The right to privacy of an individual is a natural, cherished, inseparable and inalienable right which is born with a human being and extinguishes with it, the Supreme Court said today. Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre, who wrote a separate but concurring judgement declaring the right to privacy as a fundamental right under the Constitution, said it cannot be conceived that an individual enjoys a meaningful life with dignity, without such a right. However, he also said that this right was not absolute and was “subject to certain reasonable restrictions” which the State was entitled to impose. The judge, who was a part of the nine-judge constitution bench, said the right to privacy was one of those cherished rights which every civilised society recognises in every human being.
Justice Sapre held that “right to privacy” is part of the fundamental right of a citizen guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution, but “it is not an absolute right and is subject to certain reasonable restrictions which the State is entitled to impose on the basis of social, moral and compelling public interest in accordance with law”. “In my considered opinion, right to privacy of any individual is essentially a natural right, which inheres in every human being by birth. Such right remains with the human being till he/she breathes last. It is indeed inseparable and inalienable from human being. In other words, it is born with the human being and extinguish with human being,” Justice Sapre said in his 24-page separate judgement, which formed part of the 547-page verdict.
He said ‘right to privacy’ is not defined in law except in the dictionaries and the courts, by process of judicial interpretation, have assigned meaning to this right in the context of specific issues involved on a case-to-case basis. Justice Sapre added that the most popular meaning of right to privacy is “the right to be let alone”. “Indeed, it is one of those cherished rights, which every civilised society governed by rule of law always recognises in every human being and is under obligation to recognise such rights in order to maintain and preserve the dignity of an individual regardless of gender, race, religion, caste and creed.
“It is, of course, subject to imposing certain reasonable restrictions keeping in view the social, moral and compelling public interest, which the State is entitled to impose by law,” he said. Quoting the Preamble of the Constitution, Justice Sapre said he does not find any difficulty in tracing the right to privacy emanating from the two expressions — “liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship” and “Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual”. “…And also emanating from Article 19(1)(a) which gives to every citizen ‘a freedom of speech and expression’ and further emanating from Article 19(1)(d) which gives to every citizen ‘a right to move freely throughout the territory of India’ and lastly, emanating from the expression ‘personal liberty’ under Article 21. Indeed, the right to privacy is inbuilt in these expressions and flows from each of them and in juxtaposition,” he said.
The judge held that right to privacy has multiple facets, and it has to go through a process of case-to-case development as and when any citizen raises his grievance complaining of infringement of his alleged right in accordance with law. The judge was full of praises for all the counsel who addressed the matter before the apex court and said they argued with “brevity, lucidity and with remarkable clarity”. “The hard work done by each counsel was phenomenal and deserves to be complimented. Needless to say, but for their able assistance both in terms of oral argument as well as written briefs (containing thorough submissions, variety of case law and the literature on the subject), it was well nigh impossible to express the views,” he said.