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Article 21 of Indian Constitution

Posted by Admin on August 4, 2014 | Comment

The Indian Constitution has always been a staunch proponent of civil liberties to the citizens so that they can lead their lives in dignity. Out of the six fundamental rights included in the Constitution, Article 21 stipulating the Right to Life and Personal Liberty is highly significant as it states that “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” “Personal liberty” includes all the freedoms which are not included in Article 19 (protection of rights regarding Freedom of Speech). Article 21 also covers the right to travel abroad.

article 21

Purpose of Article 21

According to Article 21, every resident of India is entitled to personal liberty except by legally established procedure, which is “reasonable, fair and just and not arbitrary, whimsical or fanciful.” The article assures every resident the right to live life free from exploitation. The government is under obligation to ensure that there’s no violation of fundamental right of any individual, especially if he/she hails from the weaker section of the society and unable to get into legal battle against a powerful or an exploiting opponent. It’s obligatory for both the Union and the State Governments to observe whether the social welfare and labour laws enacted by Parliament are in compliance with the directive principles of the state policy.

Expansion of the Scope of Article 21 and Its Benefits

Till the 50s, the provision of Article 21 was confined to a narrow thought. Over a period of time, the law pertaining to life and personal liberty started getting a more liberal interpretation. As the scope of this Article got expanded, the Public Interest Litigations (PILs) on issues of public significance like pollution-related health hazards, starvation deaths, housing for poor have found a prominent place under it. Improvement of public health, ensuring human conditions in prisons, and maintaining hygiene in slaughter houses were later included in the expanded scope of Article 21.

From the right to pollution free water to the protection of under-trial, many more such rights came under the ambit of Article 21. Some of the other rights covered under this Article include the right to privacy, the right against custodial death and public hanging. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that a special status is accorded to Article 21. Unlike in Article 359, the rights conferred in Article 21 cannot be suspended even during a period of national emergency.

Amendment to Article 21

During the 86th Amendment of Indian Constitution in 2002, Article 21-A was included. It guaranteed free and compulsory education to all children in the age group of six to 14 years as a Fundamental Right. Following the amendment, the need was felt for a legislation to have clarity on the method of implementing it. This led to the drafting of a separate Education Bill and the emergence of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, which came into force in 2010. Article 21 A and RTE Act together put an obligation on the government to ensure admission and completion of elementary education by children in the specified age group.

Violation of Article 21

The provision of right to life is also violated in the form of unbridled growth of environmental pollution. Delhi could be a case study.  While World Health Organization (WHO) has ranked New Delhi as the world’s worst city in terms of air pollution, there are other environmental issues which are yet to be addressed.

There’s an inherent dichotomy in our healthcare system. While urban rich can get quality healthcare in high-end hospitals, the rural population does not access to even have basic primary care. The very fact that government hospitals fail to provide adequate medical assistance is a gross violation of right to life guaranteed under Article 21.

There has been frequent uproar in the past against undue delay in commuting death sentence to life imprisonment. The delay in exercising the power to pardon a convict is also a sheer violation of right to life and liberty as it creates psychological stresses on the convict leading to adverse health conditions.