A.K. Gopalan v. State of madras is marked as one of the most important judgements delivered by the supreme court of India. It is the first case where the supreme court of India after its formation delivered a judgement where the supreme court of India has examined and interpreted the key components of the constitution of India under Article 19 and Article 21.

Decided on– May 19, 1950

Petitioner– A.K. Gopalan

Respondent– State of Madras

Judges– Harilal Kania, Justice M. Patanjali Sastri, Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan, Justice B.K. Mukherjee, Justice Sudhi Ranjan Das, Justice Fazal Ali.


The petitioner A.K. Gopalan was a communist leader who was serving the communist party of India. He was detained under the preventive detention act 1950. According to A.K. Gopalan, he was detained in the jail of Madras in 1947 without a trial. Mr. Gopalan filed a petition under Article 32 (1) of the constitution of India for a writ of Habeas corpus against the order served to him according to the provision of the Preventive Detention Act, 1950. In the writ of habeas corpus, he challenged the grounds of act 4 of 1950 under which the order was served to him. He argued that the provisions of the preventive Detention Act 1950 transgress and thus constitute a violation of fundamental rights under Articles 13, 19, 21, and 22 of the Constitution of India. He also challenged the order on the ground that it was issued with mala fide reasons to him.


  • Whether Preventive Detention Act 1950 violates Article 19 and 21 of the constitution?
  • Whether procedure established by law under Article 21 of the Indian constitution is same as due process of law under the US constitution?
  • Is there any relation between Articles 19 and 21 of the constitution or they are independent?


  • It was argued that the word “personal liberty” includes freedom of movement under Article 19(1) (d), therefore Preventive Detention must satisfy the reasonable restriction under Article 19(5) of the Constitution.
  • It was argued that Article 19 also confers personal liberty as a Fundamental Right and it is being violated of the detainee by the impugned order.
  • It was argued that Article 19 and Article 21 should be read together as implementing each other.
  • It was argued that Article 19 gave substantive rights to citizens while Article 21 prescribed that no person can be deprived of his life and personal liberty except by a procedure established by law, which is procedural law.
  • It was argued that under Article 21 ‘procedure established by law’ means ‘due process of law’ of the US Constitution which includes the principle of natural justice and since the impugned law does not satisfy the requirement of due process of law, therefore, it is an invalid law.


In A. K. Gopalan v. the State of Madras, The majority opinion held that preventive and punitive detention were outside the ambit of Article 19 and hence the detention act of 1950 didn’t violate it. It was also contended that the said article protects free citizens, therefore a citizen whose freedom is lawfully restrained, the question of enforcing Article 19(1) does not arise. The preventive detention act followed the valid procedure i.e., in the form enacted by the state’s law and therefore the court came upon the reasoning that it does not infringe upon the rights under Article 21.

The various provisions of the preventive detention act 1950 are covered under Article 22 and those which aren’t, are codicil through the aspects of Article 21. The court held that Section 3 of the act was justified as it was valid to give such discretionary powers to the executive, additionally, the majority also agreed upon the validity of Section 11 and 7 of the said act as under Article 22(7)(b) the parliament is not mandated to set a minimum detention period and under 22(5) and 22(6) the right of representation and that off to be heard orally are not necessary. Section 14 was however declared ultra vires because it contended the court’s right to determine the validity of detention.


In the above case, the court with the majority of four held that “the word “law” used in Article 21 of the Constitution of India only means the procedural due process and since the preventive detention law under which Gopalan was detained was a valid law, Gopalan’s detention was lawful even though the law may violate some of his other Fundamental Rights such has his Right to Freedom of Movement under Article 19, or, the detention was arbitrary under Article 14.”

Dissenting opinion by Justice Fazl Ali – Justice Fazl Ali was in stark contrast to the opinion of the majority of judges. According to him the phrase “procedure established by law” as in under Article 21 of the Constitution of India should be interpreted liberally. He was also of the view, unlike the majority that Fundamental Rights in Article 19 are read with Article 21 and Article 22 which discusses the procedural rights of the same.

The decision and interpretation by the majority were done wrongly as they have narrowly interpreted article 21. The dissenting opinion of the Fazl Ali was accepted by the majority of the 11 judge bench in R.C. Cooper vs. Union Of India. It is however in the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India in the year 1977 that the dissenting opinion of Justice Fazl Ali was taken up as law and was impounded.

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