Maneka Gandhi vs Union Of India – Case Summary

Equivalent Citation - 1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621
Maneka Gandhi
Union of India
Date of Judgment: 25/01/1978
Hameedullah Beg (CJI), Y.V.Chandrachud, P.N Bhagwati, V.R. Krishna Iyer, N.L.Untwalia,
 S.M. Fazal Ali& P.S.Kailasam


The Supreme Court in Satwant Singh[1] held that right to travel abroad is well within the ambit of Article 21. Therefore, to combat the above laid down law the Parliament enacted Passports Act 1967. Passport Act, 1967 empowers the authorities to impound the passport of certain individual if such action is necessary in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of India, friendly relations of India with any foreign country, or general public.[2] The reasons of such impoundment are also to be communicated the affected party however in the interests of the general public these reasons can be withheld.[3] In the immediate case the authorities on July 4th 1977 issued a notice of impoundment of the passport of Petitioner who was a known journalist citing reasons as in the interest of general public. As soon as the petitioner got the notice of such impound she reverted back to the authorities asking for specific detailed reasons as to why her passport shall be impounded. The authorities however, answered that the reasons are not to be specified in the interest of the general public. Therefore, the petitioner approached Supreme Court u/a 32 for the enforcement of Fundamental Right mentioned u/a 14 against the arbitrary action of the authorities. The petition was further amended and enforcement of Article 21 i.e. Protection of Life & Personal Liberty, Article 19(1)(a) i.e. Right to freedom of speech & Article 19(1)(g) i.e. Right to freedom of Movement.Among the major reasons contended for the filing of such petition, the petitioner contended that the impugned order is void as it took away the petitioner’s right to be given a fair hearing to present her defense.

This case directly brought into question the legality and validity of A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras[4]. In that 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 principles of natural justice. The main debate was around the scope of the word “procedure established by law” on the point that can such procedure 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 justice. But it was Justice Fazal Ali’s opinion in the case that paved the way for a liberal approach of the interpretation of Art. 21. Justice Fazal Ali dissented with the majority by holding that the right to life u/a 21 does constitute Principles of Natural Justice and the courts should check that any procedure established by law do not suffer with the problem of unreasonableness & arbitrariness. The spirit of Justice Fazal Ali’s argument was that the procedure should be just, fair and reasonable.

The court in Maneka Gandhi adopted the dissenting view of Justice Fazal Ali in A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras. Therefore, the court held that the while the procedure established by law should be reasonable, just and fair it shall be free from any unreasonableness and arbitrariness.


  1. Is there any nexus between the provisions mentioned under Articles 14, 19 &21.
  2. Scope of the word “Procedure Established by Law.”
  3. Whether right to travel abroad resides in Article 21.
  4. Whether a legislative law that takes away Right to life is reasonable.

Petitioner’s Arguments

  1. By the administrative order of impoundment of the passport on 4th July, 1977 the respondent has infringed Petitioner’s Fundamental Right to Freedom of Speech & Expression, Right to travel abroad, Right to life and personal liberty & Right to freedom of movement.
  2. The provisions of Article 14, 19 & 21 are to be read in synchronization and they are not mutually exclusive. These provisions in itself though not explicitly constitutes in itself principles of natural justice. A combined reading of the three provisions will give effect to the spirit of the constitution and constitution makers.
  3. Even though India has not adopted American “due process of law” in its constitution, the procedure established by law must be reasonable, fair & just free from any sort of arbitrariness.
  4. Section 10(3)(c) is violative of Article 21 of the constitution in the sense that it violates the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed under the said constitutional provision. By the virtue of this provision the petitioner was restrained from travelling abroad. This restrain on the petitioner was unconstitutional since it was generally accepted that right to travel abroad was within the right to life & personal liberty u/a 21.
  5. Audi Altrem Partem e. opportunity to be heard is universally recognized as an essential ingredient of principles of natural justice. These principles of natural justice find no explicit place in any constitutional provisions. However, the spirit of Fundamental Rights constitutes in itself the essence of these principles. Further, Article 32 provides an opportunity to the affected parties to directly approach Apex Court in case there is any violation of Part III provisions. This provision of Article 32 was coined as Heart & Soul of the Constitution is equivalent to Audi Altrem Partem. Therefore, it cannot be said that Principle of Natural Justice are separate and exclusive to the Constitution.

Respondent’s Arguments

  1. The respondent contended before the court that the passport was impounded because the petitioner was required to appear before some committee’s for enquiry. The Attorney General further promised the court to do away with all the appearances in the said committee’s as soon as possible.
  2. The respondent reiterating the principle laid down in Gopalan contended that the word law u/a 21 cannot be comprehended in the light fundamental rules of natural justice.
  3. The respondent further contended that the principles of natural justice are vague and full of ambiguities. Therefore, the constitution should not read such vague and ambiguous provisions as a part of it.
  4. The ambit of Article 21 is very wide and it generally contains the provisions of Articles 14 & 19. However, any law can only be termed unconstitutional to Article 21 when it directly infringes Article 14 & 19.
  5. Article 21 in its language contains “procedure established by law” & such procedure need not pass the test of reasonability. Further the said provision need not necessarily be in conformity with the Articles 14 & 19.
  6. The constitution makers while drafting this constitution had debated at length on American “due process of law” & British “procedure established by law”. The conspicuous absence of due process of law from the Constitutional provisions reflects the mind of framers of this constitution. The mind and spirit of the framers must be protected and respected.


This landmark judgment came on 25th January 1978 and changed the landscape of the Constitution of India. This judgment expanded the scope of Article 21 exponentially and this judgment truly & really made India a welfare state as promised in the Preamble. The seven judge bench gave a unanimous decision except some judges concurring on some points.

There were seven separate opinions in which the majority opinion was written by Justice Bhagwati for himself, Untwalia& Fazal Ali jj. while Chandrachud, Iyer& Beg (CJ) wrote separate but concurring opinions.

The major findings of the court were as follows:

  1. The court while delivering this landmark judgment changed the landscape of the Constitution by holding that though the phrase used in Article 21 is “procedure established by law” instead of “due process of law” however, the procedure must be free from arbitrariness and irrationality.
  2. Even though the Constitution makers must be respected, but they never intended to plant such a self – destructive bomb in the heart if the Constitution. They were never of the mind that the procedure need not necessarily be reasonable, just and fair. They drafted this Constitution for the protection of the “people of India” and such interpretation of Article 21 will be counter-productive to the protection offered by the Constitution.
  3. The court overruled Gopalan by stating that there is a unique relationship between the provisions of Article 14, 19 & 21 and every law must pass the tests of the said provisions. Earlier in Gopalan the majority held that these provisions in itself are mutually exclusive. Therefore, to correct its earlier mistake the court held that these provisions are not mutually exclusive and dependent on each other.
  4. The court held that the scope of “personal liberty” is not be construed in narrow and stricter sense. The court said that personal liberty has to be understood in the broader and liberal sense. Therefore, Article 21 was given an expansive interpretation. The court obligated the future courts to expand the horizons of Article 21 to cover all the Fundamental Rights and avoid construing it in narrower sense.
  5. The right to travel abroad as held in Satwant Singh is within the scope of guarantees mentioned under Article 21.
  6. Section 10(3)(c) of Passport Act 1967 is not violative of neither Article 21 nor Article 19(1)(a) or 19 (1)(g). The court further held that the said 1967 provision also not in contradiction of Article 14. Since the said provision provides for an opportunity to be heard. The court rejected the contention of petitioner that the phrase “in the interests of the general public” is not vague.
  7. The court held that Section 10(3)(c) & 10(5) is an administrative order therefore, open to challenge on the grounds of mala fide, unreasonable, denial of natural justice and ultra vires.
  8. The court also suggested government to ordinarily provide reasons in every case and should rarely use the prerogative of Section 10(5) of the 1967 act.
  9. The rights discussed under 19(1)(a) & 19(1)(g) are not confined to the territorial limits of India.

Critical Analysis

The court in commendable way overruled the regressive decision of Gopalan. The court by delivering this judgment has served the common people. The court unanimously came harshly upon the contention of the respondent when it contended that the procedure established by law need not necessarily be just, fair and reasonable. The respondent’s argument that the law is valid as long as it is not repealed by the legislature. The court rightly rejected this faulty argument of the respondent and gave the Right to Life and Personal Liberty a new expansive and liberal interpretation.

 The court held that though the phrase used in Article 21 is “procedure established by law” instead of “due process of law” however, the procedure must be free from arbitrariness and irrationality. The court also managed to respect and protect the sanctity of the Constitution makers by this black stain that the legislature was trying to portray. The procedure established by law must satisfy certain requisites in the sense of being reasonable and just and it cannot be arbitrary depriving the citizens the Fundamental rights.

The court also for once and for all rested the debate by holding that each Fundamental Rights are not distinct from each other whereas they are mutually dependent on each other. In this regard Justice Iyer has very well opined that no Article in the Constitution is an island in itself. Bhagwati j. held that the procedural law has to meet the requirements of Articles 14 & 19 to be a valid law under Article 21.

Justice Iyer in the context of travelling abroad held that “Travel makes liberty worthwhile” therefore no person can be deprived of his right to travel abroad.

The importance of Maneka Gandhi is limitless and the way the apex court grabbed the opportunity to expand the horizons of Article 21 is commendable. The benefits that accrued to Indian citizens can be very well understood by the aftermath of Maneka Gandhi when courts begin to insert every possible socio-economic and cultural right in the scope of Article 21. The court in a catena of cases applying the ratio of this judgment have held Right to clean Air[5], Right to Clean Water[6], Right to freedom from Noise Pollution[7], Speedy Trial[8], Legal Aid[9], Right to Livelihood[10], Right to Food[11], Right to Medical Care[12], Right to Clean Environment[13]etc., as a part of Right to Life & Personal liberty mentioned u/a 21.

In all these above cases it is this judgment which has paved the way for the courts to interpret Article 21 in a manner which is beneficial for the common people. The judiciary has through this judgment installed a new weapon of fulfilling the objective set out in the Preamble in its arsenal.


The Maneka Gandhi judgment was a balanced judgment and is one of the best judgments that Indian Supreme Court has ever given. The judgment’s greatest feature was the interlinking it established between the provisions of Article 14, 19 & 21. By the virtue of this link the court made these provisions inseparable and a single entity. Now any procedure to be valid has to meet all the requirements mentioned under Article 14, 19 & 21. Therefore, it expanded the scope of personal liberty exponentially and protected the constitutional and fundamental right to life to a great extent.

The judgment while saved the citizens from unquestionable actions of Executive also saved the sanctity of Parliamentary law when it did not strike down Section 10(3)(c) & 10(5) of 1967 Act. The court also reminded the authorities to only rarely use the prerogative of section 10(5) so as to satisfy that their actions were rational and well thought. The court held that Section 10(3)(c) & 10(5) is an administrative order therefore, open to challenge on the grounds of mala fide, unreasonable, denial of natural justice and ultra vires.

The judgment’s importance can be seen today also because the way in which the bench construed Article 21 and expanded its horizons has given way for the resolving of problems left unsolved by the Parliament. It’s quite evident that this judgment has played an imperative role in construing Right to clean Air, Right to Clean Water, Right to freedom from Noise Pollution, Speedy Trial, Standard Education, Fair Trial, Legal Aid, Right to Livelihood, Right to Food, Right to Medical Care, Right to Clean Environment etc., as a part of Right to Life & Personal liberty mentioned u/a 21.  

Edited by Chiranjeeb Prateek Mohanty


[1]Satwant Singh Sawhney vs D. Ramarathnam,(1967) 3 S.C.R. 525.

[2]Passport Act, 1967 s. 10(3)(c).

[3]Passport Act, 1967 s. 10(5).

[4]A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras,A.I.R. 1950 S.C. 27.

[5]M.C. Mehta (Taj Trapezium Matter) v. Union of India, (1997) 2 S.C.C. 353.

[6]M.C. Mehta v. Union of India &Ors., 1988 A.I.R. 1115, 1988 S.C.R. (2) 530.

[7]In Re: Noise Pollution (2005)5 S.C.C. 733.

[8]HussainaraKhatoon&Ors. v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar 1979 A.I.R. 1369, 1979 S.C.R. (3) 532.

[9]Khatri And Others v. State of Bihar &Ors. 1981 S.C.R. (2) 408, 1981 S.C.C. (1) 627.

[10]Olga Tellis&Ors. v. Bombay Municipal Corporation 1986 A.I.R. 180, 1985 S.C.R.Supl. (2) 51.

[11]KishenPatnayak v. State of Odisha A.I.R. 1989 S.C. 677.

[12]Pt. Parmanand Katara v. Union of India &Ors. 1989 A.I.R. 2039.

[13]Rural Litigation And Entitlement Kendra v.State Of U.P..&Ors. 1985 A.I.R. 652.

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Hello Readers, I am Hemant Varshney student of B.A.LLB.(Hons.) at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University, Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh). Since the beginning of my life as a law student I had a great liking in the Constitutional Laws of various nations. However, apart from Constitutional Law I am also interested in Criminal laws, Human Rights Law and Arbitration laws. I also have great liking in novels both fiction (especially philosophical) and non-fiction. In my free time I often watch Netflix series, Hollywood movies, Web series etc. I love to listen songs almost all the time of the day. I am also a fitness enthusiast and try to keep myself fit. The motto of my life is “Hard work is the key to success” therefore, I try to not to give up in any circumstance and fulfill my obligations no matter how worse the situation is.