top of page

Judicial Expansion Of The Scope Of Article 21

Author: Radhika Soni NMIMS School of Law, Mumbai

What is Article 21 of Indian Constitution?

Article 21 is also called as heart and soul of Constitution of India. Such establishment of this article is for a reason and without Article 21 a person’s existence could be in apprehension because according to this article, no individual shall be denied of his/her life or personal liberty except as per the procedure prescribed by law. Originally, the phrase “due process of law” was used instead of “method established by law.” However, after much deliberation, it was agreed to use the latter one in the fine print, as the former one would have been too burdensome for judicial system.

Aspects of Article 21

The main aim of this article is to secure two aspects, first being right to life and second right to personal liberty. But Article 21 is much more than that. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution defines ‘life’ as more than just act of living. It does not imply a purely animal existence or a life of drudgery. It has a far broader definition that includes the right to live in dignity, the right to a livelihood, the right to health, and the right to clean air, among other things. The primary notion of the right to life is therefore the bare essentials, minimal and basic necessities that are vital and inescapable for a person.

  1. “Right to Live with Human Dignity” – This right includes the unadorned necessities of life, such as proper nutrition, clothing, and shelter over one’s head, as well as amenities for learning, writing, and conveying information in various forms, liberally moving about, and mixing and socialising with fellow humans, must encompass the right to basic necessities, as well as the capacity to hold out functions and activities that comprise the bare minimum expression of human-self.

  2. “Right against Sexual Harassment at Workplace” – The scope and substance of India’s constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights are broad enough to cover all aspects of gender equality, including the issue of sexual harassment or abuse. The Supreme Court has ruled that sexual harassment of women is a violation of one of the most prized fundamental rights, the Right to Life, as enshrined in Art. 21.

  3. “Right against Rape” – Rape has been declared a breach of a person’s right to a fundamental life protected by Art. 21. The right to life includes the right to live in dignity. As a result, the right to life should encompass all aspects of life that contribute to making life more meaningful, complete, and worthwhile. Rape is a crime violating basic human rights, as well as a violation of the victim’s most prized fundamental human right, namely, the right to life with human dignity (mentioned in Art. 21)

  4. “Right to Social Security and Protection of Family” – “Calcutta Electricity Supply Corporation (India) Ltd. v. Subhash Chandra Bose”[1]found that under Art. 21, the right to economic and social fairness is a basic right. The right to life and dignity of a human, as well as position without means, were superficial rights, according to the learned jurist. As a result, socio-economic rights were fundamental goals for the meaning of the right to life and the right to social security and protection of family were integral part of Article 21.

Expansion of Article 21

Even after many aspects already involved in Article 21, it has a wider judicial scope. The term “life” refers to more than just animal existence; it encompasses not only physical body but also the life quality. The term “personal liberty” encompasses not just freedom from imprisonment, detention, and false or unjust confinement, but also the entitlements that are necessary for pleasure in a free society.

In “Unni Krishnan v. State of A.P,”[2] it was held that Article 21 is at the heart of Fundamental Rights, and that it has expanded the scope of Article 21 by stating that “life” encompasses “education,” and that “education” derives from “life.” As a result of the broadening of the scope of Article 21, Public Interest Litigations involving children in prison who are entitled to special treatment, health risks from pollution and hazardous substances, beggar housing, timely medical assistance to injured persons, starving deaths, the right to be informed, the right to an open trial, and inhumane circumstances in aftercare homes have all been included.

The extended scope of Article 21 now includes maintaining and improving public health, improving communication, ensuring humane conditions in prisons, and maintaining sanitary conditions in slaughterhouses. This reach has been expanded even further to include innocent hostages held captive by extremists in shrines outside the control of the state.

In the case of “S.S. Ahuwalia v. Union of India” and others, the Supreme Court held that, in the broadened special set to Article 21 of the Constitution, it is the Government’s duty to create an environment in which members of society of various faiths, castes, and creeds live together, and that, as a result, the State has an obligation to protect their life, liberty, dignity, and worth as an individual should not be endangered.

Scope of Article 21

The article contains two key concepts or phrases that require discussion which are as follows:

  1. Right to life- The right to life guaranteed by this Article is more than just the ability to exist. This right encompasses other than just life presence, as mentioned in the case of “Kharak Singh v State of Uttar Pradesh.”[3] In such case, the court ruled that the restriction against a human’s life reaches to all parts and abilities which help the individual enjoys his life. It involves living a dignified existence, which comprises the right to protection and healthy livelihood, that is an essential aspect of individual’s life. The jury established in the case of “Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration”[4] that perhaps the human life involves the power to live a better life as well as the security in one’s own cultural values, religion, legacy, and everything that brings happiness to a person’s life. As a result, it incorporated the right to live in peace, to sleep in peace, and to excellent condition. According to the case of “Ashwani Kumar v. Union of India and others,” where a current complaint was filed in the Supreme Court. While evaluating the nature of existence, the Judge determined that the human life also comprises the right to live with dignity. The Court ruled there would be a need for regular reporting of plans to achieve the legal goal in order to support all healthcare system and medical services accessible to the aged people. There was establishment of three rights i.e., “the right to live with dignity, the right to shelter, and the right to health.”[5] The government is responsible for ensuring that such essential liberties are not only secured, but also implemented and accessible to all residents. As a result, a constant mandamus is necessary to guarantee that the interests of the citizens are protected, recognised, and guaranteed by the government.

  2. Personal liberty- The concept of personal liberty once understood as a person who has the right to not commit any detention, imprisonment or other bodily compulsion in any way that didn’t have legal justification. This notion, on the other hand, was appropriate at a period when the state had a monopoly on existing resources and citizens had quite restricted access. But the definition of liberty needed to be expanded as society continued to evolve and progress. As it exists now, the concept of liberation includes every one of the rights that an individual is granted in order to stay alive and enjoy a good life, along with all of the luxuries that he may afford. Personal liberty thus encompasses all of the liberties specified in other provisions of the Constitution, including the right to roam peacefully across any state of India, the right to choose any career, and so on. Article 21A included the 86th Constitutional Amendment which stated that this is the obligation of the government to offer equal educational opportunities to kids aged 6 to 14 years. This was considered as among the most significant changes within the scope of Article 21.

The purpose of protecting personal liberty is to encourage political fairness and to provide independence and justice of opinion, speech, religion, profession, and devotion to all people. It is an instrument for giving everyone the free choice. As a result, it is obvious that there could be no comprehensive meaning of the word “personal liberty.” In the famous case of “Maneka Gandhi v Union of India,”[6] the Judge ruled that Articles 14, 19, and 21 are not necessarily compatible, and that Article 21 encompasses every one of the rights particularly enumerated in Articles 14 and 19. All these three articles are referred to collectively as the “golden triangle and manga carta” of rights given to individuals. The freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution aren’t really different nor necessarily compatible.


[1] 1992 AIR 573, 1991 SCR Supl. (2) 267

[2] 1993 AIR 2178, 1993 SCR (1) 594

[3] 1963 AIR 1295, 1964 SCR (1) 332

[4] 1980 AIR 1579, 1980 SCR (2) 557

[6] AIR 1978 SC 597; (1978) 1 SCC 248

For daily Updates Do Follow Us on Facebook Instagram LinkedIN Twitter YouTube

To read more blogs click here

bottom of page