Case Summary: Maneka Gandhi vs. Union Of India (1978)

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Case title: Maneka Gandhi v Union of India (1978)

Court: Supreme Court of India

Bench: M.Hameedullah , Y.V.Chandrachud, P.N. Bhagwati, V.R. Krishna Iyer & N.L. Untwalia, S.M. Fazalal, & P.S. Kailasam. (7 judge bench)

Petitioner: Maneka Gandhi

Respondent: Union of India

Citation: 1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621

Facts of the case

  • Maneka Gandhi was issued a passport on the 1st of July 1976 under the erstwhile Passport Act 1967. After three days of this issue, she received a letter dated 2nd of July, 1977, from the Passport Officer regionally in charge in Delhi communicating to her that it was decided by the Union government to impound her passport under Section 10(3) of the Passport Act 1967 “in public interest”. The minister was told to surrender her passport within one week from the receipt of that letter.
  • A letter was addressed to the Regional Passport Officer by Maneka Gandhi with a request to furnish a copy of the reasons for sending the order under the act. The reply was sent by the Union Government, by the Ministry of Affairs on the 6th of July 1977 stating the reason for impounding the passport is “in the interest of the general public” and not to provide a copy of the list of reasons for the making of the order. Maneka Gandhi, therefore, filed a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India stating the seize of her passport as the violation of her fundamental rights; specifically Article 14 (Right to Equality), Article 19 (Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression) and Article 21 (Right to Life and Liberty) guaranteed by the Constitution of India.

Issues Raised

  1. Whether the right to go abroad is a part of right to personal liberty under Article 21.
  2. Whether the Passport Act prescribes a ‘procedure’ as required by Article 21 before depriving a person from the right guaranteed under the said article.
  3. Whether section 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act is violative of Article 14,19(1) (a)(g) and 21 of the constitution.
  4. Whether the impugned order of the Regional passport officer is in contravention of the principle of natural justice.

Arguments advanced by petitioner

  • The right to go abroad is part of “personal liberty” within the meaning of that expression as used in Article 21 and no one can be deprived of this right except according to the procedure prescribed by law. There is no procedure prescribed by the Passport Act, for impounding or revoking a Passport.  Even if some procedure can be traced in the said Act it is unreasonable and arbitrary in as much as it does not provide for giving an opportunity to the holder of the Passport to be heard against the making of the order.
  • Section 10(3) (c) is violative of fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19(1) (a) and (g) and 21.
  • The impugned order is made in contravention of the rules of natural justice and is, therefore, null and void. The impugned order has effect of placing  an unreasonable restriction on the right of free  speech  and expression guaranteed to the petitioner under Article 19(1) (a) as also on the right to carry on the profession of a  journalist conferred under Article 19 (1) (g).
  • The impugned order could not consistently with Articles 19(1)(a) and (g)be passed on a mere information of  the Central Government that the presence of the  petitioner  is likely to  be required in connection with the proceedings before the Commission of Inquiry.
  • In order that a passport may be impounded under section 10 (3) (c) of the Passports Act 1967, public interest must actually exist in present and the mere likelihood of public interest arising in future would be no ground for impounding the passport.

  Arguments advanced by Respondent

  • The Attorney General of India argued that the ‘Right to Travel Abroad’ was never covered under any clauses of article 19(1) and hence, Article 19 is independent of proving the reasonableness of the actions taken by the Central Government.
  • The Passport Law was not made to blow away the Fundamental Rights in any manner. Also, the Government should not be compelled to state its grounds for seizing or impounding someone’s passport for the public good and national safety. Therefore, the law should not be struck down even if it overflowed Article 19.
  • Further, the petitioner was required to appear before a committee for an inquiry and hence, her passport was impounded.
  • Reiterating the principle laid down in A.K Gopalan, the respondent contended that the word law under Article 21 cannot be comprehended in the light fundamental rules of natural justice.
  • Article 21 is very wide and it also contains in itself, the provisions of Articles 14 & 19. However, any law can only be termed unconstitutional to Article 21 when it directly infringes Article 14 & 19. Hence, passport law is not unconstitutional.
  • Article 21 in its language contains “procedure established by law” & such procedure need not pass the test of reasonability. The constitutional makers while drafting this constitution had debated at length on American “due process of law” & British “procedure established by law”. The conspicuous absence of the due process of law from the Constitutional provisions reflects the mind of the framers of this constitution. The mind and spirit of the framers must be protected and respected.

   Judgment

  • While delivering the landmark judgment the court altered the face of the Constitution by stating that though the maxim used in Article 21 is “procedure established by law” rather than “due process of law” nevertheless, the procedure mentioned therein must necessarily be free from the vices of irrationality and arbitrariness.
  • The court overruled Gopalan by stating that there is a unique relationship between the provisions of Article 14, 19 & 21 and every law must pass the tests of the said provisions. Earlier in Gopalan case, the majority held that these provisions in itself are mutually exclusive. Therefore, to correct its earlier mistake the court held that these provisions are not mutually exclusive and dependent on each other.
  • The court held that the scope of “personal liberty” is not be construed in narrow and stricter sense. The court said that personal liberty has to be understood in the broader and liberal sense. Therefore, Article 21 was given an expansive interpretation. The court obligated the future courts to expand the horizons of Article 21 to cover all the Fundamental Rights and avoid construing it in narrower sense.
  • The right to travel abroad as held in Satwant Singh is within the scope of guarantees mentioned under Article 21.
  • Section 10(3)(c) of Passport Act 1967 is not violative of neither Article 21 nor Article 19(1)(a) or 19 (1)(g). The court further held that the said 1967 provision also not in contradiction of Article 14. Since the said provision provides for an opportunity to be heard. The court rejected the contention of the petitioner that the phrase “in the interests of the general public” is not vague.
  • The court held that Section 10(3)(c) & 10(5) is an administrative order, therefore, open to challenge on the grounds of mala fide, unreasonable, denial of natural justice and ultra vires.
  • The court also suggested government to ordinarily provide reasons in every case and should rarely use the prerogative of Section 10(5) of the 1967 act.
  • The rights discussed under 19(1)(a) & 19(1)(g) is not confined to the territorial limits of India.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Maneka Gandhi’s case, gave the term ‘personal liberty’ widest possible interpretation and gave effect to the intention of the drafters of the Constitution. This case, while adding a whole new dimension to the concept of ‘personal liberty’, extended the protection of Art. 14 to the personal liberty of every person and additional protection of Art. 19 to the personal liberty of every citizen.

Reference

Article 21 of Constitution of India

Article 19 of Constitution of India

Article 32 of Constitution of India

Passport Act, 1967

A.K. Gopalan v. The State of Madras

Satwant Singh Sawhney vs D. Ramarathnam,(1967) 3 S.C.R. 525

Rural Litigation And Entitlement Kendra v.State Of U.P..&Ors. 1985 A.I.R. 652.

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