Maneka Gandhi vs Union Of India (AIR 1978 SC 597)

Maneka Gandhi case is considered one of the landmark cases under the Constitutional law of India. This post summarises the facts, contentions of the parties and the decision.

Facts of the case

  1. In Satwant Singh’s case, the Apex Court by a majority held that the expression ‘personal liberty’ in Article 21 takes in the right of locomotion and travel abroad and under Article 21 no person can be deprived of his right to go abroad except according to the procedure established by law. This decision was accepted by the Parliament and the infirmity pointed but by it was set right by the enactment of the Passports Act, 1967.
  2. The position which obtained prior to the coming into force of the Passport Act, 1967 was that there was no law regulating the issue of passports for leaving the shores of India and going abroad. The issue of passport was entirely within the unguided and unchannelled discretion of the Executive. The preamble of the Act shows that it was enacted to provide for the issue of passport and travel documents to regulate the departure from India of citizens of India and other persons. The Act was enacted on 24-4-67 in view of the decision of this Court in Satwant Singh Sawhney’s case.
  3. The petitioner was issued a passport on June 1, 1976 under the Passport Act, 1967. On the 4th of July 1977, the petitioner received a letter dated 2nd July, 1977, from the Regional Passport Officer Delhi intimating to her that it was decided by the Government of India to impound her passport under Section 10(3)(c) of the Act “in public interest”. The petitioner was required to surrender her passport within 7 days from the receipt of that letter. The petitioner immediately addressed a letter to the Regional Passport Officer requesting him to furnish a copy of the statement of reasons for making the order as provided in s.10(5). A reply was sent by the Government of India, Ministry of External Affairs on 6th July 1977 stating inter alia that the Government decided “in the interest of the general public” not to furnish her copy of the statement of reasons for the making of the order.

    The Central Government declined to furnish a copy of this statement of reasons for impounding the passport of the petitioner on the ground that it was not in the interest of the general public to furnish such copy to the petitioner.

  4. The petitioner thereupon filed the present Writ Petition challenging the action of the Government in- impounding her passport and declining to give reasons for doing so.

Bench –  M. Hameedullah Beg (CJ), Y.V.Chandrachud, P.N.Bhagwati, V.R.Krishnaiyer,  & N.L.Untwalia, S.M. Fazalali, & P.S.Kailasam.

Date of the decision – 25 January, 1978

Contentions of the petitioner

  1. The right to go abroad is part of “personal liberty” within the meaning of that expression as used in Article 21 and no one can be deprived of this right except according to the procedure prescribed by law. There is no procedure prescribed by the Passport Act, for impounding or revoking a Passport. Even if some procedure can be traced in the said Act it is unreasonable and arbitrary in as much as it does not provide for giving an opportunity to the holder of the Passport to be heard against the making of the order.
  2. Section 10(3) (c) is violative of fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14,19(1) (a) and (g) and 21.
  3. The impugned order is made in contravention of the rules of natural justice and is, therefore, null and void. The impugned order has effect of placing an unreasonable restriction on the right of free speech and expression guaranteed to the petitioner under Article 19(1) (a) as also on the right to carry on the profession of a journalist conferred under Article 19 (1) (g).
  4.  The impugned order could not consistently with Articles 19(1)(a) and (g) be passed on a mere information of the Central Government that the presence of the petitioner is likely to be required in connection with the proceedings before the Commission of Inquiry.
  5. In order that a passport may be impounded under Section 10 (3) (c), public interest must actually exist in the present and mere likelihood of public interest .arising in future would be no ground for impounding the passport.
  6. It was not correct to say that the petitioner was likely to be required for .giving evidence before the Shah Commission.

Contentions of the respondents

The respondents denied the contentions raised by the petitioner.


  • The petitioner is not entitled to any of the fundamental rights enumerated in Article 19 of the Constitution.
  • The Passport Act complies with the requirements of Article 21 of the Constitution and is in accordance with the procedure established by law.
  • Section 10(3)(c), Passport Act provides a right to the holder of the passport to be heard before the passport authority.
  • Any order passed under section 10(3) is subject to a limited judicial scrutiny by the High Court and the Supreme Court.
  • The passport will remain in the custody of the Registrar of this Court until further orders.

Author’s Comments

The above case is one of the most relevant cases with regard to Article 21, Constitution of India. The impugned provision was held to be constitutional. Though the Apex Court did not decide in favour of the petitioner, the discussions started after the case to expand the ambit of Article 21. The observations made by different judges in the above case are significant in order to understand the scope of Article 21.

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Bhumika Sharma

She is currently a Research Scholar, (PhD) at Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla. She finds peace in research and writing on a variety of social issues. She believes in the power of education and awareness to deal with various problems.

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