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  • Abia Mohammed Kabeer

#CaseBrief: Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India



fundamental rights
#CaseBrief: Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India

Title and Citation

Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, AIR 1978, SC 597

 

Facts

Maneka Gandhi v. UOI case is a constitutional law case dealing with the infringement of fundamental rights. Maneka Gandhi, a journalist and member of the Parliament, filed a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. Maneka Gandhi, the petitioner approached the Court upon the abrupt seizure of her passport by the Passport Authority as it infringed her right to travel abroad violating Article 21: Right to Life and Personal Liberty. They didn’t provide any reason or an opportunity to be heard and merely cited “public interest”.The laws in question were Section 10 (3) (c) of the Passport Act, 1967 which granted the state the power to impound passports and Article 14 (Right to equality), Article 19 (Freedom of speech and expression) & Article 21 (Right to Life and Personal Liberty) of the Indian Constitution.

 

Issues

·       Whether the Right to travel abroad is included under Article 21?

·       Whether Articles 14,19 & 21 relate to each other or are they mutually exclusive?

·       Whether the right under Article 19 (1)(a) has any geographical limitation?

·       Whether Section 10 (3) (c) is violative of Article 14, 19 (1) (a) (g) & Article 21?


Contention

Petitioner:

The right to go abroad is a part of “personal liberty” granted under Art. 21 and it cannot be infringed without legal procedure. Passport Act, 1967 does not prescribe such procedure and even if it does, it is arbitrary and unreasonable as it infringes the right to be heard. Section 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act, 1967 is violative of fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19 (1) (a) and (g) and 21. These Articles are to be read together and are not mutually exclusive of each other but rather inclusive in nature.

 

The challenged order infringes Article 19 (1) (a) restricting the right to speech and expression and Article 19 (1) (g) hindering the Journalist’s profession. The grounds for impounding passports should not be a mere likelihood of public interest arising in future. The opportunity to be heard is a rule of natural justice and should not be taken away even though they are not explicitly mentioned in any provisions of the Constitution. It was wrong to say that the petitioner was likely to be required to give the evidence before the Shah Commission.


Respondent:

The seizure was according to Section 10 (3) (c) of the Passport Act, 1967 and was necessary in the public interest. The seizure of the passport was due to the requirement of the petitioner to appear for a hearing before a government committee. The specific reason could not be disclosed as it concerned national security.

 

The principle established in A K Gopalan Case emphasizes that the term “law” under Article 21 cannot be regarded as reflected in the fundamental principles of natural justice. The need for a prior hearing did not apply in all cases involving public interest. The phrase “procedure established by law” in Article 21 doesn’t have to pass the reasonability test or comply with Articles 14 & 19.


Issues or Contentions viz. Judgement with reasoning

The 7-judge bench of the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favour of Maneka Gandhi. The SC held that "Procedure established by law" under Article 21 includes not only substantive law but also fair and just procedures. Arbitrary and unfair procedures violate even if substantive law exists. Moreover, Section 10 (3) (c) of the Passport Act, 1967 was declared unconstitutional for being vague and undefined, granting arbitrary power to the government and violating Article 14. Impounding a passport without providing reasons or an opportunity for a hearing violates the right to freedom of movement and personal liberty under Article 19 and the requirement of due process under Article 21. Even in matters of public interest, basic principles of natural justice and fair procedures cannot be sacrificed. Reasonable restrictions based on clear grounds and an opportunity for a hearing are essential.

 

Rule of Law

The rule of law established by the court is that the right to procedural due process is an integral part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21. Vague and undefined laws granting arbitrary powers to the government are unconstitutional. Even in matters of public interest, fundamental rights cannot be arbitrarily curtailed without fair procedures and reasonable justifications.

 

Conclusion

The court's decision in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India has significant implications for the expansion of the scope of Article 21 by interlinking Articles 14, 19 and 21, and establishing the crucial role of procedural due process in protecting individual rights. It clarified that even in the face of national security concerns or public interest, basic safeguards and fair procedures must be followed when restricting fundamental rights. This case significantly enhanced individual liberty and limited the government's power to arbitrarily curtail citizens' rights. It overruled the decision in A K Gopalan v. State of Madras (1950) which has a narrower interpretation of personal liberty.

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