Article 21 is the foundation of the constitutional scheme. It grants to every person the right to life and personal liberty. This Article prescribes a negative mandate that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law. The procedure established by law for deprivation of rights conferred by this Article must be fair, just and reasonable. The rules of justice and fair play require that State action should neither be unjust nor unfair, lest it attracts the vice of unreasonableness, thereby vitiating the law which prescribed that procedure and, consequently, the action taken thereunder.
Any action taken by a public authority which is entrusted with the statutory power has, therefore, to be tested by the application of two standards –
First, the action must be within the scope of the authority conferred by law and,
Second, it must be reasonable. If any action, within the scope of the authority conferred by law is found to be unreasonable, it means that the procedure established under which that action is taken is itself unreasonable.
Procedure established by law
The concept of `procedure established by law’ changed its character after the judgment of Supreme Court in the case of Maneka Gandhi v. UOI [AIR 1978 SC 597], where this Court took the view as under :
“The principle of reasonableness, which legally as well as philosophically is an essential element of equality or non-arbitrariness pervades Article 14 like a brooding omnipresence and the procedure contemplated by Article 21 must answer the test of reasonableness in order to be right and just and fair and not arbitrary fanciful or oppressive otherwise it would be no procedure at all and the requirement of Article 21 would not be satisfied.”
This was also noted in the case of Madhav Hayawadanrao Hoskot v. State of Maharashtra (1978) 3 SCC 544 where the Court took the following view:
“Procedure established by law are words of deep meaning for all lovers of liberty and judicial sentinels.”
What emerges from the above principles, which has also been followed in a catena of judgments of this Court, is that the law itself has to be reasonable and furthermore, the action under that law has to be in accordance with the law so established. Non-observance of either of this can vitiate the action, but if the former is invalid, the latter cannot withstand.