A.K. Gopalan vs. State of Madras, 1950(Case Analysis)

AK Gopalan vs state of madras case analysis
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Case title: A.K. Gopalan vs. State of Madras, 1950

Court: Supreme Court of India

Bench: Hiralal Kania CJ and Saiyid Fazl Ali, M. Patanjali Sastri, Meher Chand Mahajan, B.K. Mukherjee and S.R.Das, JJ

Equivalent citation: 1950 SCR 88: AIR 1950 SC 27: (1950) 51 Cri LJ 1383


This case is one of the most important and commonly known cases in the ambit of constitutional law where various fundamental rights provided under part III of the constitution has been discussed. This dealt with Article 19, 21 and 22 of the constitution of India. Two major issues have been discussed throughout the case; the first one says that whether the detention Act,1950 passed by the State of Madras is violative of Article 19 and 21 of the Constitution and the second one is whether the said Act is in accordance with the provision of Article 22 of the constitution of India. One of the major relevance of this case is Justice Fazal Ali, one of the two dissenting judges out of six judges’ bench has provided a judgement which became a significant factor for the element of personal liberty and liberalized point of view for the provisions under part III of the constitution. This case further deals with the concept that article 21 of the Indian Constitution covers the procedures established by law which signifies that it is the law established by the state itself. The apex court throughout the case discussed that an existing standard set for the law is there which is formulated by legislation and hence at the same time legitimizes it. But in this case, Supreme Court upheld a narrow view of the fundamental rights provided under Article 19 and 21.

Background of the case:

This case challenged the constitutional validity of the provisions under the preventive detention Act, 1950. Petitioner, Mr. A. K. Gopalan approached the Supreme Court of India under Article 32(1) of the Constitution of India. Petitioner was a communist leader and was serving the communist party of India. He had been kept under detention since December 1947. Although in the ordinary course of criminal law he was convicted and sentenced, further this conviction has been overruled by the court. To this Mr. A. K. Gopalan was preventively detained on 1st March 1950, as per the provision under section 3(1) of the Preventive Detention Act, 1950. As per him, he was detained in the Madras jail, since 1947 without any trial. One of the orders from the Madras government on the above-mentioned date was imposed on him when he was still under detention.

Partitioner filed a writ of habeas corpus, challenging the legality of the provision under 3(1) of the preventive detention Act, 1950 which was imposed on him. He then stated that provisions of the said Act under which government has served him is violative of fundamental rights of human beings provided under Article 14,19 and 21 and he raised that provision of this Act 4 of 1950.[1], of the state of Madras is not under the ambit Article 22 of the Indian Constitution, which talks about the rights of a detainee. According to him, the order imposed on him with a mala fide intention and for an invalid reason.

Issues raised in the case of whether the Detention Act of State of Madras is violative of Article 19 and 21 of the Indian constitution and how far the provision in the said Act in accordance with the provision of Article 22 of the Indian constitution which ensures the rights of the detainees. According to the court’s interpretation over this matter says, as per as Article 21 is concerned, it refers to procedural due process.[2] By virtue of which Mr Gopalan was detained is a valid law. Another major decision readout, in this case, was that the fundamental rights are not interconnected and constitute independent Article. But this was further interpreted in the case of Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India and it was held that procedure under Article 21 must be fair, just and reasonable and the same would be tested with the provisions under Article 14 and 19 of the Constitution.

Evaluation of the case:

The decision given in the present case was an attempt to expand the ambit of the jurisprudence of the constitution in India, according to them there is no need for a test of reasonableness to justify the law even if it contradicts the provisions under part III of the constitution. A narrow and wrong interpretation of Article 21 has been drawn by the majority due to which judges ultimately ignored the principles of natural law jurisprudence by applying their judicial knowledge in this case. As a result, it neglected the fundamental rights and freedoms of the citizens. But the dissenting opinion made by justice Fazal Ali has been accepted in the case of R.C. Cooper vs. Union of India by the 11 judges’ bench, where the court rejected the idea of nationalization of the banks based because unreasonable compensation has been paid. Further in the case of A.D.M. Jabalpur vs. Shivakant Shukla, the court stated that the right of life and liberty was there in the constitution by its establishment and cannot be waived off by the state. And in the year 1977, finally, the opinion by Justice Fazal Ali has been considered as a law in the case of Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India, where the court stated the test of reasonableness should be done to review the procedure established by law to make it reasonable, just and fair and further free from any type of arbitrariness.


This being a landmark case due to its surprising judgement given by the majority of 6 member bench of the Supreme Court of India. A narrowed interpretation of Article 21 has been made where the judges remarked that procedure established by law simply signifies that a law made by a competent legislative body can restrict a person to exercise his/her fundamental right of life and liberty. It further contended that interpretation of provisions under the Article of the constitution as natural justice is not permissible to the court and hence there is no need for test of reasonableness because the Articles are not linked with each other rather constitutes an independent concept. The court here interpreted the statute wrongfully as they have structured the judgement in a way that signifies that Article 19 applied to a free citizen whereas, it is inapplicable for a person under preventive detention. In a democratic country like India, where the term individual includes every citizen irrespective of his/her status, here everyone is having an equal stake when the question arises on constitutional rights. Also, in this case, it has been remarked that the law must be understood as a “Jus” which refers to in the manner of natural justice and not as “rex” which refers to enacted law. The controversial decision although further corrected in many of the cases whereby the giving a wide interpretation of Article 21 of the constitution and it has been rectified that there is a relation between article 14, 19 and 21 of the constitution which makes the rule of golden triangle all together.

  1. A.K. Gopalan v. the State of Madras (1950 AIR 27, 1950 SCR 88): Lawsisto Legal News A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras (1950 AIR 27, 1950 SCR 88) | Lawsisto Legal News, https://lawsisto.com/legalnewsread/ODY3MQ==/AK-Gopalan-v-State-of-Madras-1950-AIR-27-1950-SCR-88 (last visited May 14, 2021)

  2. A.K. Gopalan v. the State of Madras (Interpretation of key Fundamental Rights including Article 19 & 21) Law Circa, https://lawcirca.com/a-k-gopalan-v-state-of-madras-interpretation-of-key-fundamental-rights-including-article-19-21/ (last visited May 15, 2021)