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Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer And Expansive Interpretation Of Fundamental Rights

Authored by Anshu Prasad

Keywords: Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer, Expansive Interpretation Of Fundamental Rights.


Padma vibhushan vaidyanathpuram rama ayyar krishna iyer is a name that has carved a 1 niche for itself in both the social and legal fraternity. He has given a wide interpretation of the fundamental rights while delivering a number of landmark judgments. The articles try to highlight the social justice- widening its horizons, and his wide interpretation of - the doctrine of pil & liberal expansion of locus stand that was given by him. Moreover the rooster for the dawn of prison reforms & rights of prisoners and decisional hearing, expansion of ambit of articles 14, 19 and ‘personal liberty’


Padma Vibhushan Vaidyanathpuram Rama Ayyar Krishna Iyer is a name that has carved a 1 niche for itself in both the social and legal fraternity. He has contributed to the society in a great manner and towards the legal fraternity by his liberal interpretational skills, which has become in itself became a discourse in the field of constitutional interpretation. It is worth mentioning that his humanitarian expansive interpretation of provisions of Part III of the Constitution of India is unmatched and even can’t be aped in the near future.

V. R. Krishna Iyer- An ‘Adjective’ Personality

Krishna Iyer has proved himself to be one such person, who followed his own mind and soul in an unorthodox manner. And, changing the course of human history in accordance with the rights conferred on the human beings which were most fundamental in nature i.e. the Fundamental Rights. He immensely helped in the protection and to its much appraisal in the expansion of Part III of the Constitution of India through his wide expansive and purposive interpretation. He was one such judge who acted truly as a trustee and a custodian of the essence of the provisions of the fundamental rights. He is one such person who has considered the Constitution as a way of life and has eternalized the very deep-rooted theme of it i.e. the social justice.

Social Justice- Widening Its Horizons

The concept of social justice has been dealt with by him in detail in his judicial and extra-judicial writings. Even Article 21 i.e. the right to life and personal liberty, has been considered by him as a part of social justice which begins in the womb of a mother. His perspectives show the Constitution as the storehouse of social justice. His idea of social justice, in contrast to other people, was relative, flexible, and dynamic in nature shifting from one place to another and in different time frames. His concept of social justice has been described by him in handsome words as:

“…social justice is a generous concept that assures to each member of the society a fair deal. Any remedial injury, injustice, inadequacy, or disability suffered by a member, for which he is not directly responsible falls within the liberal connotation of social injustice.”

Opening Out Soul Of The Constitution Of India- Doctrine Of Pil & Liberal Expansion Of Locus Stand

Justice Iyer never wanted that the financial incapacity of any person shall come in between him and his access to justice. That is why the seeds of the concept of PIL were sown initially by JusticeIyer in the Mumbai Kamagar Sabha case thus opening out the purview of Article 32 and interpreting the provision in the extended and widened way. It was followed by him in the Sunil Batra (II) case, in which the Supreme Court has accepted a letter written to it by Sunil Batra (an inmate of Tihar Prisons, near New Delhi) complaining of the inhuman torture done in the jail.

Provisions related to Fundamental Rights, Directive Principles, and independent judiciary together provided a firm constitutional foundation to the evolution of PIL in India, and the ideal of ‘Public Interest Litigation’ blossomed thereafter in many cases.

After he was criticized for his expansive interpretation of Article 32, he said that the law of locus standi is expansive. Wherever there is an injury that affects the people at large or an individual, it is not a narrow issue. Anyone who is not a busybody and who has a sincere concern, is at home in court, when he sues to espouse a community grievance or public cause.

A Rooster For The Dawn Of Prison Reforms & Rights Of Prisoners

The rights of prisoners along with the prison reforms have never been taken so seriously and have never got such attention and importance as in the cases of Charles Shobraj and Sunil Batra which led to dawn for prison reforms and rights of prisoners. Furthermore, in this whole situation, the one person who was responsible and acted as a rooster for this dawn was Justice Iyer.

Justice Iyer on behalf of the Supreme Court emphasized that Article 21 implies that ‘the law must be right, just and fair, and not arbitrary, fanciful or oppressive. Else, it would be no procedure at all and the requirements of Article 21 would not be fulfilled. If it is arbitrary at that point then it would be violative of Article 14 of the COI. In addition, interpreting Article 20(2) he said that a person under a death sentence is held in jail custody so he is available for execution of his death sentence when the time comes. No punitive detention can be forced by the jail authorities on him except for offences relating to prisons. He should not be kept in solitary confinement as the same will amount to imposing punishment for the same offence twice which would be violative of Article 20(2).

Doctrine Of Post-Decisional Hearing, Expansion Of Ambit Of Articles 14, 19 And ‘Personal Liberty’

The most valuable expansive interpretation of the right to personal liberty under Article 21 was brought in Maneka Gandhi’s case.

The case was to challenge the constitutional validity of section 10(3) (c) of the Passports Act, 1967 in relation to Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India.

Connoting the significance of ‘personal liberty’ he stated that, the freedom of movement is the very essence of our free society, that sets us apart. Like the right of assembly and the right of association, it generally makes all different rights meaningful -knowing, examining, arguing, investigating, conversing, observing, and even thinking. Accordingly, the curtailment of the right to travel affects all other rights, just in cases when curfew or home detention is forced on a person. He lastly stated:

“To frustrate Article 21 by relying on any formal adjectival statute, however, flimsy or fantastic its provisions be, is to rob what the Constitution treasures. The procedure that deals with the modalities of regulating, restricting, or even rejecting a fundamental right falling within, the ambit of Article 21 must be reasonably fair, not foolish, carefully designed to effectuate, not to subvert, the substantive right itself. Thus understood, ‘procedure’ must rule out anything arbitrary, freakish or bizarre. An important constitutional right can be canalised only by the means of a civilised process.”

In interpreting and further expanding inter-dependency of Articles 14, 19 and 21, he said that ‘it is a sign of interpretative respect for the higher standards our founding fathers held dear in affecting the dearest rights of life and liberty in order to read Article 21 resulting in a human order lined with the human justice. And running right through the Articles 19 and 14 is present this principle of reasonable procedure in a number of shades. A certain normative harmony among the articles is attained subsequently, and Article 21 bears in its bosom the construction of reasonably fair procedure legislatively sanctioned’. Again enlarging the ambit of Article 14 he said that:

“…equality is the antithesis of arbitrariness and ex-cathedra ipse dixit is the ally of demagogic authoritarianism”.


Nothing rankled Justice Iyer more than confronting injustice. For him, the law was an instrument to secure social justice. Justice Iyer is a true doyen among all other jurists, who could place his distinct mark in the social and the political situations, other than the judicial realm in our nation. He died on 4th of December 2014, but his jurisprudential inventions will live for centuries to come.


1. Maneka Gandhi v. UOI, AIR 1978 SC 597

2. Sunil Batra (II) v. Delhi Administration, 1980 (3) SCC 488: AIR 1980 SC 1579


4. D. D. Basu, Constitutional Law of India (Prentice-Hall of India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 6th Edition, 1991).

5. Geeta Ramaseshan, The Krishna Iyer effect on the Supreme Court, Book Review, available at: <> (Visited on May 14, 2015)

6. Krishna Iyer’s judgments to be published in the form of a book - 'Speaking for the Bench: Selected Judgments of Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer', P. B. Sahasranaman, Times News Network, May 20, 2012, available at: <>, (Visited on May 17, 2015)

7. Shailja Chander and V. R. Krishna Iyer, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer on Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles (Deep and Deep Publications, Delhi, 1992).

8. Soli J. Sorabjee, “A man for all seasons: A tribute on his 90th birthday”, The Hindu, Nov 16, 2004