21. Protection of life and personal liberty No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.
The right to life and personal liberty is guaranteed by the Indian Constitution in Part III under the category of Right to Freedom (Articles 19-22). The right to life and personal liberty in accordance with the procedure established by law is guarantee by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The right is available to both citizens and non-citizens.
The scope of Article 21 have been expands over the years through judicial pronouncements over the years.
The Supreme Court of India in the famous Gopalan Case (1950) held that protection under Article 21 is available only against arbitrary executive action and not against arbitrary legislative action. It clarified that if personal liberty of an individual is taken away by a law, the validity of the law cannot be questioned. In the same case the Supreme Court held personal liberty would only mean liberty relating to the person or body of the individual.
However, in the Maneka Gandhi Case (1973) the Supreme Court overruled its judgement in the Gopalan Case by widely interpreting Article 21. It stated that protection under Article 21 should be available not only against arbitrary executive action but also against arbitrary legislative action by introducing the American concept of ‘due process of law’. It pronounced the expression ‘Personal Liberty’ in Article 21 is of the widest amplitude and it covers a wide range of rights that go to constitute the personal liberties of a man.
The court’s decision in Maneka Gandhi Case has been reaffirmed in the subsequent cases. In the way of widening the implications of personal liberty, in 1993, the Supreme Court recognized primary education as a fundamental right under Article 21.
It recognized right to free education until the completion of 14 years as a Fundamental Right overruling its earlier judgement in 1992, which declared that there was a Fundamental Right to education to any level including professional education like medicine and engineering. The 86th Constitutional Amendment Act of 2002 inserted Article 21A for making only elementary education a Fundamental Right.