Author: Kshitij Kothari, 1st Year, B.A LL.B (Hons), School of Law, Jagran Lakecity University, Bhopal.
The Author has written the article while pursuing the internship programme with us.

Appellant: Maneka Gandhi

Respondent: Union of India

Bench : 7 Judge Bench Hameedullah Beg (CJI), Y.V.Chandrachud, P.N Bhagwati, V.R. Krishna Iyer, N.L.Untwalia, S.M. Fazal Ali & P.S.Kailasam Court: Supreme Court of India

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

Decided on: 25/01/1978


Maneka Gandhi (The Petitioner) who by occupation was a journalist was delivered her Passport on June 1, 1976, under the Passport Act, 1967. Just after three days i.e., July 2nd, 1977, the Regional Passport Officer in charge in New Delhi ordered the petitioner that it was decided by the central government to relinquish her passport under the section 10(3)(c)[1] of the Passport Act 1967 “in the public interest”. The petitioner was told to impound her passport within one week from the date on issuance. When the petitioner enquired through a letter to the Regional passport office as to on what basis was she ordered to surrender her passport, in response the Ministry of External Affairs on July 6, 1977, declined to produce any reasons of the order illustrated, quoting the reason “in the interest of the general public.” The petitioner, therefore, filed a writ petition under Article 32[2] of the Constitution, against the actions of the union government in impounding the passport and declining to state any reasons for doing the same as her violation of fundamental rights namely Article 14[3], Article 19[4] and Article 21[5].


  • Whether persons’ liberty under Article 21 protects the right to travel abroad?
  • Whether the nature of Fundamental rights is absolute or conditional and what are the limits of such fundamental rights provided to any individual?
  • What are the reasons for refusing to grant a passport and whether the reasons are arbitrary for impounding a passport?
  • Whether the question on the order of the Regional Passport Office, infringes the principles of natural justice?
  • What is the scope of “Procedure established by Law”?


The arguments put forward by the petitioner were as of that the governmental order of ceasing passport on July 4, 1977, has infringed the “Right to Travel Abroad” a right provided under “personal liberty”, covered under Article 21 where no citizen can be deprived of this right except under the procedure prescribed by law. The petitioner urged that the provisions of Article 14, 19 & 21 should not be read in isolation rather be read in consonance. Furthermore, the petitioner, with regards to Article 19, argued that the laid restrictions under clauses provided from (2) to (6) do not provide any ground to be executed in this case. The petitioner also urged on Article 22[6], wherein certain cases the article protects against arrest and detention. But in this case, the respondent by ceasing the passport of the petitioner without providing their intention to do so has illegally detained the petitioner within the country. The petitioner also urged before the court of law that the primary ingredient principle of natural justice is “Audi Alteram Partem” i.e., given a chance to be heard however the same was restricted to the petitioner infringing the right of free speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19 (1)(a). In context to the Section 10(3)(c) of the Passports Act 1967, the petitioner, by virtue was held back from travelling abroad, hence violating the fundamental rights guaranteed to persons under Articles 14,19 and 21 and hence is ultra-vires. Also in the present situation “public interest” must exist in order to seize a passport under Section 10(3)(c) of the Passports Act 1967[7], but the respondent stated that it was not “in the general public interest”.


In order to cross the petitioner’s argument the Attorney-General of India contended before the Supreme Court that Article 19 is an independent clause and ‘Right to Travel Abroad’ was never covered under any clauses of article 19(1) and hence, the actions taken by the respondents are reasonable. Furthermore, the respondent asserted that the petitioner was required to appear for an enquiry before some committees, as a result, that the respondent impounded the passport. The respondent with reference to Passport Law contended that the Fundamental Rights in any manner are not infringed. Therefore, the law should not be invalidated even if it obstructs Article 19. The clauses of Article 14 and 19 are built-in under Article 21. However, any law which directly infringes Article 14 & 19 can be regarded as unconstitutional to Article 21. Therefore the constitutionality of passport law is not deemed to be checked which as a result initiated the respondent to seize the passport of the petitioner. The respondent, contended with respect to the principle laid down in A.K Gopalan v/s State of Madras[8], asserted that the word ‘law’ under Article 21 cannot include the principle of natural justice in contrast to fundamental rules and asserted that the principles of natural justice are vague and hence should not be taken into consideration. The respondent also urged that the American phrase “due process of law” & British phrase “procedure established by law” was a debate in the constituent assembly and eventually the framers of our Constitution intended the latter phrase. Therefore the intention of the framers must be considered and hence the procedures under Article 21 need not pass the test of reasonability.


The SC judgment arrived on 25th January 1978 and played a role in transforming the shape of the Indian Constitution. The judgment was passed unanimously with some contradictory comments but not spoiling the overall judgment. The essentials outcomes of the judgement are as follows: a) The SC judgment successfully held that “procedure established by law” under Article 21 would have the same effect as “due process of law”. b) The Constitution was drafted for the protection of the “people of India” and a wrongful interpretation of Article 21 can be counterproductive. c) The framers of the Constitution never urged that the procedure must completely follow the rule of fair, just and reasonable and such explanation of Article 21 is inimical to the rights given to us by the Constitution. d) The court overruled the provision stated in the case of A.K Gopalan and held that Article 14, 19 & 21 are of interdependence, composing “golden triangle”[9] where every law must validate the principle laid under these articles e) The court declared the approach of “personal liberty” must be interpreted in a wider sense and with that Article 21 was identified as an extension. The subsequent courts were directed to avoid a narrower and strict interpretation rather explore the overall sides of Article 21. f) The court asserted that the right to travel abroad pronounced in the case of Satwant Singh[10] falls within the jurisdiction of Article 21. g) The court denied the assertion of the plaintiff that the phrase “in the interest of the general public” is precise. Furthermore, section 10(3)(c) of Passport Act 1967 is not in contravention with neither Article 21 nor Article 19(1)(a)[11] or 19 (1)(g)[12]. The court also proclaimed that the provision laid under the Satwant Singh case was not in violation of Article 14. h) The court held governmental order on Section 10(3)(c) & 10(5)[13] of the Passport Act, 1967, where an individual is open to question on the basis of mala fide, unreasonable, denial of natural justice and ultra vires. i) The court recommended to the central legislation to accustom the practice of briefing in every case and provisions of Section 10(5) of the Passport Act 1967 must seldom be used. j) The principles established under article 19(1)(a) & 19(1)(g) of the Constitution are not constricted under the jurisdiction limits of India.


The judgment of the Supreme Court was widely praised as the court went beyond its jurisdiction to state some evident declaration. The evaluation of Article 14, 19 & 21 helped in exploring the wide areas framed under the provisions of the Indian Constitution. The phrase “due process of law” that law in this principle is alike to ‘Natural law’ got its key to open its door to mark its interpretation in the decisions made by the courts. The case was questioned several times but it marked an impression in the history Indian Constitution. With this decision, the Supreme Court was able to restore the citizen’s faith in Indian judiciary. This decision was marked as a golden era in jurisprudence of human rights in India and also developed the judicial aspect in relation to human rights[14].


[1] The Section states: if the passport authority deems it necessary so to do in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India…………..

[2] Article states: every person is entitled to approach the Supreme Court directly to enforce his/her fundamental rights under Part III

[3] Article 14 states: Equality before the law

[4] Article 19 states: Constitutional safeguard against arrest and detention

[5] Article 21 states: the right to life and personal liberty

[6] Article 22 states: Protection against arrest and detention in certain cases

[7] The section states: if the passport authority deems it necessary so to do in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of India, friendly relations of India with any foreign country, or in the interests of the general public

[8] AIR 1950 SC 27

[9] I.R. Coelho v/s State of Tamil Nadu (AIR 2007 SC 861); Minerva Mills Ltd v/s Union of India (AIR 1980 SC 1789)

[10] Satwant Singh v/s Assistant Passport Officer, Government of India (AIR 1976 SC 1836)

[11] Article 19(1)(a) states: Freedom of Speech and Expression

[12]Article 19(1)(g) states: Freedom to practice any profession or to carry any occupation, trade or business

[13] Where the passport authority makes an order varying or cancelling the endorsements ………….

[14] Zia Moody, 10 Judgements that changed India, pg. 44 (Penguin Books 2013)

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