NATIONAL LEGAL RESEARCH DESK
Article 21 of the Constitution states that no person should be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by the law. Over the years, this Court’s jurisprudence has added significant meaning and depth to the right to life. A large number of judgments interpreting Article 21 of the Constitution have laid down right to shelter is included in right to life.
In Francis Coralie Mullin v. Union Territory of Delhi (1981) 1 SCC 608, Bhagwati J stated that:-
“the right to life includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it, namely, the bare necessaries of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter and facilities for reading, writing and expressing oneself in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing and commingling with fellow human beings. Of course, the magnitude and content of the components of this right would depend upon the extent of the economic development of the country, but it must, in any view of the matter, include the right to the basic necessities of life and also the right to carry on such functions and activities as constitute the bare minimum expression of the human-self (at para. 8).”
In Chameli Singh v. State of U.P. (1996) 2 SCC 549, this Court interpreted Article 21 in the following words:-
“Right to live guaranteed in any Civilised society implies the right to food, water, decent environment education, medical care and shelter. These are basic human rights known to any civilised society. All civil, political, social and cultural rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Convention or under the Constitution of India cannot be exercised without these basic human rights. Shelter for a human being, therefore, is not a mere protection of his life and limb.”
In C.E.S.C. Ltd. v. Subhash Chandra Bose (1992) 1 SCC 441 this Court held that right to social and economic justice is a fundamental right. Right to health of a worker is a fundamental right. Therefore, right to life enshrined in Article 21 means something more than mere survival of animal existence. The right to live with human dignity with minimum sustenance and shelter and all those rights and aspects of life which would go to make a man’s life complete and worth living, would form part of the right to life. Enjoyment of life and its attainment — social, cultural and intellectual — without which life cannot be meaningful, would embrace the protection and preservation of life guaranteed by Article 21.
The State owes to the homeless people to ensure at least minimum shelter as part of the State obligation under Article 21. In Parmanand Katara v. Union of India (1989) 4 SCC 286, this Court observed that Article 21 casts the obligation on the State to preserve life which is the paramount duty of the State according to the Constitution.
Nothing is more important for the State than to preserve and protect the lives of the most vulnerable, weak, poor and helpless people. The homeless people are constantly exposed to the risk of life while living on the pavements and the streets and the threat to life is particularly imminent in the severe and biting cold winter, especially in the northern India.
The State must discharge its core obligation to comply with Article 21 of the Constitution by providing night shelters for the vulnerable and homeless people. Consequently, we direct the Collectors and District Magistrates of the States of Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to file affidavits with their respective Chief Secretaries within three weeks from today in which they must ensure that at least temporary night shelters are provided to protect and preserve the lives of the people in consonance with the constitutional philosophy enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution.