The petitioner of State of Uttar Pradesh v. Raj Narain 1975 AIR 865 challenged the victory of Indira Gandhi in the Lok Sabha election. She was sentenced by Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha, of doing corrupt practices, declared her election void, and that she couldn’t contest any election or hold her office for the period of the next six years. She appealed to the Supreme Court and was granted a conditional stay. Due to detaining her political power, it made her dysfunctional in a matter of vote or speak in Lok Sabha. For holding the chair of Prime Minister, she demanded then President Fakruddin Ali declare an emergency period under Article 352 of the constitution and he did. The Government stated that “a grave emergency existed whereby the security of India was threatened by internal disturbances”.
The next day, Article 359 (1) was invoked along with canceling the right to approach the court to enforce the Articles 14, 21, 22. Anyone who was found to be a political threat or anyone who could raise their voice against the Government was taken into custody without trial under Prevention Detention Laws. This led to the detention of many leaders without trial such as Vajpayee, Desai, Jay Prakash Narayan, Advani, under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act since these leaders were proving to be a political threat to the Government.
People filed petitions in various High Courts challenging the detainment. Most courts gave their judgment in favor of the petitions which forced the Government to approach the Supreme Court which became Additional District Magistrate Jabalpur V. Shivkant Shukla. It is also known as the Habeas Corpus Case since generally, this is a writ filed in a Supreme Court when someone is arrested. When an Emergency was declared, this writ was not considered as a fundamental right under article 21 remained suspended.
Petitioner: The State said that the sole purpose of including the emergency provisions in the Constitution is that they ensure special powers to the Executive to hold complete decisions over the implementation of the laws of the country, i.e., during an emergency situation the concerns of the state assume supreme importance. It was also stated that that the people’s right to approach the Court has been curtailed under the constitutional provision of Article 359 (1) and hence it does not amount to the absence of law and order as argued in the multiple High Courts petitions. The state mentioned that the emergency powers in Part XVIII of Articles 358, 359(1), and 359(1A) are included in the Constitution for the economic and military security of the country. The validity of the law as mentioned in the Presidential Order of Article 359(1) cannot be challenged because of violating a fundamental right which was suspended by the Article.
They mentioned that Article 359 (1) prohibited the right to approach the Court under Article 32 it does not affect the execution of common law or rights of personal liberty in the High Court of Article 226 that deals with the power of High Courts to issue writs. Hence, the Presidential orders were valid only to fundamental rights and not to the Common, Natural, or Statutory Law. They said that the argument brought by the petitioner saying that the powers of the Executive increase during an emergency is highly illogical since the extent of the powers of the executive is already mentioned in the Constitution. Even though Article 21 states the Right of life and personal liberty as a fundamental right, it is not the only storehouse of this right. They requested the Court to consider the fact that the Executive taking over the duties of the Legislature goes against the basic constitutional principles that the framers created. The State can hold the Right to Arrest if the said act leading to detention fell under Section 3 of MISA and every condition within it is achieved. If any condition remains undone, the detention is considered to be ‘beyond the powers’ of that act.
The five-judge bench included Chief Justice Ray, A. N., Justice Khanna, Justice Hans Raj Beg, Justice M. Hameedullah Chandrachud, Justice Y.V. Bhagwati, P.N. the court held that given the Presidential order dated 27 June 1975 no person has any locus standi to move any writ petition under Article 226 before a High Court for any writ or order to challenge the legitimacy of an order of detention because of the reason that the order is not under or in compliance with the Act or is illegal or is based on extraneous consideration. The bench supported the constitutional validity of Section 16 A (9) of MISA.
Justice Khanna stated that invoking Article 359 (1) does not take away the right of people to approach the Court for implementing statutory rights. He also mentioned that Article 21 is not the only repository of life and personal liberty and during the declaration of emergency, Article 21 only loses the procedural power but the substantive power is very fundamental and the State does not have the power to dispossess any person of life and liberty without the authority of law.
The judgment, in this case, has been widely criticized for favoring the State instead of standing up for individual liberty. H. M. Seervai labeled the judgment as so bizarre that if Justice Khanna was arrested for giving disagreement he would not have had any remedy to secure his liberty. Instantly after the emergency ended, the Supreme Court changed its decision by giving Article 21 a permanent character along with linking the right provided in Article 21 with the rights provided in Articles 14 and 19. The majority judgment is guilty of aiding and abetting the lust of power that the State apparatus at that time displayed. In his Khanna Memorial lecture, Justice Venkatachaliah stated that the majority decision in the case should be “confined to the dustbin of history” and it is very hard to argue with his assessment. The Habeas Corpus case was overturned by the Supreme Court in the Puttaswamy Case (Right to Privacy case) in 2017.