The case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978) is a landmark judgement of the Supreme Court of India, widely recognized for its pivotal role in expanding the interpretation and scope of fundamental rights under the Constitution of India, particularly the right to life and personal liberty.
- Passport Impounding: The case arose when Maneka Gandhi, a journalist and daughter-in-law of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was issued a notice by the Government of India, impounding her passport under the Passport Act, 1967. The government did not provide a detailed reason, citing "public interest" as the basis for its action.
- Challenge to Action: Maneka Gandhi filed a writ petition challenging the government's action as violative of her fundamental rights under Articles 21 (Protection of life and personal liberty), 19(1)(a) (Freedom of speech and expression), and 19(1)(g) (Freedom to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business).
- The case primarily involved the interpretation of Article 21 and its relationship with Article 19. The key issue was whether the right to travel abroad was part of the "personal liberty" guaranteed under Article 21, and whether the Passport Act's provisions met the requirements of procedural fairness.
- Another significant issue was the interrelationship between the different fundamental rights enumerated in the Constitution.
Supreme Court Judgment:
- Expansion of Article 21: The Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, held that the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 is not merely the physical act of breathing but includes the right to live with dignity and all that goes along with it.
- Inter-Relationship of Rights: The Court also held that Articles 19 and 21 are not mutually exclusive and that a law depriving a person of "personal liberty" has to meet the criteria of both Article 21 and Article 19.
- Procedural Due Process: Importantly, the Court introduced the concept of 'procedural due process' in Indian law, stating that the law which prescribes procedure for depriving a person of personal liberty must also be just, fair, and reasonable.
- Right to Travel Abroad: The Court recognized the right to travel abroad as part of personal liberty under Article 21, thereby mandating that any restriction on such a right must pass the test of reasonableness and fairness.
1. Expanded Interpretation of Fundamental Rights: This judgement is credited with expanding the scope and content of the fundamental rights, especially the right to life and personal liberty.
2. Concept of Procedural Due Process: It introduced the American doctrine of procedural due process in Indian jurisprudence, requiring laws to be fair, just, and reasonable, not just in their legislative intent but also in their procedural aspects.
3. Harmonious Interpretation of Rights: It established the principle of harmonious interpretation, holding that fundamental rights are not isolated silos but are interconnected.
Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India marked a turning point in the interpretation of the Constitution of India, particularly concerning the protection and expansion of fundamental rights. The judgement is celebrated for its progressive and liberal interpretation, which has significantly influenced subsequent human rights jurisprudence in India.