AIR 1950 SC 27
The Supreme Court of India
Harilal Kania (C.J.), Justice M. Patanjali Sastri, Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan, Justice B.K. Mukherjee and Justice Sudhi Rajan Das, Justice Fazal Ali Saiyid.
A.K. Gopalan was the political opponent of the government. He filed the writ petition of habeas corpus. Habeas Corpus which means you may have the body is a writ that institutes the court to determine whether a criminal defendant has been lawfully imprisoned or not. A.K. Gopalan filed this writ petition challenging Article 19(1) (d) which is the right to freedom of movement and article 21 which states the right to life and personal liberty. He filed this writ petition against the detention in pursuance of an order of detention made under the Prevention Detention Act, of 1950.
Prevention Detention Act detains the person without giving any valid reason and detention is being done because that detention is important. He challenged the validity of the order given by the court in pursuance of the Prevention Dentition Act to be “Mala Fide”.
Facts of the case
Since December 1947 A.K. Gopalan was detained several times illegally and even after the order of the court which makes him free he was kept under detention by the government under the Prevention Detention Act, of 1950. So, he filed a writ petition under article 32 for seeking the writ of habeas corpus of The Indian Constitution. He challenged the legality of order by the government as it opposes some of the articles of The Indian Constitution. He further argued that Sections 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14 of the Prevention Detention Act, 1950 violate Articles 13, 19, and 21 of the Indian Constitution. But majorly he asked for this writ on the ground that the Preventive Detention Act curtails his personal liberty under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. He contended that the law under Article 21 is not just the enacted law but it also includes the Principle of Natural Justice as well as some others laws associated with it that deprives the individual’s personal life and liberty.
M.K. Nambiar appeared as a petitioner’s council. Some of the arguments put forward by the petitioner’s side were –
- The first and foremost argument was about the legality and validity of the provision of the Preventive Detention Act, of 1950 which they believed had violated Articles 13, 19, 21, and 22.
- We have article 19(1) (d) of the Indian Constitution which states the freedom to move freely within the territory of India but in this case, the State Government of Madras restricted this right by the detention of A.K. Gopala even after the decision by the court which made him free.
- The provisions of the Preventive Detention Act, of 1950 were against article 19 and challenged the statute’s failure as the petitioner’s freedom of speech and expression was revoked.
- Article 21 is in the Right to Life and personal liberty but after the prolonged detention, it seems to have no importance of Article 21 for the petitioner.
- The detention order was also arbitrary as it violates article 22. Article 22 deals with protection against arrest and detention in certain cases.
- Section 14 of the Preventive Detention Act, of 1950 violates the fundamental right under article 13 of the Indian Constitution
Advocate K. Rajah Ajyar (Advocate General of Madras), and M.C. Setalvad (Attorney General of India) appeared as respondent’s council
- The respondent said that Articles 19 and 21 should not be read together as it depends on the perspective and the nature of the case in which context both the articles should be read together.
- Detention that is being done is not arbitrary, according to Article 22 which states protection against arrest and detention in certain cases.
- The legal procedure that is followed, everything is as per the constitution of India.
- Detention does not violate any of the rights of the petitioner i.e. of articles 12, 19, 21, and 22.
- The Prevention Detention Act is completely legal and not arbitrary.
- There is no point in filing a writ petition of habeas corpus under article 32 of the Indian Constitution.
Issues raised in the case
- The Prevention Detention Act, of 1950 does violate the prevailing articles 19 and 21.
- Article 19 – Protection of certain rights regarding, speech and expression, assembly, association, residence, and profession. Article 21 – Protection of life and personal liberty is there any kind of relation between these two, and can they be read together? This was one of the major issues as it could turn out to be the deciding factor.
- Due process is a requirement that legal matters are resolved according to the established rules and principles and everyone should be treated fairly. So the issue raised was whether the procedure established by law under Article 21 is the same as that of due process of law.
This case is a landmark case in constitutional law and is popularly known as the Prevention Detention case. After extensive discussion and wide research, the bench of judges came to the last point of the case where they were expected to give the judgment on this particular case. The court rejected the argument that Article 19 and Article 21 of the Indian Constitution are being violated because of the Prevention Detention Act, of 1950. The next particular topic on the discussion was being done was that whether the Prevention Detention Act, 1950 is ultra-vires or not, however in this particular question section 14 of the act was declared as the ultra-vires as it violates the rights guaranteed by Article 22(5) of the Indian Constitution. The court also said that being ultra-vires of section 14 of the act does not affect the validity of the whole act. The next question was whether article 19 and article 21 should be read together and if there is any kind of relationship between both articles. The court rejected this argument and said that both article is distinct and must not be read together.
The judgment of this case was given by the 6 judge’s constitutional bench in a ratio of 5:1. The decision of Justice Fazal Ali was opposite to the decision given by the other judges and his decision can be regarded as the dissenting opinion. The court said that personal liberty only means the freedom of the physical body and nothing beyond that. In the nutshell, we can say that the Supreme Court rejected the petition filed by A.K. Gopalan and said that the Prevention Detention Act, 1950 does not violate article 19(1) (d) and article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
- Dissenting opinion by Justice Fazal Ali
In this case, the dissenting opinion was given by Justice Fazal Ali; he observed that preventive detention violates the Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the constitution. According to him, the Constitution recognized that personal liberty and preventive detention are arbitrary and could be misused by the government to suppress political dissent. He further argued that personal liberty was a fundamental right and could only be curtailed in accordance with the law and that the Preventive Detention Act, of 1950, did not satisfy this requirement.
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Fazal Ali noted that the right to personal liberty is one of the essential parts of the freedom and dignity of the individual, and it is necessary to protect this right from arbitrary interference by the state. He said preventive detention violates this right hence it is unconstitutional.
Therefore, in the case of A.K. Gopalan vs. The State of Madras, Justice Fazal Ali highlights a commitment to a person’s rights and restricting the power of the state to interfere with personal liberty.
- Protection of Personal Liberty
The Article 21 of our Indian constitution reads “No person shall be deprived of his personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law”. The word “person” that is being used in this article signifies that this Article is applicable to the citizen as well as non-citizens as everyone is entitled to personal liberty. The Article further states that this liberty cannot be taken away unless there is a procedure established by law has been followed. Concerning the fact regarding personal liberty the difference between “Due process of law” which means the process must be fair and reasonable and “procedure established by law” which means the procedure should take place in a way that the parliament has signified, was taken into consideration. However, in the judgment of this case the meaning of Article 21 was taken in a narrow sense i.e. in this case the meaning of personal liberty was taken as personal liberty is just protection of body parts and the state cannot harm the individual’s body part. Also, it was held that there is no link between Articles 14, 19, and Article 21.
After 30 years in the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, personal liberty was interpreted in a different sense i.e. in a wider sense. The court took the wider view of Article 21. It was held that there is a connection between Articles 19 and 21. It was also held that there is no difference between personal liberty and liberty. In personal liberty, every other liberty has been included. Therefore the concept of personal liberty was taken into consideration in a different sense before and after the case of A.K Gopalan v. State of Madras thereby leading to the rejuvenation of a new concept of personal liberty in the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India.
- Co-relation of Article 14, 19, and Article 21 before and after the case
Articles 14, 19, and Article 21 are the basic and vital Articles of the constitution, and the connection between both them is to be taken into consideration for the better interpretation of these Articles. Article 14, 19, and Article 21 are connected with each other as there forms the bedrock of the Fundamental Right guaranteed to every citizen of India. Before the case of A.K Gopalan (1950), these articles used to be taken into consideration as a separate and distinct identity. Article 14 ensures equality before the law and equal protection of the law. Article 19 guarantees six freedom to the citizens of India these freedoms are – Freedom of speech and expression, Freedom to assemble peacefully, Freedom to form associations and unions, Freedom to move freely throughout the territory of India, Freedom to reside and settle in any part of the country and the last is the freedom to practice any profession, occupation, trade or business. Article 21 guarantees the right to life and personal liberty to every citizen.
In the case of A.K Gopalan, the Supreme Court of India held that the right to personal liberty under Article 21 is limited to procedural aspects. This means the government can deprive an individual of their personal liberty as long as the procedure for doing so was legal. This decision in the case of A.K Gopalan was criticized by many as an individual could be detained infinitely without facing any trial until the procedure allows doing that.
However, in the subsequent cases, the Supreme Court expanded the scope of Article 21 to include substantive rights as well such as a free trial, the right to privacy, and the right to education, etc. under this Article. This inculcation of substantive rights in the purview of this Article 21 gives the interconnection of Articles 14, 19, and Article 21.
In the case of A.K. Gopalan vs. The State of Madras, the court restricted the meaning of Article 19 and Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. However, after several years in the case of Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India, the court overruled this judgment and said that the opinion of Justice Fazal Ali was correct. The court further said that the scope of Article 21 and Article 19 has a wider view. From the above analysis of the case, we can conclude to the fact that the Right to life and personal liberty is not only recognized under the Indian Constitution but also intentionally recognized on the basis of the principles of natural justice. The case of A.K Gopalan is one of the most important cases of Independent India as in this case the question pertaining to Article 21 was raised for the first time after the Independence of India. However, the court took Article 21 in a narrow sense and makes it in accordance with the procedure established by the law. Almost after 30 years this decision was overruled and lastly, Article 21 was taken into a broader sense. Lastly, the court widen the view of Article 21 and said that the procedure established by the law must be just, fair, and reasonable. Therefore, from the above discussion, we can say that the case of A.K. Gopalan vs. The State of Madras (1950), was a landmark case in the Indian Constitution.
- INDIA CONST. art. 19(1) (d)
- INDIA CONST. art. 21
- Prevention Detention Act, 1950, Act No. 4 of 1950
- INDIA CONST. art. 21
- Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 597
- A.K Gopalan v. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 27
- Supra note vii
This case analysis is authored by Prashant Prasad, a second-year law student from University Law College.