Article 21 of the Constitution says that “No person shall be deprived of his life or personalliberty except according to procedure established by law.” It is the most precious andsacrosanct right. Having found it to be inadequate and unrealistic in view of the changing
socio-economic needs and aspirations of the society, the Supreme Court resorted to liberal
interpretation of the Art 21.
In the beginning, with A.K Gopalan case, SC took literal sense of Personal liberty by narrowly
interpreting meaning to “liberty of person concerning his body” it was interpreted in narrow
way. However, over the years it has been evolved and many rights have become implicit to
Art 21 like:
Right to Travel Abroad: The Right to travel abroad is one of the vital elements of
Personal liberty. It is also a human right. The scope of personal liberty was enlarged
by the Supreme Court in Menaka Gandhi.
Right to education: By making reference to International covenants of Child rights,
SC held that the right to education is a part of right to life. It further stated that the
dignity of an individual which includes basic requirements for subsistence includes
right to education.
Right to Health: In the wake of health hazards, the judiciary interpreted right to life
to include right to health. Life is not mere living but living healthy. Health is not the
absence of illness but a glowing vitality.
Right to Shelter: One of the basic needs of man is adequate house.
Right to work: It was in Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, the Court
interpreted the Right to Livelihood under Right to Life.
Right to Live with Dignity: SC held that right to live in dignity and the right to live
without one’s reputation being degraded by others. It opined that the loss of
reputation and consequent loss of character and dignity in one’s life cannot be
compensated in terms of money.
Right to Decent burial: The right to accord a decent burial or cremation to the dead
body of a person should be taken to be part of the right to such human dignity.
Right to Food: The right to food is a human right. It protects the right of all human
beings to live in dignity, free from hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. Court
emphasized that the right to life necessarily includes the right to food within its fold.
Right to Live in Clean environment: The Supreme Court observed that the right to
life is a fundamental right under Art. 21 of the Constitution and it includes the right
of enjoyment of pollution free water and air for full enjoyment of life.
Right to Die: SC while recalling the words of Mahatma Gandhi, stated that “death is
our friend, the trust of friends. He delivers us from agony. I do not want to die of a
creeping paralysis of my faculties-a defeated man”.
Right to Privacy: In a landmark Justice Puttaswamy case, SC held that Right to
Privacy also forms part of Right to Life.
The above interpretation illustrates the fact that the expressions Right to Life and Personal
Liberty have much wider meaning than its primary sense. The liberal interpretation of the
expression has brought every law or every facet of life within the purview of Art. 21.