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MENAKA GANDHI VS UNION OF INDIA                     

 This article is written by ADITI TIWAR,BALLB(HONS),MANIPAL UNIVERSITY JAIPUR   during her internship with Le Droit India.                    



CITATIONS OF THE CASE: AIR 1978 SC 597, (1978) 1 SSC 248




BENCH: M.H. Beg, C.J., Y.V. Chandrachud, V.R. Krishna Iyer, P.N. Bhagwati, N.L. Untwalia, S. Murtaza Fazal Ali and P.S Kailasam


  • In accordance with the 1967 Passport Act, Maneka Gandhi, the petitioner, received her passport on June 1st, 1976. She was given an order to turn in her passport by the Regional Passport Office in New Delhi on July 2, 1977. Additionally, the petitioner was not provided with a rationale for the External Affairs Ministry’s capricious and unilateral decision, citing the general interest
  • The petitioner claimed that the State’s impoundment of her passport was a clear violation of her Article 21 right to personal liberty when she approached the Supreme Court using its writ jurisdiction. It is important to note that the Supreme Court ruled in Satwant Singh Sawhney v. Ramarathnam that the freedom to travel abroad falls squarely under Article 21, though it was not clear how much this specific right was diminished by the Passport Act.


  • What is the scope of the territorial application of the Fundamental Rights granted to Indian citizens by the Constitution, and are they unconditional or subject to conditions?
  • Is the “Right to Travel Abroad” recognized as a supplementary and concurrent right under Article 21?
  • What is the Golden Triangle Principle—the rights protected by Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Indian Constitution—and how does it relate to one another?
  • What does the term “Procedure established by Law,” as stated in Article 21, mean?
  • Whether the Passport Act of 1967’s Section 10(3)(c) violates fundamental rights, and if so, what specific legislation violates those rights?
  • Is there a possibility that the contested Regional Passport Officer order goes against natural justice principles?



  • The “Right to Travel Abroad” is a subset of the “Personal Liberty” right, and it cannot be taken away from any citizen unless the legal process is followed. Furthermore, there is no specific process outlined in the Passports Act, 1967 for seizing, canceling, or impounded passports. It is therefore irrational and arbitrary.

  • Furthermore, by denying the petitioner a chance to be heard, the Central Government violated Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Thus, it is necessary to define Article 21’s actual meaning as well as its nature and scope of protection.
  • Any legal process that is established must adhere to the “principles of natural justice” and cannot be arbitrary.

  • The reading of the Fundamental Rights—in this case, Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Indian Constitution—in accordance with one another is necessary to preserve the intent of the Constituent Assembly and to give effect to the spirit of our Constitution.
  • Every citizen is entitled to fundamental rights by virtue of their humanity and is protected from state exploitation. For the best protection, these fundamental rights should therefore be wide and inclusive.
  • The freedom that is guaranteed to its citizens must be regulated in order to have a well-ordered and civilized society. For this reason, the Constituent Assembly imposed reasonable restrictions from clauses (2) to (6) in Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. However, the imposed limitations offer no justification for being carried out in this instance.
  • In some circumstances, Article 22 offers protection from arrest and detention. In this instance, the government has unlawfully detained the petitioner within the nation by seizing her passport without giving her any justification.
  • The case of Kharak Singh v. The State of U.P. (1962) established that the term “personal liberty” in the constitution refers to a collection of rights related to personal liberty, regardless of whether they are mentioned in various clauses of Article 19(1).

  • “Audi Alteram Partem,” which states that each person must be given a reasonable opportunity to be heard rather than just the petitioner, is a fundamental component of natural justice.
  • The 1967 Passports Act is ultra vires because it infringes upon the “Right to Life and Liberty.” The clause in Section 10(3)(c) of the Act of 1967 prohibited the petitioner from leaving the country.

  •  Since the judiciary is essential in examining the legality of executive actions and orders, the petitioner emphasized the significance of judicial review in cases involving administrative action and law. By doing this, the petitioner requested that the court review the ruling that resulted in the seizure of her passports and determine whether or not it was constitutional.
  • In addition, the petitioner outlined the requirements set forth by international human rights law and provided a comparative analysis with other legal systems. It declared that limiting travel abroad is blatantly against international legal norms and that the freedom to move freely across borders is a right that is acknowledged worldwide. It made the case that national and international laws must be in harmony.


  • The Attorney General of India contended that since Article 19(1) never addressed the “Right to Travel Abroad,” Article 19 is not dependent on demonstrating the legitimacy of the Central Government’s decisions.
  • The Passports Act was not passed with the intention of negatively impacting fundamental rights in any way. In addition, the public interest and national security should not require the government to provide an explanation for regaining or suspending someone’s passport. Thus, even if the law violated Article 19, it shouldn’t be overturned.
  • In addition, the petitioner’s passport was seized because she had to appear before a committee for an investigation.
  • The respondent argued, restating the idea established in A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras (1950), that the word law under Article 21 cannot be understood in the context of basic principles of natural justice.

  • Furthermore, natural justice is based on nebulous and imprecise principles. As a result, the constitution shouldn’t include references to such nebulous and confusing clauses.
  • The provisions of Articles 14 and 19 are contained within the very expansive Article 21. Nevertheless, a statute can only be declared unconstitutional under Article 21 if it violates Articles 14 and 19. As a result, the passport statute is constitutional.
  • According to the wording of Article 21, “procedure established by law” does not necessarily need to pass the reasonability test.
  • The respondent further asserted that the government has an obligation to safeguard its interests by stating that the petitioner’s passport was seized due to national security concerns. They maintained that these kinds of limitations on foreign travel are necessary to avert future dangers and maintain public order.
  • While crafting the Constitution, the framers engaged in extensive discussion regarding the differences between British “procedure established by law” and American “due process of law.” The framers of this Constitution are reflected in the glaring absence of due process of law from its provisions. It is imperative to preserve and honor the framers’ spirit and thought processes.

  •  The respondent emphasized that the act of seizing passports was carried out under “executive discretion” because it was required at a time when security concerns were rapidly growing and could potentially disturb public order. As a result, the choice to execute was appropriate.


After thorough analysis of the contentions of both the parties, the court held that:

  • Prior to the Passports Act 1967, there was no legislation governing the passport required of anyone wishing to relocate abroad from their country of origin. Additionally, the executives issued the passports in an aimless and unassailable manner, using complete discretion. The Supreme Court declared in Satwant Singh Sawhney v. D Ramarathnam (1967) that “personal liberty” encompasses the freedom to move around and travel overseas. Therefore, no one’s rights may be taken away from them other than through legally mandated processes. The petitioner’s passport was confiscated in violation of Article 21 because the State had not passed any legislation restricting or outlawing an individual’s rights in this situation. The confiscation was made without legal challenge.
  • Furthermore, Section 10(3) of the Passports Act, 1967, clause (c) states that the authority must record in writing the reason for the act and, upon request, provide a copy of that record to the passport holder. This is applicable when the state deems it necessary to seize the passport or take any other action in the interest of the nation’s security, friendly relations with other countries, sovereignty and integrity, or the general public.
    The petitioner was told that the action was taken in “the interests of the general public,” but the Central Government never gave any explanation for seizing her passport. It was made clear why it wasn’t absolutely necessary.
  • The fundamental rights guaranteed by Part 3 of the Constitution are neither unique nor exclusive of one another. Any law that takes away someone’s personal freedom must pass muster with at least one of the fundamental rights guaranteed by Article 19. Article 14 requires that “ex-hypothesis” be verified. The process needs to incorporate the idea of reasonableness.
  • Article 21 refers to “procedure established by law” rather than “due process of law,” which is supposed to have processes free from arbitrary and irrational decisions.

  • Even in cases where a statute is silent, it cannot be deemed unfair or unjust because there is an obvious violation of the fundamental tenet of natural justice, audi alteram partem.
  • The Passports Act of 1967’s Section 10(3)(c) does not infringe upon any fundamental rights, particularly Article 14. Since the statute gave the authorities unlimited authority, the petitioner in this case is not subject to any kind of discrimination under Article 14. Rather than being ambiguous and undefined, the justification of “in the interests of the general public” is protected by a set of rules that can be taken from Article 19.
  • It is true that when someone’s rights are violated, whether by the State or another party, their fundamental rights are invoked. However, this does not imply that the exercise of the right to freedom of speech and expression is limited to India. The mere fact that state action is limited to its borders does not imply that fundamental rights are similarly constrained.

  • It is plausible that certain rights that pertain to human values may be safeguarded by fundamental rights, even in cases where our Constitution does not specifically mention them. For instance, even though it isn’t mentioned expressly, press freedom is protected by Article 19(1)(a).
  • Since the rights to free speech and expression and the right to travel abroad have different purposes and characteristics, they are not related.

  • A.K. Gopalan was overruled, with the ruling that every law must pass the requirements of the aforementioned provisions and that there is a special relationship between the provisions of Articles 14, 19, and 21. The majority in Gopalan previously decided that these clauses are mutually exclusive on their own. As a result, the court decided that these clauses are dependent on one another and do not conflict with one another, correcting an earlier error.


All things considered, what began as merely the seizure of a journalist’s passport resulted in a precedent-setting ruling that many other international jurisdictions have since recognized for its progressive and revolutionary perspective on fundamental principles. It is vital to realize that the state’s job is to safeguard and preserve each person’s life; however, the courts have ruled that this duty extends beyond a person’s physical existence to include providing for their basic needs in order to maintain their dignity and quality of life. An individual must be granted rights beyond those specified in Article 21 in order for the state to provide for their survival, including the right to food, shelter, clean water and air, privacy, and many other rights. By giving people a chance to be heard fairly and reasonably, the courts also emphasized the importance of natural justice in the process of denying someone their personal liberty. Consequently, the case also demonstrated the judiciary’s responsibility to closely examine executive and administrative actions in order to prevent the arbitrary and partial use of their authority.

Recent observations indicate that this interpretation of Maneka Gandhi’s fundamental rights has given rise to numerous public interest lawsuits (PILs) and legal cases where people are seeking remedies for fundamental rights violations and are aware of their constitutional rights, which promotes a robust democracy and bright future.


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