Maneka Gandhi v Union of India (1978): Case Comment

CASE COMMENT- MANEKA GANDHI V UNION OF INDIA (1978)

Author: Tamanna Gupta, RGNUL

Court- Supreme Court of India

Bench- 7 Judge Bench

M.Hameedullah , Y.V.Chandrachud, P.N. Bhagwati, V.R. Krishna Iyer & N.L. Untwalia, S.M. Fazalal, & P.S. Kailasam.

Decided on- 25th January 1978

Citation- 1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621

Facts- Maneka Gandhi was issued a passport on the 1st of July 1976  under the erstwhile Passport Act 1967. After three days of this issue,  she received a letter dated 2nd of July, 1977, from the Passport Officer regionally in charge in Delhi communicating to her that it was decided by the Union government to impound her passport under Section 10(3) of the Passport Act 1967 “in public interest”. The minister was told to surrender her passport within one week from the receipt of that letter.

A letter was addressed to the  Regional  Passport Officer by Maneka Gandhi with a request to furnish a copy of the reasons for sending the order under the act.  The reply was sent by the Union Government, by the Ministry of Affairs on the 6th  of July 1977 stating the reason for impounding the passport is “in the interest of the general public” and not to provide a copy of the list of reasons for the making of the order. Maneka Gandhi, therefore, filed the current Writ Petition challenging the action of the  Government of India in impounding the said passport and refusing to state reasons for doing the same.

Issues Raised-

Is the right to travel abroad is a part of a persons’ liberty?

What are the reasons for denying to grant a passport and whether these reasons for impounding a passport are arbitrary?

Whether the principles of natural justice apply only with regards to Quasi-judicial orders or do they also apply to administrative orders affecting the rights of the general citizenry?

Subject- Constitutional Law

Laws Applied- Passports Act 1967

Cases Referred to-State of Orissa v Dr. (Miss) Binapani Dei, A.K. Gopalan v State of Madras, ADM Jabalpur v S.S. Shukla, Haradhan Saha v State of West Bengal, R.C. Cooper v Union of India, Shambu Nath Sarkar v State of West Bengal

Arguments advanced by petitioner-

1. The right to travel abroad is a part of  “personal liberty” falling under the meaning of “expression” as used in Article 21 and nobody can be deprived of this right except under the procedure prescribed under law.

2. Section 10(3)(c) of the Passports Act 1967 violates fundamental rights guaranteed to persons under Articles 14,19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.

3. The order regarding impounding the passport is made in contravention of rules and principles of natural justice and is, therefore, null and void under the law. The abovementioned impugned order has the effect of imposing an unreasonable restriction on the right of free speech and expression guaranteed Article 19 (1)(a).

4.   The abovementioned impugned order could not be regarded as consistent or in consonance with Article 19 of the Indian Constitution.

5. To impound a passport under S 10(3)(c) of the Passports Act 1967, “public interest” must exist in the present context and the mere likelihood of public interest which might arise in the future would not be a valid ground for impounding the passport.

Arguments advanced by the respondent-

The Government is agreeable to taking into consideration any representation that may be made by the petitioner in respect of the impounding of her passport and allowing her to be heard in the matter. The opportunity shall be given within two weeks of the receipt of the representation.

It was clarified that in the abovementioned case the grounds for impounding the passport are reasons mentioned in the affidavit dated 18th of August 1977.

2. The representations made by the petitioner will be dealt with in a fast track manner following the law.

Judgment-

The landmark judgment was delivered on the 25th of January 1978 and it altered the face of the Indian Constitution. The ratio of the judgment materially expanded the scope of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution substantially and this judgment wholly ensured transparency in certain matters stipulated in the Indian Constitution. The decision was unanimous with some dissent on several points, however, no major conflict of opinion ensued.

The major findings of the court were as follows-

While delivering the landmark judgment the court altered the face of the Constitution by stating that though the maxim used in Article 21 is “procedure established by law” rather than “due process of law” nevertheless, the procedure mentioned therein must necessarily be free from the vices of irrationality and arbitrariness.

With all due respect to the Constitution makers, it was stated that they never intended to harbor such a self – destructive idea in the realm of the Constitution. It was never the intent of the makers that the process must be completely reasonable, just or fair. The constitution was drafted for the protection of the “people of India” and a wrongful interpretation of Article 21 can be counterproductive.

The court overruled the decision stated in A.K.Gopalan’s case by declaring that there is a peculiar relationship between the provisions of the “Golden Triangle” of the Indian Constitution and every law must pass the tests laid down in such provisions.

The court declared that the scope of the concept of “personal liberty” is not be construed in a narrower or stricter sense. The court stated that the concept has to be understood broadly and liberally. Therefore, Article 21 was primarily given an expansive interpretation. The court directed the future courts to expand upon the dimensions of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution to cover all the Fundamental Rights and avoid a narrower and strict construction.

The right to go abroad as held in the case of Satwant Singh is within the scope of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Section 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act 1967 is not in violation of either Article 21 or Article 19(1)(a) or 19 (1)(g). The court further held that the said 1967 provision does not contradict Article 14 of the Indian constitution either. The court rejected the contention of the petitioner that the phrase “in the interests of the general public” is not vague.

The court held that Section 10(3)(c) & 10(5) of the Passports Act 1967 is relating to administrative orders and are therefore open to challenge on the various grounds such as mala fide, unreasonableness, denial of principles of natural justice and ultra vires of the Indian Constitution.

The court also suggested the union government to ordinarily provide reasons in every case and should government must rarely use the prerogative of Section 10(5) of the Passports Act 1967.

The rights discussed under 19(1)(a) & 19(1)(g) of the Indian Constitution are not limited or restricted to the territorial limits of India.

Comments and Conclusion-

The case has been a landmark judgment concerning several aspects. It helped broaden the horizons of the Golden Triangle of the Indian Constitution- Article 14,19, and 21. It laid down the basis for a claim of several rights relating to “personal liberty” as under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

It made a distinction between cases where a person can be denied his or her rights under Article 21 concerning the Passports Act 1967 and cases where a person cannot be denied the abovementioned rights.

The case went on to be challenged several times and has also been cited in various other important precedents. The case continues to have a powerful impact on the face of the Indian Constitution.

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