(In the first in a series of guest posts, Abhinav Sekhri discusses the antecedents of the Constitution’s preventive detention clause. This essay has been cross-posted from The Proof of Guilt blog)
India’s Constitution elaborates on certain Fundamental Rights guaranteed to individuals. Some are limited as citizenship rights [Article 19] while others extend to all persons within the Union [Article 21]. As the title suggests, this post is concerned with Article 21’s not-so-celebrated cousin, Article 22 [the cousin terminology is deliberate, as I will show later]. I first came across the very interesting history behind Article 22 while reading Granville Austin’s Cornerstone of a Nation, and then traced the discussion in the Constituent Assembly Debates while supplementing it with some independent research. It is also discussed by Mr Seervai in his commentary on Articles 19-22 but only to the extent necessary for furthering his argument. In this post, I first look at the text of Article 22 and then the history behind its inclusion in the Constitution.
Right to Freedom – Articles 19-22
Part III of the Constitution runs from Article 12 to Article 35, but we often end up missing how the framers grouped certain rights together. Articles 19-22, for instance, are couched under Right to Freedom. One possible explanation offered is that Article 19 confers positive freedoms while Articles 20-22 confer negative freedoms by limiting what the State can do. Article 21 states that No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.
This is followed by Article 22, which immediately tells us exactly how the State can take away this right to life and personal liberty. So, we find general protections in Articles 22(1) to (3): every person arrested must be informed of the grounds of arrest and be permitted to engage legal counsel of her choice [Article 22(1)], as well as be produced before a magistrate within 24 hours of being detained [Article 22(2)]. This, interestingly, is followed up by 22(3) which specifically takes away these rights in case of enemy aliens and persons arrested and detained under preventive detention laws. The remainder of Article 22 – clauses (4) to (7) – moves on to lay down the limits of preventive detention laws and confer certain limited rights upon detenus. Thus, ordinarily preventive detention is capped at three months unless reviewed by an Advisory Board which recommends otherwise [Article 22(4)], where the case is not of a category warranting special treatment [Article 22(7)]. Detenus have a right to be informed of the grounds behind a detention order as soon as may be [where disclosure is not contrary to public interest as per Article 22(6)], and also to make a representation against the order [Article 22(5)].
The majority of Article 22 appears a precision-based instrument chipping away the edges of the basic rights guaranteed by Article 21. It has frequently been attacked throughout the history of independent India, with detractors often pointing to the worst excesses of the Emergency in 1975 as indicative of the misuse Article 22 allows. What if I told you that Article 22 was introduced into the Constitution in order to prevent the worst excesses from materialising? That is the lesson we learn from history, to which I now turn.
Draft Articles 15 and 15-A and the ‘Due Process’ Fallout
The use of procedure established by law to safeguard the right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, as against the due process clause, is a wonderful story in itself [It is part of a separate file in the National Archives of India no less titled Article 15: Due Process of Law]. The initial Draft Article 15 (which became Article 21) contained the words due process. While the Constituent Assembly was mulling over the draft in India, Sir BN Rau – who was the Official Constitutional Adviser – had been entrusted with the task of eliciting opinion from important personalities abroad. During this time he met Justice Frankfurter, who strenuously advised him against the incorporation of the due process clause.
Sir BN Rau considered these suggestions important enough to send a memorandum across by airmail dated 11 November 1947 (a very expensive proposition back then). He subsequently sent across his views in a formal Report in December, 1947. KM Pannikar, an Assembly Member, wrote to Sir Rau on 30 December 1947 discussing this report, and his happiness that “Munshi’s [KM Munshi, member of the Assembly] due process clause has got a knockout blow from Justice Frankfurter.” On 7 April 1948, Sir Rau wrote to Justice Frankfurter to inform him of the Assembly having substituted due process with procedure established by law in Article 15 of the Draft Constitution. 1948 saw fervent efforts to re-introduce due process led by KM Munshi. On 13 December, Dr. Ambedkar was asked to give his final reply on this tussle between the Legislature and the Judiciary. He is famously quoted as saying “It is rather a case where a man has to sail between a Charybdis and Scylla and I therefore would not say anything.”
The stoicism in this statement does not mean that Dr. Ambedkar was simply going to accept this changed state of affairs. He supported the due process clause, and was affected by the intense criticism this withdrawal of due process drew from various circles. In September 1949, months before the conclusion of the debates, the Drafting Committee (headed by Dr. Ambedkar) cited this backdrop and introduced Article 15-A in the Assembly. This, today, is Article 22 barring some minor modifications. Article 15-A was introduced as a measure of “compensation for what was done then in passing Article 15” since removal of due process meant Article 15 conferred a carte-blanche on the executive to arrest and detain persons. Equally, existence of preventive detention as a subject on the Federal and Concurrent Lists of Business without due process protection meant the legislature could not be checked in passing oppressive legislation. These twin factors seemed to have convinced Dr. Ambedkar of the need to have express fetters placed on the possibility of arrest and detention of persons in independent India. Dr. Ambedkar spoke for the Drafting Committee when he said that “we providing for the substance of the law of ‘due process’ by the introduction of Article 15A“.
Conclusions and Questions
Therefore, Article 22 was in fact a measure to protect, rather than curtail, the right to life and personal liberty. Mr Seervai discusses this in his Commentary, to conclude that perhaps it would have made better sense to have the first two clauses in Article 22 as part of Article 21, making a separate Article for the exclusions. Looking at what happened subsequently, a differently drafted Article 21 might have led to a differently written judgment in Maneka Gandhi. It might have prevented the Supreme Court from going so far as to incorporating the substantive due process standard that the Constituent Assembly so painstakingly chose to avoid. Where does Maneka Gandhileave the due process that Article 22 represented for the Constituent Assembly and Dr. Ambedkar? The Supreme Court has not considered this question fully, yet, although some seepage of Maneka jurisprudence into Article 22 has definitely resulted. In the next post we will address some of these questions arising out of the Supreme Court’s engagement with Article 22 of the Constitution.