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ADM Jabalpur Case Analysis

The author has analyzed the famous case of ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla. The whole article is divided into seven headings for the sake of brevity and relevance.

Title of the case – ADM Jabalpur vs. Shivkant Shukla

Citation – 1976 (2) SCC 521; AIR 1976 SC 1207

Court – Supreme Court of India

Bench – A.N.Ray, Hans Raj Khanna, Mirza Hameedullah Beg, Y.V.Chandrachud, P.N.Bhagwati

Introduction

One of the most serious challenges over the independence and integrity of judiciary was faced when the then Late Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi imposed ‘emergency’ through a proclamation by the then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad under Article 352(1) of the Constitution. In this situation, the government declared that a grave emergency existed wherein the security of our country was threatened by internal disturbances.

Background of the case 

This imposition of emergency was not at all a sudden decision. This entire scenario started when Smt. Indira Gandhi’s election to the Lok Sabha was challenged before the Allahabad High Court. Justice Sinha, at that point in time, convicted her for indulging in unfair practices and declared her election void. This simply meant that from now onwards she will not be able to hold her office for the next six years.

Indira Gandhi appealed to Supreme Court but was only granted a conditional stay. Further, in order to reclaim her power which was refrained by the aforesaid judgment, she decided to invoke the Constitution and impose an emergency on 26th June 1975.

With this move of hers, the power under Article 359(1) was invoked and with this the right to approach the Apex Court to enforce Article 14 which talks about the Right to Equality, Article 21 which talks about the Right to life and personal liberty and Article 22 which talks about Protection against detention in certain cases were suspended.

As soon as these provisions were invoked the people who were considered to be political opponents or critics were being taken into custody.

A.B. Vajpayee, Jay Prakash Narayan and Morarji Desai were amongst the people who were arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) which provided for custody without trial.

Several people who opposed the moves of the Prime Minister were unlawfully detained and put behind the bars.  Many people who got arrested under the MISA Act approached various High Courts under the provisions of Article 226 of the Constitution which guarantees the Right to Constitutional Remedies to secure the liberty of their near and dear ones by way of using the Writ of Habeas Corpus which provides relief when someone is unlawfully detained, some even got favourable orders.

The then government became concerned with these High Courts and approached the Supreme Court of India in the case of ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkant Sharma.

Issue

The main issue was that when an Emergency is imposed and Articles 14, 21 and 22 get suspended, then can a writ of Habeas Corpus be maintainable in front of the court and then can relief be granted to an individual.

Petitioner’s Arguments

It was argued by the state that the main aim of provision of emergency was to vest special powers in the executive so that it holds complete control over the law and order of the nation since the situation of emergency is of extreme importance when the situation is fragile.

Further, it was argued that when a person is detained, the order of detention could not be challenged as wrong stating that there were no strong reasons to detain a person. When an emergency is declared a person forfeits Article 19 of the Constitution and if a person is held in contravention to Article 22, the same cannot be questioned in the proceeding of Habeas Corpus since the option to file a petition in the court is closed during the situation of an emergency.

It was held that the curtailment of such a right was done under the President’s order and accordingly it could not be questioned. A Presidential Order made under Article 359 is done under special circumstances and the court is not empowered to question the rationale behind the same and entertain a Habeas Corpus petition.

Respondents Arguments

Respondents argued that the very objective of Article 359 was to remove any type of power of legislature from legislating at the time when an emergency is imposed. The article prohibits moving to the Apex Court for enforcement of certain rights but there isn’t any prohibition on moving to the High Courts of India regarding enforcement of statutory rights of personal liberty under Article 226. 

It was contended that this presidential order was against the principle of natural law and other underlying fundamental principles of law. When a law on preventive detention has been introduced then the same should conform to the conditions set by the law.

Moreover, it was also contended that Article 21 is not the only torchbearer of the Right to life and personal liberty, there are rights that are not fundamental rights but are statutory or natural rights, these rights were not affected by presidential order and couldn’t be taken away. 

In addition, it was further argued that when the state has made a law for making detention then that detention should be very much within the ambit of the statute. If the conditions are not met then it would go beyond the power of the statute.

Judgment

This case was heard by a five judges bench. Four out of five judges ruled in favour of the state and held that during an emergency the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India to the citizens shall not be available. All rights shall stand extinguished in the light of presidential order.

Moreover, it was held that none of the citizens of the country shall have the option of moving the High Court for writ of Habeas Corpus if the Presidential Order said so and along with that all other proceedings of the court shall remain suspended till the emergency continues.

However, Justice Hans Raj Khanna gave a dissenting judgment and this dissenting judgment paved the way for the future development of law. He was of the view that Article 21 which talks about the right to life and personal liberty are the basic tenets of society and the state cannot deprive a citizen of his/her life and personal liberty without due authority of law.  

Conclusion

‘ADM Jabalpur vs. Shivkant Shukla’ also known as the Habeas Corpus Case has been widely criticized for favouring the state instead of standing up for individual liberty. Immediately after the emergency ended the Apex Court changed its stance by giving Article 21 a permanent character and further linked Article 21 with Article 14 and Article 19 of the Constitution.

This case was overturned by the Supreme Court of India in the landmark judgment of the Puttaswamy Case (Right to Privacy Case) in 2017.  

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