Maneka Gandhi v Union of India

In the Supreme Court of India

Equivalent Citation1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621
PetitionerManeka Gandhi
RespondentUnion of India
Date of Judgement25.01.1978
BenchHameedullah Beg (CJI), Y.V. Chandrachud, P.N. Bhagwati, V.R. Krishna Iyer, N.L. Untwalia, S.M. Fazal Ali and P.S. Kailasam


The Constitution of India provides citizens the Right to Constitutional Remedies under Article 32.[1] If an individual feels that his fundamental rights are being violated then he can move the Supreme Court (SC) to seek justice.  Also, the SC has the authority to issue writs and to save individuals if their fundamental rights have been abridged.

In the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union Of India and Others[2], the petitioner approached the SC by filing a writ petition against the infringement of her passport to seek justice for the infringement of rights of various people whose fundamental rights have been taken away. Through such an action, they have been mentally injured. Further, the right to freedom of expression of the petitioners was also infringed because they were denied the principles of natural justice. The brutal demonstrations in different states which appealed to impose a ban on the concerned Act led to the initiation of this case.


The Supreme Court in the case of Satwant Singh v D. Ramarathna[3] held that the Right to Travel Abroad falls within the ambit of Article 21. Countering the above-settled law, the Parliament enacted the Passports Act in 1967. Passport Act, 1967 entitles the authorities to seize the passport of a particular individual if such movement is necessary for the maintenance of sovereignty and integrity of India, and favorable relations with any foreign country, or ordinary people.[4]The reasons behind such confinement are also to be known to the victim party however for the concern of the ordinary people these causes can be restrained.[5] 

In the present case, the government on 4 July 1977 published a notice of imprisonment of the passport of Petitioner who was a well-known journalist alleging it to be for the benefit of the general public. As soon as the petitioner received the notice of such confinement she got back to the authorities asking for a detailed explanation as to why her passport was seized. The authorities, however, responded that the causes are not to be stated for the benefit of the general public. Hence, the petitioner moved the Supreme Court under Article 32 for the imposition of Fundamental Rights defined under Article 14 against the arbitrary action of the authorities.

The petition further stated that the enforcement of Article 21 i.e. Protection of Life and Personal Liberty, Article 19(1) (a) i.e. Right to freedom of speech and Article 19(1) (g) i.e. Right to freedom of Movement are among the major causes contended for the filing of such petition. The petitioner argued that it contravenes the order and is void as it confines the petitioner’s right to be given a fair hearing to present her defense.

The present case directly brought into question the legality and validity of A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras [6]. In that case, it was argued by the petitioner that the effectiveness of any law shall be determined by the fact that it is a procedure established by law or the law along with being well-established by law must also fit into the principles of natural justice.

The main question was around the nature 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, by discarding all the arguments of the petitioner, held that the word ‘law’ under Article 21 does not necessarily have to align with the principles of natural justice. But it was Justice Ali’s opinion in the case that made the way for lenient access to the interpretation of Art. 21.

Justice  Ali objected with the majority by stating that the right to life under Article 21 does establish the Principles of Natural Justice and the courts should look after that any procedure established by law is free from unreasonableness and arbitrariness. The spirit of Justice Ali’s contention was that the procedure should be just, fair and reasonable.

The court in the instant case supported the dissenting view of Justice Ali in A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras. Hence, the Court observed that the procedure established by law should be reasonable, just and fair, and clear from any unreasonableness and arbitrariness.


  1. Is there any nexus between the provisions mentioned under Articles 14, 19 and21?
  2. What is the scope of the term “procedure established by law.”?
  3. Whether the Right to travel abroad resides in Article 21?
  4. Whether a legislative law that takes away the  Right to life is reasonable?

Petitioner’s Arguments

  1. By the governmental order of confinement of the passport on 4 July 1977, the defendant has breached the Petitioner’s Fundamental Right to freedom of speech and expression, Right to travel abroad, Right to life and personal liberty, and the Right to freedom of movement.
  2. The provisions of Article 14, 19, and 21 are to be referred to in synchronization and they are not commonly segregated. These concepts in itself though not especially established, in itself contain the principles of natural justice. A mixed reading of the three Articles will give effect to the essence of the Constitution and the vision of the Constitution makers.
  3. Even though India has not adopted the American “due process of law” in its Constitution, the procedure established by law must be reasonable, fair, and just free from any sort of arbitrariness.
  4. Section 10(3)(c) is different from that of Article 21 of the Constitution as it contravenes with the Right to life and personal liberty protected under the said Constitutional provision. Through this character of the provision, the petitioner was restricted from travelling abroad. This limitation on the petitioner was unconstitutional since it was generally adopted that the Right to travel abroad was within the ambit of the Right to life and personal liberty under Article 21.
  5. Audi Alteram Partem i.e. Right to be heard is an essential element of the principles of natural justice. These principles of natural justice find no definite place in any Constitutional provisions. However, the essence of Fundamental Rights establishes in itself the character of these principles. Further, Article 32 gives a chance to the concerned parties to directly approach the Supreme Court in case there is any breach of Fundamental Right guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution. For this reason, Article 32 was termed as the ‘heart and soul’ of the Constitution and is equivalent to the principle of Audi alteram partem. Hence it cannot be said that the Principles of Natural Justice are different and limited to the Constitution.

Respondent’s Argument

  1. The respondent presented before the court that the passport was seized because the petitioner was ordered to appear before a committee for an investigation.
  2. The defendant renewed the principle laid down in A.K Gopalan’s case and stated that the word law under Article 21 cannot be appreciated in light of fundamental rules of natural justice.
  3. The defendant further stated that the principles of natural justice are ambiguous and full of vagueness. Hence, the Constitution should not interpret such a vague and ambiguous concept as a part of it.
  4. The limit and extent of Article 21 are very wide and it basically enumerates the provisions of Articles 14 and 19. However, any law can only be defined unconstitutional to Article 21 when it directly violates Article 14 and 19.
  5. Article 21 in its language states “procedure established by law” and such procedure need not pass the test of reasonability. Further, the said concept is not required to conform to Articles 14 and 19.
  6. The Constitution makers while making this Constitution had argued at length on the American “due process of law” and the British “procedure established by law”. An apparent absence of the due process of law from the Constitution shows the perspective of framers of this Constitution. The perspective and essence of the framers must be saved and respected.


This landmark judgment was delivered on 25 January 1978. It changed the view of the Constitution of India. This decision broadened the limit of Article 21 exponentially and this decision made India a progressing state as envisioned in the Preamble. The seven-judge bench gave a consistent opinion except some judges dissenting on some points.

There were seven distinct opinions in which the majority decision was written by Justice Bhagwati for himself, Untwalia and Fazal Ali. While Chandrachud, Iyer, and Beg gave distinct but coinciding views.

The major outcomes of the court decision were as follows:

  1. The Court while giving this landmark judgment changed the view of the Constitution by stating that though the term used in Article 21 is “procedure established by law” rather than that of “due process of law” but, the process must be free from arbitrariness and irrationality.
  2. Even though the Constitution framers must be appreciated, they never proposed to implant such a self-harming bomb in the heart of the Constitution. They were never of the belief that the procedure need not necessarily be reasonable, just, and fair. They have made this Constitution for the sake of the “people of India” and such an analysis of Article 21 will be counter-productive to the safeguards offered by the Constitution.
  3. The Court overruled A.K. Gopalanopining that there is a different relation between the concepts in Articles 14, 19, and 21, and every law must pass the tests of the said provisions. Earlier in A.K. Gopalan’s case, the majority observed that these concepts in themselves are commonly absolute. Hence, to rectify its earlier mistake the Court observed that these provisions are not commonly absolute and reliant on each other.
  4. The Court observed that the nature and extent of “personalliberty” are not to be inferred in limited and in a stricter sense. The Court held that personal liberty has to be clear in the wider and liberal sense. Hence, Article 21 was given a wider meaning. The court compelled the future courts to widen the limits of Article 21, to cover all the Fundamental Rights and evade interpreting it in a limited sense.
  5. The Right to travel abroad as observed in the SatwantSingh caseis within the meaning of assurance defined under Article 21.
  6. Section 10(3)(c) of Passport Act 1967 is not violative of Article 21 nor Article 19(1) (a) or 19 (1) (g). The Court further observed that the said 1967 provision does not conflict with Article 14. Since the said provision offers a chance to be heard. The court repudiated the arguments of the petitioner that the term “in the interests of the general public” is not ambiguous.
  7. The Court held that Sections 10(3) (c) and 10(5) is a legitimate order and hence, open to assert on the grounds of mala fide, unreasonable, refusal of natural justice, and ultra vires.
  8. The Court also recommended the government to provide a general cause in every case and should rarely use the requisite of Section 10(5) of the 1967 Act.
  9.  The ground of “for the sake of the interest of the general public” is not ambiguous and limitless, instead, it is guarded by specific rules which can be taken from Article 19.
  10. The  Union Government never revealed any causes for ceasing the petitioner’s passport. Instead, she was told that the act was done for “the benefit of the general public” whereas it was found out that her existence was felt necessary by the defendants for the proceedings before an authority of inquiry. The reason given was not required to be done in the public interests and no general individual would know the reasons for not revealing this information or the grounds of her passport seizure. 

Critical Analysis

The Court in an exemplary way upheld the rigid judgement of Gopalan‘s case. The Court by giving this decision has helped ordinary people. The court collectively came firmly upon the dispute of the defendant when it argued that the procedure established by law is not required to be just, fair and reasonable. The defendant contended that the law is valid as long as it is not abrogated by the legislature. The court correctly refused this inadequate contention of the defendant and gave the Right to life and personal liberty a new, extensive, and liberal interpretation.

The Court observed that though the term used in Article 21 is “procedure establishedbylaw” instead of “dueprocessoflaw”, the procedure must be free from arbitrariness and irrationality. The Court also respected and guarded the spirituality of the Constitution framers by removing this black blemish that the legislature was trying to showcase. The procedure established by law must entertain certain conditions in the sense of being reasonable and just and it cannot be arbitrary, depriving the citizens of Fundamental rights.

The Court also for once and for all stayed the argument by holding that each Fundamental Rights is not different from each other whereas they are jointly dependent on each other. In this regard, Justice Iyer has very well surmised that no Article in the Constitution is an island in itself.  Justice Bhagwati observed that the procedural law has to meet the requirements of Articles 14 and 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 effect of ManekaGandhiis immeasurable and the way the Supreme Court took the opportunity to expand the limitations of Article 21 is admirable. The advantage that accumulates to Indian citizens can be very well accepted by the impact of ManekaGandhi’s case when courts started to insert every possible socio-economic and cultural aspect within the meaning of Article 21. The Court in a group of cases implementing the ratio of this judgment has observed that the Right to Clean Air [7], Right to Clean Water [8], Right to freedom from Noise Pollution [9], Speedy Trial [10], Legal Aid [11], Right to Livelihood, Right to Food, Right to Medical Care, Right to Clean Environment, etc., as a part of Right to Life and Personal liberty mentioned under Article 21.

In all these above cases it is this judgment that has made the way for the courts to analyze Article 21 in such a manner that is beneficial for the general people. The judiciary has through this decision incorporated a new method for fulfilling the goals set out in the Preamble.

The decision gives a new way in which judicial activism and PILs got acknowledged and judges took interest in the liberal characterization required for ensuring that justice prevails.

Difference between “procedure established by law” and “due process of law”

A.K. Gopalan’s case was the first case in which the Supreme Court refused to consider “procedure established by law” in conformity with “due process of law”. But, in 1978 this case was overruled in Maneka Gandhi where the Supreme Court itself observed that the act of seizing her passport as inconsistent. Justice Kania commenting on A.K Gopalan had said that the term “due process” defined in the article had narrowed the powers of the judiciary, to analyze it further and seek its due process. But, through Maneka Gandhi a new doctrine of stare decisis was set by widening the vision of these two terms.


The ManekaGandhijudgment was an equitable decision and is one of the best decisions that the Indian Supreme Court has ever delivered. The decision’s immense impact was the relation it made between the provisions of Article 14, 19, and 21. By the quality of this relation, the Court made these concepts in differentiable and a single matter. Now any method to be valid has to fulfill all the essentials mentioned under Article 14, 19, and 21. Hence, it expanded the nature and extent of personal liberty aggressively and saved the Constitutional and fundamental right to life to a great extent.

Also, Maneka Gandhi’s case gave the word ‘personal liberty’, the broadest possible analysis, and gave life to the aim of the makers of the Constitution. This case, while enumerating a new aspect to the provision of ‘personal liberty’, continued the protection of Article 14 to the personal liberty of every individual and extra protection of Article 19 to the personal liberty of every citizen.


  1. What is the scope of Article 21?
  2. What is the difference between ‘due process of law’ and ‘procedure established by law’?
  3. How has the Maneka Gandhi judgement impacted the interpretation of Fundamental Rights?
  4. Is there any nexus between Articles 14, 19, and 21?
  5. Explore the Right to travel abroad as a fundamental right.



  • [1] Article 32,
  • [2] 1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621
  • [3] Satwant Singh Sawhney v D. Ramarathnam, (1967) 3 S.C.R. 525
  • [4]Passport Act, 1967 s. 10(3) (c).
  • [5] Passport Act, 1967 s. 10(5).
  • [6] A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras, A.I.R. 1950 S.C. 27.
  • [7]M.C. Mehta (Taj Trapezium Matter) v. Union of India, (1997) 2 S.C.C. 353.
  • [8]. M.C. Mehta v. Union of India andOrs., 1988 A.I.R. 1115, 1988 S.C.R. (2) 530.
  • [9] In Re: Noise Pollution (2005)5 S.C.C. 733.
  • [10] HussainaraKhatoonandOrs. v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar 1979 A.I.R. 1369, 1979 S.C.R. (3) 532.
  • [11]Khatri and Others v. State of Bihar andOrs. 1981 S.C.R. (2) 408, 1981 S.C.C. (1) 627.

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