Since its adoption in 1950, the Constitution of India has provided citizens with the means to enforce their guaranteed rights through different institutions, particularly the Supreme Court and High Court. The most serious challenge to the independence and integrity of the Judiciary arose when Smt. Indira Gandhi
decided to impose an 'Emergency' through a proclamation by the then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad under Clause (1) of Article 352 of the Constitution. The government declared that there is a serious threat to Indian security by various internal disturbances. In this case, supreme court has decided that during a National Emergency
, the right to life of a person cannot be enforced by a High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India
WHAT WAS THE WHOLE STORY BEHIND THE CASE?
Everything began when the election of Smt. Indira Gandhi to the Lok Sabha was contested before the High Court of Allahabad. Justice Sinha convicted her of committing wrong practices and declared her election void, which in turn meant that for the next six years she was barred from contesting any election or holding a post.
Gandhi appealed to the apex tribunal, but only a conditional stay was granted. Therefore, to reclaim the power restrained by the aforementioned judgments, on 26 June 1975, she decided to impose an emergency.
The power referred in Article 359(1) was invoked on the very next day and the right of access to the Supreme Court for the enforcement of Articles 14 (Right to equality), 21 (Right to life and personal liberty) and 22 (Protection against detention in certain cases) was abolished.
The process of taking individuals into custody who were regarded either as political opponents or critics began as soon as the above-mentioned provisions of the Constitution were invoked.
These individuals, including Vajpayee, Jay Prakash Narayan,
and Morarji Desai were arrested under the drastic Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) that provided for custody without any trial.
To challenge their detention, individuals arrested under MISA approached different High Courts and some of them even got favorable orders.
In the case of ADM Jabalpur v Shivkant Shukla, the government became concerned with the High Court orders and approached the Supreme Court.
ARGUMENTS OF STATE:
Through its counsel, the State argued that the object of the emergency powers under the Constitution was to grant the executive broad powers by which it could take over the enforcement of laws. Also, the State claimed that the rights of persons to reach the Court were limited by a constitutional clause, i.e. Article 359(1). The State also reminded the court that emergency powers laid down in the Constitution were drawn up to take precedence over all else for the country's economic and military stability.
ARGUMENTS BY RESPONDENTS:
The respondents argued that Article 359(1) restricted the right of access to the Court according (Article 32), but that prohibition did not affect the enforcement of common law or natural law. The Presidential Orders were thus only valid to the extent of fundamental rights and did not apply to common law, natural law, or statutory law. The respondents also urged the Court to take account of the fact that the taking over of the position of the legislature by the Executive is contrary to the basic constitutional principles envisaged by the framers.
CASE JUDGMENT OF HABEAS CORPUS:
- A five-judge bench consisting of Justices Ray, Beg, Chandrachud, Bhagwati, and Khanna formed the judgment in this case.
- Four judges pronounced the majority opinion (In favour of Government), but Justice Khanna delivered a strong dissent.
- On the Presidential order of 27th June 1975, the Court held that no person has any position to refer any written petition under Article 226 to the High Court for habeas corpus or any other writ or order or direction to challenge the validity of an order of detention on the ground that the Presidential order is unconstitutional.
- The Court also affirmed the constitutional validity of MISA's paragraph 9 of Section 16A.
- In its dissent, Justice H.R. Khanna claimed that invoking Article 359(1) does not negate an individual's right to approach the Court for the enforcement of statutory rights.
- Further, he also held that the right to not be deprived of one’s life or liberty, without the authority of law, was not the creation of the Constitution. Such rights existed before the Constitution came into force and even in the absence of Article 21 in the Constitution, the State has got no power to deprive a person of his life or liberty without the authority of law. Art. 21 is not the sole repository of the right to personal liberty. Such a right not only follows from common law, but it also flows from statutory laws like the penal law in force in India.
- During that particular hearing, there was so much political pressure that this dissent cost Justice Khanna his chance to become the Chief Justice as he was the second in line to the CJI Chair at that time.
- Even Justice Bhagwati later expressed his regret for siding with the majority by saying that not defending the cause of individual rights was incorrect.
In the case of Habeas Corpus, the decision has been highly criticized for favoring the state rather than standing up for individual rights.