Article 21 of Indian Constitution – Right to Life and Personal Liberty, Article 21 UPSC Notes

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

Article 21 of Indian Constitution states that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law. Both citizens and non-citizens may exercise this Right to Life and Personal Liberty. Article 21 includes all those parts of life that contribute to a man’s meaningful, comprehensive, and worthwhile existence. It is not just limited to physical or biological existence or survival. Right to Life Article 21 is an integral part of Indian polity and human rights in general.

As the constitution is a living document, Article 21 of the Indian Constitution also keeps adapting through amendments. Article 21 provides two fundamental rights, which is why it is called the heart of fundamental rights by the Supreme Court. Read and understand all about the Right to Life Article 21 and Article 21 A of the Indian Constitution.

Article 21

Article 21 of the Constitution defines “life” as more than simply breathing. It does not imply continual labor or a life of mere animal existence. Article 21 comes under the Right to Freedom of the Indian Constitution. It covers a far wider range of issues, such as the right to a decent standard of living, the right to a means of support, the right to health, the right to clean air, etc.

Article 21 UPSC

The right to life encompasses all those elements of life that give a man’s life purpose, fulfillment, and value because it is essential to our basic existence and without which we cannot live as humans. It is the only Article of the Constitution that has been interpreted as broadly as possible, making Article 21 one of the most important. Thus, from the fundamental concept of the right to life, the bare necessities, minimum, and basic requirements for an individual.

Right to Life and Personal Liberty

Unquestionably, the most fundamental of all rights is the Right to Life under Article 21. The existence of life itself is necessary for the operation of all other rights, which enhance the standard of living in consideration. One may anticipate that the Right to Life itself would be, in some ways, essential because, without it, none of the other rights would have any meaning or utility, as human rights can only relate to living things.

If Article 21 had not been interpreted in its original context, there wouldn’t have been any Fundamental Rights worth noting. Check out the below section to have a look at how the Indian Supreme Court has interpreted and applied the right to life.

Interpretation of Article 21 of Indian Constitution

Several cases and judgments related to Article 21 of Indian Constitution have widened its scope and interpretation. Have a look at the cases mentioned below as they are important in reference to Article 21.

  • AK Gopalan Case: To improve the scope of Rights Under Article 21 and better understand the Right to Life Article, the Supreme Court in the 1950s discussed that ‘procedure established by law under Article 21 means the due process of law.
  • Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India Case: This SC case in 1978 toppled the AK Gopalan Case judgment and said that Article 19 and Right to Life and Liberty Article 21 are not watertight. It also stated that there could not be a narrow interpretation of the Protection of Life and Personal Liberty.
  • Francis Coralie Mullin vs Union Territory of Delhi: The court ruled in 1981 that any process used to deny someone their life or freedom must be rational, fair, and just-not arbitrary, capricious, or fantastical.
  • Olga Tellis vs Bombay Municipal Corporation (1985): The court restated the statement given earlier that protection of life and personal liberty is a person’s fundamental right and no punishment should abide them from this.
  • Unni Krishnan vs State of Andhra Pradesh (1993): The Supreme Court expanded the interpretation of the right to life article and added other sub-rights under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution as a result of several cases.

Scope of Right to Life and Personal Liberty

Some Rights Under Article 21 are listed below which were the result of various judgments by the Supreme Court. These judgments help widen the scope of rights under Article 21 as there are various aspects to the Right to Life article.

Rights Under Article 21

  • Right to Live with Human Dignity
  • Right to Reputation under Article 21 of Indian Constitution
  • Right to Livelihood
  • Right to Shelter under Article 21 of Indian Constitution
  • Right to Social Security and Protection of Family
  • Right to Health and Medical care under Article 21
  • Right to Get Pollution-Free Water and Air
  • Right to Clean Environment
  • Right to Information
  • Right to Personal Liberty
  • Right to Education – Article 21A
  • Right to Privacy
  • Woman’s Right to Make Reproductive Choices
  • Right Against Illegal Detention
  • Right Against Sexual Harassment in The Workplace
  • Prisoners’ Rights
  • De-criminalization of Suicide under Article 21

Right to Life

The Right to Life must include the right to the bare fundamentals of life, including proper nourishment, clothing, and shelter over one’s head, as well as access to facilities for reading, writing, and expressing oneself in a variety of ways, as well as the freedom to move around and interact freely with other people.

The Rights under Article 21 must also include the right to the bare essentials of life and the right to carry out activities and responsibilities, which translates to the Right to Live with Dignity.

Right to Reputation under Article 21 of Indian Constitution

In the same way that the Right to Life, Personal Liberty, and property were protected by the Constitution, a good reputation is also a component of personal security. The Constitution upholds the notion that the right to enjoy one’s individual reputation has an ancient legacy and is essential to human society.

Right to Livelihood

The scope of the right to life guaranteed by Article 21 is extensive. It does not merely imply that life cannot be taken away or put to death, as would be the case with the pronouncement and execution of a death penalty unless done so in accordance with the legal process. There are many different facets to the right to life. The right to a livelihood is a component of the right to life that is equally crucial because no one can survive without it.

Right to Shelter under Article 21

For an animal, it serves only as basic body protection; for a human, it must be a comfortable setting that will allow him to develop physically, mentally, and cognitively. The Constitution through Article 21 aspires to ensure that every kid develops to their greatest potential. Only if the youngster is living in a suitable family would that be conceivable.

A decent home, especially for people in India, can even be a thatched house made of mud or mud-built fireproof housing. It is not required to guarantee that every citizen lives in a well-built, comfortable house. Right to Shelter under Article 21 of Indian Constitution becomes a necessity and part and parcel of Article 21.

Right to Social Security and Protection of Family

The rights to life, human dignity, and position without means were merely symbolic in Article 21. As a result, socio-economic rights were fundamental goals for having a right to life, and a right to social security and family protection was an essential element of that right.

Right to Health and Medical care under Article 21

The state must give workers access to facilities and opportunities that will allow them to achieve a basic standard of health, financial stability, and civilized living in order to uphold social justice, which is a mechanism to ensure that life is fulfilling and desirable with human dignity.

According to the Supreme Court, a crucial component of the right to life is the health and vitality of the worker. Denying it deprives the laborers of life’s finer aspects, violating Article 21 of Indian Constitution.

Right to Get Pollution-Free Water and Air

According to Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, the right to life includes the pleasure of clean water and air for the full satisfaction of life. A citizen has the right to use Article 32 of the Constitution to address water or air pollution that may be harmful to one’s quality of life if it threatens or affects that quality of life in violation of the law. Article 21 of the constitution guarantees the right to get pollution-free water and air.

Right to Clean Environment

According to Article 21, the “Right to Life” refers to a life with dignity that is lived in a suitable environment free from the risks of sickness and infection. As they negatively impact people’s quality of life and amount to gradual poisoning if dangers aren’t controlled, maintaining health, safeguarding cleanliness, and environmental protection have been deemed to be under the jurisdiction of Article 21.

Right to Information

Article 21 includes the right to information. Right to Information is also known as RTI. Information access is crucial for equitable growth, empowering citizens, and democratic society. The right to access and seek information is a precondition for transparency, openness, and accountability in the management and operation of a democratic government.

Right to Personal Liberty

The Indian Supreme Court has rejected the notion that liberty refers to freedom from physical restraint and stated that it includes those rights and benefits that have long been acknowledged as necessary for the lawful pursuit of contentment and happiness by free citizens.

Right to Education – Article 21A

The Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment) Act of 2002 amended Article 21A into the Indian Constitution to offer the Right to Education – free and compulsory education to all children aged six to fourteen years as a Fundamental Right in the ways determined by legislation by the State.

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act of 2009, which reflects the consequential legislation proposed by Article 21-A, states that every child is entitled to full-time elementary education of decent and fair value in a proper school that meets certain crucial norms and guidelines.

Right to Privacy

The right to life and personal liberty includes the freedom from limits placed on one’s movements as well as the freedom from intrusions into one’s privacy. Although the right to privacy is not explicitly stated as a fundamental right in our Constitution, it is a crucial component of human liberty.

Woman’s Right to Make Reproductive Choices

The right of a woman to govern her reproductive decisions includes the ability to decline sexual engagement or to insist on taking contraceptive techniques, such as getting sterilized. The right of a woman to carry a pregnancy to term, give birth, and thereafter raise children.

Right Against Illegal Detention

Under Article 21, A person who has been arrested and is being held in custody has the right, upon request, to have a friend, relative, or other person informed of his arrest and where he is being held, as far as is reasonably possible. When the arrested person is escorted to the police station, the police officer must tell him of this privilege. The person who received notice of the arrest must be noted in the logbook.

Right Against Sexual Harassment in The Workplace

There is no denying that every instance of sexual harassment at work violates the two most important fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution—the right to equality and the right to life and personal liberty.

Prisoners’ Rights

Rights Under Article 21 also include these rights to make sure punishment is given to culprits only and no innocent person is affected due to this:

  • Right to free legal aid and the right to appeal
  • Right to a speedy trial
  • Right to a fair trial
  • Right to bail
  • Right against handcuffing
  • Right against solitary confinement
  • Right against custodial violence
  • Right against public hanging
  • Right against delayed execution

De-criminalization of Suicide under Article 21

Section 115(1) of the Mental Healthcare Act 2017 states that any individual who attempts suicide is believed to have extreme stress until established otherwise and cannot be tried or penalized under the code. The Act considers a suicide attempter to be a victim of circumstances rather than a culprit. The Supreme Court ruled that Section 115, which establishes a presumption of extreme stress, affects Section 309.

Importance of Article 21 of Indian Constitution

Article 21 of the Indian constitution is the most primitive right as it deals with the right to life and personal liberty. Check out the importance of Article 21 facilitated here below:

  • It helps candidates protect themselves against the violation of laws
  • Article 21 deals not only with the right to life but also with all the aspects necessary for life and personal liberty.
  • Every child has the right to full development and education.
  • Euthanasia is also a part of Article 21 of Indian Constitution because under certain circumstances death becomes essential rather than life.
  • Without Article 21 other rights would have been obsolete as the right to life acts as a focal point for the rest of the fundamental rights.

Right to Life and Euthanasia in India under Article 21

Euthanasia is a debatable topic for ages. In Belgium, Netherlands, and Colombia Euthanasia has been legalized as it comes under the right to personal liberty. The Supreme Court also legalized passive euthanasia in 2018 by withdrawing life support from people in permanent vegetative conditions.

Euthanasia or Mercy Killing is deliberately ending someone’s life in order to aid them from pain and suffering. There are five types of Euthanasia stated by the court as the conditions are not similar in all cases.

Types of Euthanasia

Euthanasia comes under Article 21 of Indian Constitution as death is a significant part of life. Check out the types of Euthanasia mentioned here to have a better understanding of this concept:

  • Passive Euthanasia is the discontinuation of treatment for the terminally sick person, i.e., the withdrawal of necessary requirements for life to go on.
  • Active euthanasia is when a doctor deliberately intervenes to end someone’s life by using fatal substances. This is not the same as physician-assisted suicide, in which patients deliver lethal medications to themselves. A doctor administers the medications in active euthanasia.
  • Voluntary euthanasia is a type of euthanasia that is performed with the patient’s agreement.
  • Non-voluntary euthanasia occurs when patients are unable to give consent (due to unconsciousness or serious brain damage), and another person chooses on their behalf.
  • Involuntary euthanasia happens when euthanasia is performed against the patient’s consent, which is murder.

Article 21 UPSC

The right to life Article 21 is one of the integral parts of any human’s life hence Article 21 gains an active spot in the Indian polity and therefore is an important segment of the UPSC syllabus. It is extremely important to prepare this topic using UPSC study material and keep a close tab on current affairs as well as to not skip out on any updates.

For better preparation candidates should refer to the Polity Books for UPSC. Strategized preparation will help candidates ace their exams meritoriously.

Article 21 MCQs

Question: Which of the statements regarding Article 21 of the Constitution of India is/ are correct? (1) Right to life is one of the basic human rights and not even the state has the authority to violate that right, (2) Article 21 is violated when under-trial prisoners are detained under judicial custody for an indefinite period, (3) Under Article 21, the right of a woman to make reproductive choices is not a dimension of personal liberty. Select the correct answer: (A) 1 and 3 only, (B) 1 and 2 only, (C) 2 only, (D) 1, 2 and 3
Answer: 1 and 2 only

Question: Right to Privacy is protected under which Article of the Constitution of India? (a) Article 19, (b) Article 29, (c) Article 21, (b) Article 15
Answer: Article 21

Question: The scope of Article 21 of the Constitution was expanded to include the Right of Education, because of the decision of the Supreme Court in the case: (a) Parmanand Katara vs. Union of India, (b) Chameli Singh vs. State of Uttar Pradesh, (c) Govind vs. State of Madhya Pradesh, (d) Unnikrishnan vs. Andhra Pradesh
Answer: Unnikrishnan vs. Andhra Pradesh

Mains Question: Article 21 of the Constitution provides, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law”. Analyse the value principle involved and its relevance in today’s context.

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Article 256 Article 248
Article 244 Article 246
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Article 154 Article 144
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Article 129 Article 131
Article 121 Article 113
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