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Article 21 – Right to Life Under the Indian Constitution


Article 21 of the Indian Constitution is one of the fundamental rights enshrined in Part III, which guarantees every individual the right to life and personal liberty. It is regarded as the heart of the Constitution and represents the essence of justice, dignity, and equality. This article provides comprehensive protection to citizens, ensuring that their basic human rights are safeguarded by the state.

Historical Background:

The framers of the Indian Constitution, driven by their vision for a just and inclusive society, included Article 21 as a fundamental right. The origins of this provision can be traced back to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and various international human rights treaties. The Constituent Assembly recognized the significance of protecting the right to life and personal liberty as a fundamental pillar of a democratic nation.

Meaning and Scope:

Article 21 reads, "No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law." It guarantees the right to life with dignity, encompassing a broad range of liberties and entitlements. Over the years, the Supreme Court of India has interpreted the scope of Article 21 expansively, recognizing various facets of this fundamental right.

Right to Life:

The right to life under Article 21 is not limited to mere existence but encompasses a meaningful life with dignity. It guarantees protection against arbitrary deprivation of life and establishes the principle that the state cannot take away an individual's life except through a lawful process. The right to life also includes the right to a pollution-free environment, access to clean water, and basic healthcare facilities.

Personal Liberty:

Article 21 also guarantees personal liberty, protecting individuals against arbitrary detention or unlawful restraint. It ensures that individuals have the freedom to make choices and decisions regarding their own lives, subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by law. The right to personal liberty encompasses freedom of movement, freedom of speech and expression, and the right to privacy.

Landmark Judicial Interpretations:

The Supreme Court of India has played a pivotal role in interpreting and expanding the scope of Article 21. Several landmark judgments have reaffirmed the significance of this fundamental right and clarified its implications in various contexts. Some notable cases include:

Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978):

This case marked a turning point in the interpretation of Article 21. The Supreme Court held that the right to life and personal liberty is not limited to mere animal existence but includes the right to live with dignity. It expanded the scope of personal liberty and established that the procedure established by law must be fair, just, and reasonable.

Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation (1985):

In this case, the court held that the right to livelihood is an essential part of the right to life under Article 21. It emphasized that depriving a person of their means of livelihood would not only affect their economic well-being but also violate their right to life and personal liberty.

Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan (1997):

This landmark judgment recognized the right to a safe and secure working environment as an integral part of the right to life and personal liberty. It laid down guidelines to prevent sexual harassment of women in the workplace and emphasized the state's duty to protect this right.


Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, guaranteeing the right to life and personal liberty, serves as the cornerstone of individual rights and freedoms. It reflects the commitment of the Indian state to protect the dignity and well-being of its citizens. The expansive interpretation of Article 21 by the judiciary has led to the recognition of several related rights, ensuring that individuals can lead meaningful lives with dignity. It is through the continuous evolution of the interpretation of this fundamental right that India strives to build a just and equitable society for all its citizens.