This blog explains Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and how it has changed. 

Article 21 protects the "right to life" and "right to personal liberty" by prohibiting the deprivation of the rights except according to a prescribed law. 

After Maneka Gandhi's decision, Article 21 now protects the right of life and personal liberty of citizens from the Executive action as well as from the Legislative action also.

So, a person can be deprived of his life and personal liberty only in two conditions:-
(1). There must be a valid law.
(2). There must be a procedure established by that law.

The right guaranteed in Article 21 is available not only to 'citizens' but also to 'non-citizens'. 

In Maneka Gandhi's case, AIR 1978 SC 597, the Court observed that a law depriving a person of 'personal liberty' has to stand the test of Article 21, Article 19 and Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. The procedure prescribed by law has to be fair, just and reasonable which embodies the principles of natural justice.

In Peoples Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India, AIR 1982 SC 1473, it has been held that non-payment of minimum wages to the workers offends Article 21 of the Constitution as they are deprived of the basic rights and benefits.


In Chandra Raja Kumari v. Police Commissioner Hyderabad, AIR 1998 AP 302, holding of beauty contest is repugnant to dignity of women and is violative of Article 21 of the Constitution as right to live also includes right to live with human dignity, held by the Court.

In Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, AIR 1986 SC 180, the word 'life' in Article 21 also includes the 'right to livelihood' as no person can live without means of livelihood held by a five-judge bench of the Court. This case is also known as 'pavement dwellers case'.

In Sodan Singh v. New Delhi Municipal Committee, AIR 1989 SC 1988, the Supreme Court held that in a case of trade and business Article 21 is not attracted.     

In Chameli Singh v. State of U. P., (1996) 2 SCC 549, it has been held that the basic human rights known to any civilized society include the right to food, water, decent environment, education, medical care, and shelter. So, under Article 21 right to shelter is a fundamental right.

In Munn v. Illinois, 94 U.S. 113 (1876) the US Court observed that the term ‘life’ embraces within itself not only the physical existence but also the quality of life.

In Vishakha vs. The State of Rajasthan, (1997) 6 SCC 241, the court held that sexual harassment of a woman at the workplace is the violation of her fundamental rights under Articles 14, 15, and 21 of the Indian Constitution. The directions have been laid down in order to protect the rights of a woman in the workplace.

In Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India, 1984 AIR 802, the Supreme Court expanded the scope of Article 21 and declared that right to life includes the right to live free from exploitation, with human dignity, and to have equal opportunity. 

In Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar, 1991 AIR 420, the Supreme Court held that right to life under Article 21 also includes enjoyment of the pollution-free environment.

In A. K. Gopalan v. State of Madras, 1950 AIR 27, the validity of the 'Preventive Detention Act 1950' was challenged. It has been held by the Supreme Court that under article 21 protection is available only against the arbitrary actions of executive i.e. against the procedure that has been prescribed by law.


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