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MANEKA GANDHI V. UNION OF INDIA – AIR 1978 SC 597 -25th January 1978

CORAM: Seven Judge Bench, comprising of former Chief Justice of India (CJI) M. Hameedullah, Justice Chandrachud V.V., Justice P.N. Bhagawati, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, Justice N.I. Untiwalia, Justice Fazalali S.M. and Justice Kailasam P.S.

It was being held in this landmark case that

“The passport issuing authority can and will have the power to seize or impound a person’s passport of Indian Nationality only if there are strong reasonable grounds to do so and upon doing so, the one whose passport has been impounded should be informed of the grounds or reasons of their passport getting impounded.”

The brief facts of this case are that the petitioner, Maneka Gandhi, had got her passport issued under the Passport Act, 1967 on June 1, 1976. The petitioner had then a little after a year had received a letter dated 2nd July 1977 on 4th July 1977 from the Regional Passport Office of Delhi. They had informed her through that letter that the Government of India had decided to impound her passport under Section 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act, 1967 on the ground of public interest. She was being ordered to surrender her passport within seven days from the receipt of that letter. The petitioner upon receiving and reading that letter had then subsequently sent a letter addressing the Regional Passport Officer, requesting him to furnish a copy of the statement of reasons for the order of impoundment under Section 10(5) of the Passport Act, 1967. The Government of India on 6th July 1977 replied back in a letter stating inter alia that the Government of India in the interests of the general public had decided that they did not wish to state the causes of the impoundment of her passport. The petitioner then under Article 32 of the Constitution filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court for both the impoundment of her passport as well as for not stating the reasons for the impoundment.

Questions of law raised in this case were as to whether

  1. Should the reasons for the impoundment of her passport be revealed to her?

  2. Does Article 21 of the Indian Constitution bestow the right to travel abroad?

  3. Is the impoundment of her passport just and fair or arbitrary?

  4. If a law takes away the fundamental right of right to life then can that law still be considered as reasonable

The articles like Article 14, 19 & 21 of the Fundamental Rights conferred in the Constitution were examined in this case. Article 14 confers the Right to Equality in the territory of India, while Article 21 confers the Right to life and under Article 19, Article 19(1)(D) was examined which confers the Right to Freedom which is though subjected to a certain amount of reasonable restrictions.

The petitioner contended that by impounding her passport the Passport Authority, as well as the Government of India, had denied her the fundamental rights conferred to her by the Constitution such as Right to life, Right to travel abroad, Freedom of speech & expression, Right to personal liberty and also Freedom of Movement. She also argued that Section 10 (3)(c) of the Passport Act, 1967 violates Art 21 of the Constitution as it denies her the right to life & liberty. Also that the action of the passport authority is against the Principles of Natural Justice, i.e., Audi Alterum Paltrum, meaning both the parties should be given an opportunity to have their say. Also, she contended that India should prefer “due process of law” so that the law will be fair, just and reasonable and free from any sort of arbitrariness.

On the other hand, the respondents had contended in front of the Court that the petitioner’s passport had been impounded as the latter had to appear before some committees for inquiry by quoting the principle laid down in a precedent “A.K.Gopalan case”. In the latter case, it had been held that the word ‘law’ cannot be comprehended under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution in the light of the principles of natural justice. They also contended that our constitution has adopted the British manner, i.e., to consider ‘the procedure which is established by the law’ and not the American’s style of  ‘due process of law.’ And therefore that alone is to be upheld by the Court. They also contended that the scope of Article 21 is much wider than even Article 14 & Art 19 of the Constitution put together and it also consists of the provisions of both Art 14 & 19.

The Court observed that the Constitution is the procedure which is established by the law but the respondent had along with it had also added that it is not necessary to ensure as to whether if it is reasonable, just, fair & unarbitrary or not. The Court felt the last part to be wrong and strongly emphasized it must be fair, just and reasonable and it should not arbitrarily deny the citizens to enjoy their fundamental rights.

The Court held that the impoundment of the passport is valid. The passport shall remain in the custody of the Honourable Court and the impoundment period of her passport shall not exceed the period of six months but also the fact that the petitioner has the right to know the grounds or the reasons for the impoundment of her passport. The representation of the petitioner is to be dealt in an expeditious manner & the Constitution shall continue to be in “the procedure which is established by the law” & not the due process of law. But it should also keep in mind that the procedure must be just, fair and reasonable and should be free from any sort of arbitrariness. The judgment which was given in A.K. Gopalan case was overruled as there exists quite a unique relationship between Art 14, 19 & 21 & no matter how much similar or even at times a little same they are, they are actually quite different and they have their own tests & every law should pass the tests. Upon the examination of another precedent, Satwant Singh case, it was held that Art. 21 do confer a right for a person to travel abroad. Also, it was held that S.10 (3) (C) of the Act is not violative of Art 21 of the Constitution. It was also held that ‘personal liberty should never be construed in a crude and narrow sense; rather it should be construed in a broader and liberal sense.’

Nardhana Ram



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