AK Gopalan Vs State of Madras (1950) – Right to Freedom & Liberty Case

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    Introduction:

    • A.K. Gopalan v State of Madras is a landmark case in Indian constitutional law that dealt with the interpretation of key fundamental rights under Articles 19 (Right to freedom) and 21 (Right to life & personal liberty) of the Indian Constitution.
    • The case is notable for its dissenting opinion given by Justice Fazl Ali, which later became an example of personal liberty and liberalized viewpoint for fundamental rights.
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    Background of the Case:

    • A.K. Gopalan was a political opponent of the government and had been detained several times since December 1947.
    • In 1950, he was again detained under the Preventive Detention Act, 1950 and filed a writ petition under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution challenging his detention.
    • He argued that the Act was unconstitutional as it violated his fundamental rights under Article 19(1)(d) (right to freedom of movement) and Article 21 (right to life and personal liberty) as the detainee is not given any reasons for his detention.
    • The case was heard by a six-judge constitutional bench of the Supreme Court of India and was decided on May 19, 1950.

    Issues before the Court:

    • Whether the Preventive Detention Act, 1950 violates Article 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution?
    • Whether Articles 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution are dependent on each other and if there is any relation between the articles?
    • Whether the ‘procedure established by law’ under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution is same as due process of law?
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    Judgement:

    • The majority judgement delivered by the Supreme Court rejected the arguments given by A.K. Gopalan and held that:
      • Personal liberty means freedom of the physical body only and nothing beyond it.
      • Only a free man can enjoy freedom under Article 19 of the Constitution and detention by law takes away the right of Article 19.
      • Articles 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution are not related to each other as Article 21 is guaranteed against loss of personal liberty and Article 19 provides protection against unreasonable restrictions.
      • ‘Procedure established by law’ and ‘due process of law’ are different from each other.
    • The court upheld the constitutionality of the Preventive Detention Act, 1950.

    Dissenting opinion

    • Justice Fazl Ali was the dissenting judge in the 6-judge bench for the case of A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras
    • He argued that the preventive detention under the Preventive Detention Act, 1950 violated the fundamental rights of citizens under Article 21, which guarantees the right to life and personal liberty
    • He believed that the majority’s interpretation of Article 21 as only applying to physical liberty was too narrow and that it should also encompass the right to freedom of speech and expression
    • He argued that the Act did not provide for a fair and just procedure for detention, as it did not allow for the detainee to be informed of the grounds of detention or to challenge it in court
    • He also believed that the Act violated Article 19, which guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression, as it allowed for the restriction of these rights without proper justification
    • He argued that the Act should be struck down as unconstitutional as it violated the basic principles of natural justice and human rights

    Implications of the Case:

    • The judgement in A.K. Gopalan v State of Madras was later criticized for its narrow interpretation of fundamental rights and for giving too much discretion to the executive in matters of preventive detention.
    • Justice Fazl Ali’s dissenting opinion went on to become an example of a more liberalized viewpoint for fundamental rights and served as a basis for future decisions that expanded the scope of these rights.
    • The restrictive view of fundamental rights in this case was later overruled by the Supreme Court in the landmark case of Maneka Gandhi v Union of India (1978) where the court expanded the scope of Article 21 to include the right to life with dignity and liberty.

    Glossary

    Article 19: deals with the protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech and expression, assembly, association, movement, residence, and profession.
    Article 21: deals with the protection of life and personal liberty and states that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.
    Article 22: deals with the protection against arrest and detention in certain cases and states that no person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed of the grounds for such arrest.
    Article 32: guarantees the right to constitutional remedies. It empowers an individual to move the Supreme Court or High Court for the enforcement of their fundamental rights.

    Procedure Established by LawDue Process of Law
    OriginEnglish ConstitutionUS Constitution, developed from Clause 39 of the Magna Carta
    Power conferred on JudiciaryLimitedWider
    Protection against deprivation of life or libertyOnly against arbitrary action of executiveAgainst both arbitrary action of executive and legislative
    Constitution of India referenceArticle 21Not mentioned
    Legislative supremacyMaintainedLimited by judicial review
    Tests applied by CourtExistence of law, competency of legislature, adherence to prescribed procedureFairness, justice, and reasonableness of the law

    This article is part of the series “Landmark Judgements that Shaped India” under the Indian Polity Notes & Prelims Sureshots. We aim to make the articles comprehensive while leaving out unnecessary information from the UPSC perspective. If you think this article is useful, please provide your feedback in the comments section below.

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