Maneka Gandhi vs. union of india – case analysis


PETITONER- Maneka Gandhi

RESPONDENT- Union of India and other

DATE OF JUDGEMENT- January 25, 1978

BENCH- M.H. Beg (CJ), Y.V. Chnadrachud, V.R. Krishna Iyer, P.N. Bhagwati, N.L. Untwalia, S. Murtaza Fazal Ali, and  P.S. Kailasan


The petitioner Mankea Gandhi was a journalist whose passport was issued on June 1, 1976, under the passport act 1976. The regional passport officer issued a letter dated July 7, 1977, addressed to Maneka Gandhi in which she was asked to surrender her passport under section 10(3)(c)of the act in the public interest within 7 days from the date of receiving the letter. On being asked about the reason for her passport confiscation, The ministry of external affairs declined to produce any reasons in the interest of the general public.

Therefore, the petitioner filed a writ petition under Article 32 of the constitution of India stating the seize of her passport as the violation of her fundamental rights specifically Article 14- Right to equality, Article 19- Right to freedom of speech and expression, and Article 21- Right to life and liberty guaranteed by the constitution of India.


  • Are the provisions under Articles 21, 14, and 19 connected or are they mutually exclusive?
  • What is the scope of the phrase Procedure established by law in Article 21?
  • Whether the right to travel abroad resides in Article 21?
  • Is a legislative law that snatches away the right to life reasonable?


  • By seizing the passport dated 4th July 1977, the state violated the petitioner’s freedom of speech and expression, right to life, and personal liberty, right to travel abroad, and freedom of movement.
  • The provisions of Articles 14, 19, and 21 are to be read in synchronization and are not mutually exclusive. However, these principles do not explicitly embody the principles of natural justice. Reading all the three provisions together affects the spirit of the constitution.
  • Even though India has not adopted American due process of law in its constitution, the procedure established by law must be reasonable, fair, and just free from any sort of arbitrariness.  
  • Section 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act Violates Article 21 insofar as it violates the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed by this article.


  • Respondent submitted to the court that the passport was confiscated after the petitioner appeared before the government committee for a hearing.
  • Respondent emphasized the term law under Article 21 could not be seen to be reflected in the basic rules of natural justice, which emphasizes the principle stated in the A.K. Gopalan case.
  • Article 21 contains the phrase procedure established by law and such procedure does not have to pass the test of reasonability and need not necessarily agree with articles 14 and 19.
  • The framers of our constitution had a long discussion on the American due process of law versus the British procedure established by law. The marked absence of the due process of law from the provisions of the Indian constitution indicates the constitution-makers intention.


It was held that-

  • Before the enactment of the Passport Act 1967, there was no law regulating the passport whenever any person wanted to leave his native place and settle abroad. Also, the executives were entirely discretionary while issuing the passports in an unguided and unchallenged manner. In Satwant Singh Sawhney v. D Ramarathnam, the SC stated that – “personal liberty” in its ambit, also includes the right of locomotion and travel abroad. Hence, no person can be deprived of such rights, except through procedures established by law. Since the State had not made any law regarding the regulation or prohibiting the rights of a person in such a case, the confiscation of the petitioner’s passport violates Article 21 and its grounds being unchallenged and arbitrary, it is also violative of Article 14.
  • Further, clause (c) of section 10(3) of the Passports Act, 1967 provides that when the state finds it necessary to seize the passport or do any such action in the interests of sovereignty and integrity of the nation, its security, its friendly relations with foreign countries, or for the interests of the general public, the authority is required to record in writing the reason of such act and on-demand furnish a copy of that record to the holder of the passport.
  • The Central Government never did disclose any reasons for impounding the petitioner’s passport rather she was told that the act was done in “the interests of the general public” whereas it was found out that her presence was felt required by the respondents for the proceedings before a commission of inquiry. The reason was given explicit that it was not necessarily done in the public interests and no ordinary person would understand the reasons for not disclosing this information or the grounds of her passport confiscation.
  • “The fundamental rights conferred in Part III of the Constitution are not distinctive nor mutually exclusive.” Any law depriving a person of his liberty has to stand a test of one or more of the fundamental rights conferred under Article 19.  When referring to Article 14, “ex-hypothesi” must be tested. The concept of reasonableness must be projected in the procedure.
  • The phrase used in Article 21 is “procedure established by law” instead of “due process of law” which is said to have procedures that are free from arbitrariness and irrationality.
  • There is a clear infringement of the basic ingredient of principles of natural justice i.e., Audi alteram partem and hence, it cannot be condemned as unfair and unjust even when a statute is silent on it.
  • Section 10(3)(c) of the Passports Act 1967, is not violative of any fundamental rights, especially Article 14. In the present case, the petitioner is not discriminated in any manner under Article 14 because the statute provided unrestricted powers to the authorities. the ground of “in the interests of the general public” is not vague and undefined, rather it is protected by certain guidelines which can be borrowed from Article 19.
  • Fundamental rights are indeed sought in case of violation of any rights of an individual and when the State had violated it. But that does not mean, Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression is exercisable only in India and not outside. Merely because the state’s action is restricted to its territory, it does not mean that Fundamental Rights are also restricted similarly.
  • Certain rights relating to human values may be protected by fundamental rights even if it is not explicitly written in our Constitution. For example, Freedom of the press is covered under Article 19(1)(a) even though it is not specifically mentioned there.
  • The right to go abroad is not a part of the Right to Free Speech and Expression as both have different natures and characters.
  • A.K Gopalan was overruled stating that there is a unique relationship between the provisions of Articles 14, 19 & 21 and every law must pass the tests of the said provisions. Earlier in Gopalan, the majority held that these provisions in themselves are mutually exclusive. Therefore, to correct its earlier mistake the court held that these provisions are not mutually exclusive and are dependent on each other.


Following this case, the Supreme Court became a watchdog to defend the essence of the Constitution and the purpose of the Constituent Assembly that created it. Many judges believe that any law or section should be fair, just, and fair and that even law that is established or prevailing in its absence can be considered arbitrary.

The judges ruled that any law that deprives a person of his liberty must conform to the standards of Articles 21, 14, and 19 of the Constitution. Also, the principles of natural justice are sheltered under Article 21 and, therefore, no person is deprived of having his or her voice heard within the court. Furthermore, for any state action or law to be declared invalid, Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the “Golden Triangle” must be enforced.

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