judgement also gave a new view of looking at fundamental rights by interlinking the 3 most basic Fundamental Rights together and hence served public interests as for any procedure to be valid now it has to pass the test of all 3 articles. Thus, revolutionizing and expanding the role of Fundamental Rights. Along with this, by not voiding the provisions of the Passport Act , savoured the power given to the Parliament by Constitution. The ruling widened the scope of this Article and through various subsequent rulin till date there has been a lot of updation and lots of new rights has come into the ambit of this Article.The judgement was in no vain and its importance can be seen today and for many more coming years of our democracy.
1. Satwant Singh Sawhney vs D. Ramarathnam, 1967 AIR 1836, 1967 SCR (2) 525
6. A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras,A.I.R. 1950 S.C. 27
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