MANEKA GANDHI v. UNION OF INDIA, 1978 AIR 597
Facts of the case
The petitioner, Maneka Gandhi’s passport was issued on June 1, 1976, under the Passport Act, 1967. On July 2nd, 1977, the Regional Passport Officer, New Delhi had ordered her to surrender her passport by a letter posted. The petitioner was also not given any reason for this order of the External Affairs Ministry, citing public interest. Therefore, the petitioner had filed a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India stating the seize of her passport as a violation of her fundamental rights; specifically Article 14, Article 19 and Article 21 guaranteed by the Constitution of India.
Issues before the Court
- Whether the Fundamental Rights are absolute or conditional and what is the extent of the territory of such Fundamental Rights provided to the citizens by the Constitution of India?
- Whether ‘Right to Travel Abroad’ is protected under the umbrella of Article 21?
- What is the connection between the rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India?
- Determining the scope of “Procedure established by Law”.
- Whether the provision laid down in Section 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act, 1967 violates Fundamental Rights and if it is, whether such legislation is a concrete law?
- Whether the Impugned order of Regional Passport Officer is in contravention of principles of natural justice?
- Petitioner’s Contention
- The State has infringed upon the petitioner’s fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression, right to life and personal liberty, right to travel abroad and the right to freedom of movement through the administrative order that seized the passport of the petitioner on 4 July 1977.
- The rights given in Articles 14, 19 and 21 should be read together. They are not mutually exclusive. Only a cumulative reading and subsequent interpretation will lead to the observance of principles of natural justice and the true spirit of constitutionalism.
- Article 21 is violated by Section 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act as it violates the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed under this Article.
- Any procedure established by law is required to be free of arbitrariness and must comply with the “principles of natural justice”.
- Article 22 provides protection against arrest and detention in certain cases. In this case, the government by confiscating the passport of the petitioner without providing her any reasons for doing so has illegally detained her within the country.
- “Audi Alteram Partem” is an essential constituent of Natural Justice. “Audi Alteram Partem” means ‘given a chance to be heard’. In this case, it was not granted to the petitioner.
- Respondents contentions
- The Attorney General of India argued that the ‘Right to Travel Abroad’ was never covered under any clauses of article 19(1) and hence, Article 19 is independent of proving the reasonableness of the actions taken by the Central Government.
- The Passport Law was not made to encroach upon the fundamental rights in any way. In addition, the government should not be obliged to give its reasons for seizing or confiscating someone’s passport for the public good and national security. Therefore, the law should not be struck down even if it overflowed Article 19.
- The petitioner had to appear before a committee for an inquiry and therefore her passport was impounded.
- The respondent reiterated the principle laid down in the A.K Gopalan case and then contended that the word ‘law’ under Article 21 cannot be comprehended in the light of fundamental rules of natural justice.
- Article 21 of the Indian constitution contains “procedure established by law” and such procedure need not pass the test of reasonability and need not necessarily be in accordance with the Articles 14 and 19.
- The makers of our Constitution had long debates on the American “due process of law” versus the British “procedure established by law”. The absence of the due process of law from the provisions of the Indian Constitution clearly shows the intentions of the constitution-makers which must be protected and respected.
The court held that:
- To seize the passport according to clause (c) of section 10(3) of the Passports Act, 1967, the authority is required to record in writing the reason of such act and on-demand furnish a copy of that record to the holder of the passport.
- The Central Government never disclosed any reasons for confiscating the passport of the petitioner. She was told that the confiscation was done in the interests of the general public. But it was found that her presence was felt required by the respondents for the proceedings before a commission of inquiry. It was clearly shown that the act was not really done in the public interests.
- In Article 2, the phrase “procedure established by law” is used instead of “due process of law” which is stated to have procedures free from arbitrariness and irrationality.
- There is a clear infringement of ‘Audi alteram partem’ which is a basic ingredient of principles of natural justice. Hence, it cannot be condemned as unfair and unjust even when a statute is silent on it.
- It is correct that fundamental rights are sought in case of violation of any rights of an individual and when the State had violated it. But it does not mean, Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression is exercisable only inside the boundary of India. Just because the action of the State is restricted to its own territory, it does not mean that fundamental rights are also restricted in the same manner.
- Fundamental rights protect certain rights related to human values even if they are not explicitly written in the Constitution. For example, Freedom of the press is not specifically mentioned in Article 19(1)(a) but it is covered under this article.
- The right to go abroad is not a part of the Right to Free Speech and Expression as both have different natures and characters.
- K Gopalan’s case was overruled stating that there is a unique relationship between the provisions of Article 14, Article 19 and Article 21 and every law must pass the tests of the said provisions. The court held that these provisions are not mutually exclusive and are dependent on each other. Earlier in the A.K Gopalan case, the majority held that the provisions in these articles are mutually exclusive.
- The court held that the scope of “personal liberty” is not to be interpreted in a narrow sense. It has to be understood in the broad and liberal sense. Therefore, Article 21 was given an expansive interpretation. The court obligated the future courts to broaden the horizons of Article 21 to cover all the fundamental rights and avoid interpreting it in a narrower sense.
- The right to travel abroad, as held in the Satwant Singh case, is within the scope of rights given under Article 21.
- Section 10(3)(c) of Passport Act 1967 does not violate Article 21 and Article 19(1)(a) or 19 (1)(g). The court stated that the said provision of this act is not in contradiction of Article 14 also because it provides an opportunity to be heard. The court rejected the contention of the petitioner and held that the phrase “in the interests of the general public” is not vague.
- The court held that Section 10(3)(c) & 10(5) is an administrative order. Therefore, it can be challenged on the grounds of mala fide, unreasonable, denial of natural justice and ultra vires.
Analysis of the Judgement
In this case, the verdict of the A.K Gopalan case was overruled. This decision was appreciated countrywide and this verdict became a landmark judgement in history since it broadened the scope of fundamental rights. By this case, the courts had set a benchmark for future generations to seek their basic rights irrespective of the fact that they are explicitly mentioned under part III of the constitution or not.
At present, the courts have successfully interpreted different cases in order to establish socio-economic and cultural rights under the umbrella of Article 21. These rights include- Right to Clean Air, the Right to Clean Water, the Right to freedom from Noise Pollution, Speedy Trial, Legal Aid, Right to Livelihood, Right to Food, Right to Medical Care, Right to Clean Environment, etc. as a part of Article 21.
The judges made it mandatory that any law which deprives a person of his personal liberty should stand the test of Article 21, 14 and 19 of the constitution. Along with this, principles of natural justice are sheltered under article 21. The court further ruled that articles 14, 19 and 21, also referred as the “golden triangle”, must be invoked to declare any state action or legislation invalid.