Maneka Gandhi v. UOI [AIR 1978 SC 597]

Right to Travel Abroad comes under the scope of Right to Personal Liberty under Article 21.

Bench – PS Kailasam, SM Fazalali,  VR Krishnaiyer, PN Bhagwati, NL Untwalia , M.H. Beg, and Y.V. Chandrachud.

Facts – Maneka Gandhi, the petitioner, was a journalist whose passport was granted under the Passport Act of 1967 on 1st of June, 1976. The petitioner received a letter from the regional passport officer on 7th of July, 1977, in which she was ordered to relinquish her passport in the public interest as per Section 10(3) (c) of Passport Act within 7 days of receiving the letter. 

The petitioner reacted to the authorities as soon as she received notice of the impoundment, requesting for precise, comprehensive explanations as to why her passport will be held, as specified in Section 10(5) of the Passport Act. The officials, on the other hand, said that the grounds should not be revealed in the “general public interest.”

As a consequence to this, the petitioner submitted a writ petition under Article 32 to the Supreme Court stating that Section 10(3) (c) of the Act was unconstitutional. The grounds for being violative of the constitution were stated in the petition as violations of fundamental rights protected as per the Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution of India.

Issues –

  • Whether a connection between provisions in the Article 14, 19 and 21 exist or not?
  • What is the scope of the definition of the term ‘procedure established by law’? 
  • Whether the right to travel abroad is enshrined under the provisions of Article 21 or not?
  • Whether legislation has the authority to take away the right to life under Article 21 or not?

Judgment – The petitioner’s argument that the challenged section, S. 10(3)(c) of the Act, violated Article 14 was dismissed by the Supreme Court because the word “general public interests” is not unclear. Since the government is the greatest arbiter of what is in the public interest, it must have the authority to revoke a passport on this basis. The Court, on the other hand, ruled that confiscating the passport without a hearing was unconstitutional and a  post-decisional hearing would fulfill the conditions of justice. 

The court determined that the impugned order did not violate either Article 19(1)(a) or 19(1)(b) of the Constitution (g). The court acknowledged Article 19’s extraterritorial scope and found that the Constitution’s framers envisioned these rights in their broadest form. It was held by the court that a guarantee for a fundamental right does not imply that any activity that aids the exercise of that fundamental right is also guaranteed. An opposing stance would produce ludicrous effects, upsetting the entire Article 19 (1) framework. As a result, the Right to travel abroad cannot be considered a part of freedom of speech and expression “in all situations.”As a result, Section 10(3)(c) of the Act, which approved the establishment of restrictions on the right to travel abroad by impounding passports, could not be held void as violating Article 19(1)(a) or (g), because its direct and inevitable impact was on the right to travel abroad rather than on the right to free speech and expression or the right to engage in trade, business, profession, or calling.

Even though Article 21 uses the language “procedure established by law” rather than “due process of law” as contained in the American constitution, the court decided that the procedure and approach must be free of arbitrary nature and absurdity. The court has overturned the AK Gopalan case declaring for the first time in clear words that legislation and executive acts must comply with the new due process criteria in Article 21. 

The court recognised that the right to travel abroad is an essential component of Article 21. The ruling also established a link between Articles 14, 19, and 21, dubbed the “Golden Triangle test.” It was decided that the provisions of Articles 14, 19, and 21 have a special link, and that every law must pass the requirements set forth in those articles. Justice PN Bhagwati added that even if a law exists that specifies a method for depriving a person of “personal liberty,” the law must meet the requirements of Articles 19, 14, and 21.