Case Brief: Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) Vs. Union of India


DECIDED ON: 26 September, 2018 

CITATION: Writ Petition (Civil) No. 494 of 2012, (2017) 10 SCC 1

Composition of the Bench

The Supreme Court of India – Constitution Bench (9 judges)

Name of Judges

Jagdish Singh Khehar, C.J. and Jasti Chelameswar, S. A. Bobde, S. Abdul Nazeer, Rohinton Nariman, Dr. D. Y. Chandrachud, R.K. Agarwal, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, and Abhay Manohar Sapre.

Facts of the Case

  • In 2012, Justice K S Puttaswamy (Retd. judge of the High Court), filed a writ petition against the UPA Government in the Supreme Court challenge to the government’s Aadhaar (uniform 12 digit biometric ID) scheme that the scheme violated the right to privacy.
  • This issue was first challenged before a three-judge bench containing Justices Chelameswar, Bobde, and C. Nagappan on 11th August 2015, on the other side Attorney General argued on behalf of the Union of India that the Indian Constitution does not grant specific protection for the right to privacy. The bench backed their statement by the cases M P Sharma v Satish Chandra, District Magistrate, Delhi, 1954 [1](8 Judge Bench) and Kharak Singh v State of Uttar Pradesh, 1964 [2] (6 Judge Bench). Specifically, it ordered that the Court must choose whether we have a fundamental right to privacy. Later this helped in forming the decision of small benches of the Supreme Court expressly recognized the right to privacy.
  • This issue was presented in front of a 5 Judge Bench headed by the then Chief Justice Khehar. Accordingly, the issue has alluded to a 9 Judge Bench containing Chief Justice Khehar, Justices Jasti Chelameshwar, S.A. Bobde, DY Chandrachud, Abdul Nazeer, Nariman, R.K. Agarwal, Abhay Manohar Sapre, and Sanjay Kishan Kaul on 18th  July 2017. Arguments started on 19th July 2017 and finished up on 2nd August 2017.
  • On 24th August 2017, the final decision was given. The decision in M.P. Sharma and Kharak Singh was overruled up to a certain extent and the right to privacy is a
  • Fundamental right in Part-III of the Constitution of India but is not an absolute right, restriction can be imposed which must be just, fair, and reasonableness.


The Supreme Court initially got jurisdiction over the matter by way of its appellate jurisdiction, through a number of cases. Thereafter, upon reference by a division bench and a constitution bench, the Chief Justice constituted the present nine-judge bench to consider the matter.

Question of Law

The case revolves around the question of constitutional validity of the Aadhaar scheme launched by the UPA government.

Decided Cases


  • Whether Privacy is a constitutionally protected fundamental right or not?
  • Whether the decision recorded, in M.P. Sharma and Ors. Vs. Satish Chandra, District Magistrate, Delhi, and Ors. – 1950 SCR 1077 and in Kharak Singh vs. The State of U.P. and Ors. – 1962 (1) SCR 332, as the Right to Privacy is not a fundamental right is a correct position or not?

Nature of Issues

The major issue is the question of whether the right to privacy is guaranteed under article 21 of the Indian constitution thus making it a fundamental right.

Opinion of the Court

Majority opinion:

While considering the challenge of the right to privacy faced in Aadhaar card scheme by Union Govt., the issue of privacy was first raised in the case of M.P. Sharma vs. Satish Chandra where reliance was placed on the provision of the Fourth Amendment to US constitution and due to the absence of that provision in India right to privacy cannot be read with Article 20(3) of the Indian constitution. So the judgement did not clarify or focus on whether the right to privacy can be arise from other provisions of our constitution or not.

In Kharak Singh vs. State of U.P. and Ors. the bench of learned judges played an important role in placing the right to privacy but fails. The decision was divided into two parts, in the first part, the judges held that domiciliary visits at night violation of ordered liberty and right to privacy is an intrinsic part of it. But in the second part, the learned bench holds that the right to privacy is not guaranteed under the Constitution of India. But later the judgment was overruled due to its internal conflicts of reasoning.

Many of the judgment resided on the reasoning of M.P. Sharma and Kharak Singh and the latter has its reliance on Gopalan doctrine which construed the relationship b/w Article 19 and 21 to be of the mutual exclusion, but that was also not on a correct position and was not reflective in the view of decisions in Cooper and Maneka. These decisions carried the principle of overlapping of fundamental rights to the logical extent. The tri-cycle of M.P. SharmaKharak Singh – Gopalan gave a jurisprudential foundation for a settled position of the right to privacy but was get away in Cooper and Maneka case. But then also the latter cases does not give the position which fits for the right to privacy to be a settled principle.

In Ram Jethmalani vs.Union of India, it was observed that “Right to privacy is an integral part of the right to life. This is a cherished constitutional value, and it is important that human beings be allowed domains of freedom that are free of public scrutiny unless they act in an unlawful manner” but due to the lesser no of judges in the bench than M.P. Sharma and Kharak Singh, the decision could not prevail. In the case of “NALSA”, the court interpreted the ambit of Article 21, observed that “Right to life is one of the basic fundamental rights and not even the State has the authority to violate or take away that right. Article 21 takes all those aspects of life which go to make a person’s life meaningful. Article 21 protects the dignity of human life, one’s personal autonomy, one’s right to privacy, etc.” but it also could not prevail due to smaller bench issue.

In reaching towards a conclusion, the present nine judges bench rely on various international laws, the origin of privacy, different case laws, interpretation of various constituent assembly documents presented in parliament etc. and after relying on the essential nature of privacy observed privacy as not an absolute right protected under fundamental rights in part-III of the constitution, but the invasion only permitted if it is fair, just, and reasonable. And this principle they defined as a positive and negative content of privacy

New Rulings and Principles

The majority opinion held that the right to privacy is a fundamental right. This principle became a landmark ruling as it opened a whole new interpretation to other statutes and laws.

Present Status of the Majority Ruling

The judgment, in its short life, has been referred in a number of cases. And also led the government to make a law with regard to data protection as it had become the duty of the state to protects citizens right to privacy, this may also allow a broader view on the ban on alcohol and beef which is imposed in many states and countries and overrule those ban.

Learning Outcomes

In this case, Supreme Court takes on the question of whether the right to privacy is a fundamental right or not. The court after analyzing many previous cases, statutes and keeping in mind the need of privacy in the current times came up with the decision that right to privacy is to be considered as a fundamental right

Privacy according to Edward Shills is “zero relationships between two or more persons in the sense that there is no interaction or communication between them, if they so choose” I believe this ideology can be connected with the principle which tells us that no man should be made a witness in his own case and I also believe that its foundation can be seen from the right to remain silent.

In these changing times the need for privacy has increased and has become a very important aspect in any individuals life, if there is no data protection law then anybody can listen to private conversations, steal your bank credentials and even your identity can be stolen in the case of R.M.Malkani v State of Rajasthan the supreme court observed that phone tapping is a breach of the right to privacy and freedom of expression of individuals.

The danger of privacy comes not only from the state but also a non-state actor and this turns out to be a major concern for the people, with regard to this a law has been brought which is known as the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019. But with the state being a danger itself, therefore, it must put a law that has a careful and sensitive balance between individual interests and legitimate concerns of the state. The legitimate aims of the state would include national security, investigating and preventing crime and acts done for the public good

The law, if violates the right to privacy, must be justified on the basis of a procedure that is fair, just, and reasonable. The law must also be valid with reference to the encroachment on life and personal liberty under Article 21. An invasion of life or personal liberty must meet the three-fold requirement of:

  • legality, which postulates the existence of law;
  • need, defined in terms of a legitimate state aim; and
  • proportionality, which ensures a rational nexus between the objects and the means adopted to achieve them.

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