River-engineering and the courts



The concept of judicial infallibility is valid, but a legal pronouncement need not always be the last word on a given subject.

The article in The Hindu by Ramaswamy R. Iyer, “With all due respect, My Lords,” on March 2, a critical study of the ruling of the Supreme Court giving certain directions under the authority of Article 141, relating to inter-linking of rivers was noteworthy. And his request to reconsider the decision deserves serious consideration.

What the Supreme Court decides is final not because it is infallible; it is infallible because it is constitutionally final and structurally supreme. If ignorance is made final, governance becomes chaos. That is why the Montesquieuan theory of the trinity of instrumentalities is accepted by many Constitutions across the world, including the Indian Constitution. What is in the realm of the Executive is decided by the Executive. What is legislative, in the shape of law, is decided by the Legislature. When there is a dispute over a fact or law, the decision of the court is final, and all the other branches of the structure are bound by the judicial decision.

From this perspective, river disputes fall within the jurisdiction of the judiciary. But, for instance, how high an aircraft should fly without the possibility of danger, or how a safe dam should be constructed to store water, are matters highly technical, and hence these do not belong to jurisprudence or judges. I was once a Minister for Irrigation and Electricity (in Kerala) and started projects on the advice of engineers. The court never interfered, nor could they. There may be some areas where submergence by a river may cause risks — and on the basis of clear technical advice a court may pronounce an order. The jurisdictional borders of the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary are fairly clear, and one of them cannot interfere with the other. Viewed from this angle, I agree with Mr. Ramaswamy Iyer’s critical observations.

Judges, merely because they wear robes, cannot decide on the course of rivers, whether they should be linked or not, and if at all, how they should be linked — just as they cannot decide on matters to do with the safety of flights or other such technical issues. Judges are not infallible; and they cannot issue executive directions or promulgate legal mandates or punitive impositions in such contexts.

‘Hasten slowly’

The central flaw of the Supreme Court’s verdict on the inter-linking issue is the failure to realise that a pan-Indian river project may have dangerous limitations. The Ganga and the Cauvery are two great rivers, but they cannot be linked up without first making a careful and exhaustive study of the various features of the terrain through which they flow over a vast territory of India. Otherwise, it may well end up as a horrendous blunder, irreparable after the decision is operationalised. A national debate involving also the great engineers, especially river engineers, that we have is essential before undertaking the implementation of a national project such as this.

The Supreme Court is indeed infallible, but while in its jural specialties it may well be top of the league, it is largely innocent in matters to do with mighty river-engineering. Therefore, great caution with all the wisdom at our command, must first be used to study the implications and the perils of this Himalayan-scale project before implementing a juristic wonder beyond what the Supreme Court has so lightly directed. Where the implications are too great to grasp and the consequences may be beyond repair, “hasten slowly” will be a good piece advice. Never assume that the robed wisdom that is good for jurisprudence will not land us in dangerous waters.

Therefore, never be in a hurry. Study every dimension of this huge project. When the project was announced a decade ago in 2002, one section of public opinion supported it, and another opposed its implementation. It is without taking any note of the conflicting public opinion that the present binding directions have been issued by the court.

(V.R. Krishna Iyer was a Judge of the Supreme Court of India.)

High on rhetoric, low on substance



Rather than using the Supreme Court’s judgment to improve governance and reduce discretionary powers, the government is making a desperate attempt to restore false prestige by seeking a review of 2G verdict. The United Progressive Alliance government’s petition seeking a review of the Supreme Court judgment cancelling 122 telecom licences makes another desperate bid to protect its discretionary powers in the allocation of scarce natural resources by arguing that auctions cannot be the only method for its allocation.

However, the government’s petition, apart from stubbornly repeating old arguments that have been shot down by the courts several times over, goes on to expose a flawed interpretation of the Supreme Court’s judicial reasoning.While the judgment addresses itself specifically to the massive commercial value attached to “scarce” natural resources, the review petition conveniently refuses to acknowledge either scarcity or commercial value while arguing that restricting the allocation of “natural resources” to auction methodology will lead to arbitrary consequences and hurt public interest. Unsurprisingly, the government is unable to explain how.

Despite the government’s opposition to auctions, its petition fails to explain why auctions were chosen for spectrum in 1995, 2001 and 2010 and, further, recommended by the TRAI in February 2011. Or how a first come, first served (FCFS) system can work in a situation where demand (in terms of equally placed candidates for the scarce resource) far exceeds supply, or even why the government feels obliged to refuse legitimate revenue from applicants who are willing to pay for spectrum based on their business case. In the 2G scam, scarce spectrum allocated cheap through a FCFS method was monetised through “private” auctions, ensuring gains for individual promoters rather than the people of India.

The petition steers clear of the fact that auctions can be designed for a specific outcome by imposing conditions such as price caps for voice calls and SMSs, or a lower rural tariff. For example, when auctioning toll roads to the highest bidder, the government ensures that pedestrians, cyclists and two-wheelers are allowed free passage. While finding fault with auctions, the government is at a loss to demonstrate what the fault is.

For the government to assume that the judgment bans any alternative methodology to auctions is naive. If the government attempts an auction at a certain reserve price, fails, re-auctions at a lower reserve price and fails again, it must use another methodology. However, the Sachidanand Pandey vs the State of West Bengal case cited by the government itself demands that these circumstances be compelling and documented. Ironically, the petition not just fails to document compelling reasons but ignores the fact that the judgment only relates to those natural resources which are scarce and deliver monetisable commercial value in private hands.

It is equally inexplicable why the government is openly uncaring of the fact that except for auctions, practically all other methodologies — and FCFS or beauty parades in particular — violate Article 14 of the Constitution. In addition, auctions support the policy provisions of the National Telecom Policy 1999 seeking transparent allocation of spectrum; the 10th Five Year Plan linking spectrum pricing to scarcity; the Prime Minister’s letter of November 2, 2007 seeking 2G auctions/market-based pricing; Finance Secretary D. Subbarao’s attempts to secure auctions/indexation-based pricing for 2G spectrum, and the Group of Ministers (GoM) decision to auction 3G spectrum in 2010.

Laughable attempt

Despite this, in a laughable attempt to argue against auctions for “scarce” natural resources, the petition quotes cases of award of contracts without auctions for resin tapping in Kashmir, saal (oil) seeds in Madhya Pradesh and “distilleries” (liquor), which hardly qualify as scarce natural resources.

The government is opposed to judicial scrutiny of “government policy.” Can it hope to establish a Minister’s illegal decision implemented without the Cabinet, the GoM or the full Telecom Commission’s approval after bypassing opposition from the Prime Minister, the Finance Secretary and the Law Minister as government policy?

The government’s own claim in its affidavits in the Supreme Court, multiple press releases, interviews and statements is that the former Telecom Minister, A. Raja’s decision was based on telecom regulator TRAI’s recommendations. Any decision of the government based on TRAI’s recommendations is open to full judicial scrutiny under Section 14 of the TRAI Act. So on what grounds can the government claim insulation from judicial scrutiny?

The Supreme Court judgment rightfully categorises auctions as a “methodology.” Decisions of the Cabinet to liberalise a sector, allow or increase foreign direct investment and invite private capital are matters of policy, but its implementation in terms of timing, procedure and terms and conditions are executive decisions. In the telecom sector, the latter falls strictly in the purview of the TRAI Act. The government’s decision-making in this respect is curtailed by law under Section 11(1)(a)(i) & (ii), read with the second, fourth and fifth provisos of the TRAI Act. In effect, all procedures like FCFS, beauty parades or auctions qualify for judicial review.

Even if one were to accept the government’s fragile claim that FCFS is a policy and not an executive decision, the petition still fails to demonstrate a single public announcement of this so-called policy since the formation of the Unified Access licence regime on October 31, 2003. It is missing in TRAI’s October 27, 2003 recommendations, the Cabinet decision of October 31, 2003, the licence guidelines and amendment of the National Telecom Policy 1999 on November 11, 2003 and even revised licence guidelines announced by the UPA government on December 14, 2005. The government is welcome to demonstrate otherwise. Had the FCFS “policy” not been kept a state secret, applicants would have queued up earlier than they did. The truth is that the FCFS process was deviously announced for the very first time by Mr. Raja at 1.47 p.m., less than two hours before executing the 2G scam on January 10, 2008.

Finally, even though rarely used, the powers of the Supreme Court in entering and adjudicating on the government’s implementation of policy are indisputable, especially when the implementation is secretive, arbitrary, illegal, malicious, discriminatory and violates multiple provisions of law (in this case the TRAI Act) and Article 14, 19(1)(g) and 21 of the Constitution guaranteeing equal opportunity through transparent procedures for all citizens to access a resource/contract allocated by the government.

The government’s tiring correlation of FCFS with public interest in terms of affordability, growth, and teledensity is also unsubstantiated in its petition. How auctions hurt urban or rural teledensity or affordability is not explained. Was the UPA intending to hurt public interest by holding auctions for 3G in 2010? Can it explain how Vodafone continuously cut back tariffs after paying $12 billion to buy out Hutch’s stake in Hutch Essar in 2007? Why does higher revenue for the exchequer, which translates into roads, schools, hospitals and welfare schemes for the poorest of the poor, not count as public interest?


One would expect the government to be peeved about the reality of Mr. Raja’s FCFS performance, which led to windfall gains for new operators who pocketed 30 per cent of scarce spectrum to serve less than 5 per cent of India’s subscriber base. The failure of these firms to roll out telecom networks has forced the government to initiate steps to terminate their licences. Despite this, the government continues to argue that bringing in these companies served public interest, teledensity and affordability.

How does the government hope to justify its obsessive compulsion in ensuring a level-playing field with incumbent operators for seven illegally picked new entrants while totally ignoring the fact that 343 similarly placed applications were denied a fair chance of accessing 2G spectrum? Ludicrously, the government is arguing its right to discriminate in the application of the level-playing field itself.

Unfortunately, the review petition has no substantial counter to offer the Supreme Court on these critical issues despite access to the finest legal brains in the country and within the Cabinet. The Attorney General and other legal luminaries have already argued all these issues and still failed to impress the court.

One would have hoped the government would be mindful, even grateful, for the Supreme Court’s restraint in avoiding any adverse observations in its judgment on issues of collective Cabinet responsibility, the Prime Minister’s failure to check a Minister, or the Finance Ministry’s inability to invoke its powers under the Government of India (Transaction of Business) Rules to stop a Minister from grievously hurting the exchequer and, by consequence, the common man. Instead of implementing the judgment and restoring its lost dignity, the government is provoking the court, increasing uncertainty and wasting time with its attempt at a review. Perhaps, like the election verdict, it is time for the UPA to accept defeat in the 2G matter, gracefully or otherwise.

With all due respect, My Lords


Supreme Court of India


It is not for the Supreme Court to decide how the government should ensure the right to water; in any case, the connection between this right and the river linking project is tenuous.

In recent times the Supreme Court of India, with a series of remarkable decisions, has earned our admiration, respect and gratitude. Alas, it has now come out with an extraordinary order on the Inter-Linking of Rivers (ILR) Project, which has caused consternation and dismay to many of us.

In 2002, in a post-retirement explanation, a defensive Justice Kirpal had said that his order on the river-linking project was not a direction but merely a recommendation. That defensiveness has now been abandoned. In the present order, the Supreme Court explicitly directs the Executive Government to implement the project and to set up a Special Committee to carry out that implementation; it lays down that the committee’s decisions shall take precedence over all administrative bodies created under the orders of this court or otherwise; it (graciously) authorises the Cabinet to take all final and appropriate decisions, and lays down a time-limit of 30 days for such decision-making (though it has the saving grace to say “preferably”); and it grants “liberty to the learned Amicus Curiae to file contempt petition in this court, in the event of default or non-compliance of the directions contained in this order”.

The normal course

In the normal course, a project goes through certain stages and procedures: formulation; examination from various angles by the appropriate agencies, Committees, and Ministries; statutory clearances under the Environment Protection Act and the Forest Conservation Act; compliance with the procedures prescribed in the National Rehabilitation Policy; acceptance of the project by the Planning Commission from the national planning point of view; and finally a decision by the Cabinet. The Supreme Court rides roughshod over all this and orders not quick consideration and decision-making by the government, but implementation.

Are the proposed Special Committee and the Cabinet free to examine the project and come to the conclusion that it is unacceptable and must be rejected? No, they are under the Supreme Court’s order to implement the project and may face contempt proceedings if they fail to do so. The project decision has been taken away from the hands of the government; it has been exercised by the Supreme Court; the government and the Planning Commission have been reduced to the position of subordinate offices or implementing agencies of the Supreme Court.

It could be argued that the above is a misrepresentation of what the Supreme Court has done, and that the learned judges are only concerned at the delay in the implementation of an approved project and asking for early implementation. In fact, there is no approved, sanctioned project called “the inter-linking of rivers project”. In 2003, when there was a raging controversy about this idea, an important defence by its supporters was that it was not a project but a grand concept; that it will consist of 30 links, each of which will be a project that will go through all the usual examinations and procedures; and that the critics are needlessly raising the bogey of gigantism. If it is a concept, how can it be ‘implemented’? It has first to be translated into projects, and each of those projects has to be properly approved or rejected, as the case may be. Thereafter we can talk about implementation.

How many of those 30 projects have been actually approved? None. Three — Ken-Betwa, Damanganga-Pinjal, Par-Tapi-Narmada — have reached the stage of preparation of Detailed Project Reports, and one (Polavaram), though included in the ILR Project, was separately taken up by the Andhra Pradesh government on somewhat different lines, but is mired in controversy. There is not a single case of a project actually sanctioned and ready for implementation.

The learned judges may say that this is precisely what worries them; that by now the projects should have been well under way; that a good project or concept or whatever it was, announced in 2002, is languishing; and that the judiciary has to step into the vacant space created by non-action by the Executive and issue the necessary direction. This is the gap-filling theory. However, there is a fallacy here. The “delay” is not the result of executive failure or inefficiency, but a deliberate (though unstated) slowing down of action on the project. The NDA had announced the project in 2002 with fanfare and trumpets. The UPA government which followed in 2004 was not very enthusiastic about the project but at the same time did not want to abandon it; its Common Minimum Programme stated that the project would be comprehensively re-assessed in a fully consultative manner. This was a clear indication of reservations about the project. Thereafter the project has been in the doldrums. Unfortunately, the government’s attitude towards the project was never made unambiguously clear to either the general public or the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court was clearly entitled to ask the government to state categorically where it stood in this matter: whether it considered the project to be a good (or the only) answer to the country’s needs; if so, whether it intended to proceed with it; or alternatively, whether it had decided to drop the whole idea, and if so, on what grounds. What the Supreme Court was not entitled to do was to issue a direction to the government to implement the project.

Why has it done so? It would be wrong to attribute this to a desire for aggrandisement. The Supreme Court is convinced that the project is good and urgently needed; and that a very important national initiative is getting bogged down because of various reasons and needs to be galvanised. It has come to that conclusion because of a report by the National Council for Applied Economic Research.

Two problems

There are two problems here. First, assuming that there is a serious water scarcity problem, it is not the business of the Supreme Court to deal with it; there is an Executive Government to deal with such matters. True, the citizen’s right to water is a fundamental right, and therefore the Supreme Court is concerned with it; but while it may direct the government to ensure that the right is not denied, it is not for it to lay down the manner in which or the source from which that right should be ensured. Moreover, the connection between the right to water and the ILR Project is very tenuous; it is the large demand for irrigation water that generally drives major projects and long-distance water transfers. It is true, again, that there are intractable inter-State river-water disputes, and these are of concern to the Supreme Court; but the Supreme Court can at best direct the Executive Government to find early answers to river water disputes, and not recommend a particular answer such as the ILR project, which may in fact generate new conflicts.

Secondly, and finally, we come to the heart of the matter, namely the view that the country faces a looming water crisis; that the answer lies in augmenting supplies; that given the magnitude and distribution of India’s future water requirements, the ILR project is the best possible answer; and that it is in the national interest to implement it quickly. It is that conviction that provides, in the Supreme Court’s view, the justification for its intervention. If that view of India’s water crisis and its solution is challenged, the whole basis for the Supreme Court’s order collapses.

This article will not enter into a discussion of this vital question, but will merely point out that there is a diversity of views on it, which the Supreme Court has failed to consider. The NCAER may have taken one view of the matter, but there are other views. The cogent case against the project has been succinctly stated in the editorial in this paper on 1 March 2012. That knocks the bottom out of the Supreme Court’s order.

In 2002, when the NDA government announced the ILR Project, a fierce controversy broke out. There were many who hailed the initiative, but there were many others who deplored it as not only uncalled for but as positively disastrous. Many State governments expressed strong reservations on the project. Articles appeared in newspapers and journals. Books were published on the subject. How much of this vast literature have the learned judges read? How could they rely on the NCAER’s report without reading other scholarly work? Even if the learned judges did not have time to read all the available material, should they not at least have heard a dozen scholars representing different disciplines and a few social activists before they decided to issue directions to the government?

This article will conclude with an earnest and respectful request to the Supreme Court to withdraw or at least put on hold its order, conduct further hearings, listen to a wider range of opinions, and reflect on the matter before it comes to firm conclusions.

(Ramaswamy R. Iyer is a former Secretary, Water Resources, Government of India.)

Why such mismatch between public statements and responsibility?



Elections energize a common man to push a small button on a voting machine with a prayer that his vote goes to a responsible person who as the people’s representative in the assembly or Parliament will safeguard his interests and better his conditions. Since poll speeches are not on signed stamp paper, politicians often attempt to promise the moon to the electorate. In the process, many stray outside the Model Code of Conduct zealously enforced by the Election Commission to keep the polls an even contest between ruling party candidates and other hopefuls.

Prior to appointment of T N Seshan as chief election commissioner on December 12, 1990, the model code of conduct was violated by candidates with impunity. Seshan cracked the constitutional whip and succeeded in cajoling strict adherence to the model code of conduct by political parties and candidates.

Elections are meant to send responsible persons as people’s representatives. But often, elections stir the political and social atmosphere to the extent of making even the most sober among the politicians give statements in clear breach of the model code of conduct.

First, it was law minister Salman Khurshid who made a poll promise of carving out quota for Muslims in jobs. Within a week of him being chastised by the EC, fellow Congressman Beni Prasad Verma repeated the mistake and dared EC to take action. Why did Khurshid, who knows law better than most, commit such a folly? And despite his clear indictment, why would his colleague follow suit?

If these two incidents were not enough, another minister Sriprakash Jaiswal goofed up by declaring that if a Congress government was formed in Uttar Pradesh after the elections, there would be President’s rule.

Threat to impose central rule in a state in the midst of a multi-phase election process is a serious breach of model code of conduct capable of influencing people to cast votes in a particular way.

Whatever be the motive behind these statements, a particular dumbness appears to infect politicians during elections when they refuse to learn from mistakes. They forget that democracy flourishes only in a democratic atmosphere and under democratic conditions.

The same cannot be true of Press Council of India chairperson Justice Markandey Katju, a retired judge of the Supreme Court. It was least expected of Justice Katju, who has tremendous knowledge of law and apex court judgments, to threaten a state government with dismissal.

Looking into certain incidents of violence against journalists in Maharashtra and the state government persistently ignoring PCI’s notices, Justice Katju recently issued a showcause notice accompanied with a threat that if this time the state failed to respond, he would recommend to President to “dismiss the state government” under Article 356(1) of the Constitution.

The Congress-NCP government must be laughing as Justice Katju’s threat is more hilarious than legal. Those who have read the apex court’s landmark judgments on Article 356 in S R Bommai case, Kihoto Holohon case, State of Rajasthan case and the latest one in Rameshwar Prasad case would be scratching their heads in bewilderment. For, the Constitution vests the governor of the state concerned and none else with the power to recommend dismissal of a state government.

The streak of irresponsibility found in persons holding high offices had made the Supreme Court to say, “It is incumbent on each occupant of every high office to be constantly aware of the power in the high office he holds that is meant to be exercised in public interest and only for public good, and that it is not meant to be used for any personal benefit or merely to elevate the personal status of the current holder of that office.” [Rameshwar Prasad vs Union of India, 2006 (2) SCC 1].

For similar reasons, Seshan, despite transforming the Election Commission from a constitutional “lamb” to a “roaring tiger” ready to bite rogue politicians, too faced the apex court’s flak when he imagined himself to be the sole dictatorial protector of elections, which is the heart of democracy.

In T N Seshan vs Uuion of India [1995 (4) SCC 611], the SC had said, “His (Seshan’s) public utterances at times were so abrasive that this court had to caution him to exercise restraint on more occasions than one… This gave the impression that he was keen to project his own image. That he has very often been in newspapers and magazines and on television cannot be denied… The CEC has been seen in a commercial on television and in newspaper advertisement… The CEC is, it would appear, totally oblivious to sense of decorum and discretion that his high office requires even if the cause was laudable.”

We sincerely hope politicians and holders of high offices will take a look at the 1995 judgment and bring sobriety into their public utterances.

Reasonable restriction to Right of free speech and expression

The Indian Constitution preamble

Image via Wikipedia

Re-Ramlila Maidan Incident Dt … vs Home Secretary And Ors. on 23 February, 2012 – SUO MOTU WRIT PETITION (CRL.) NO. 122 OF 2011

1. At the very outset, I would prefer to examine the principles of law that can render assistance in weighing the merit or otherwise of the contentious disputations asserted before the Court by the parties in the present suo moto petition. Besides restating the law governing Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(b) of the Constitution of India and the parallel restrictions contemplated under Articles 19(2) and 19(3) respectively, I would also gauge the dimensions of legal provisions in relation to the exercise of jurisdiction by the empowered officer in passing an order under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (for short `Cr.P.C.’).

2. It appears justified here to mention the First Amendment to the United States (US) Constitution, a bellwether in the pursuit of expanding the horizon of civil liberties. This Amendment provides for the freedom of speech of press in the American Bill of Rights. This Amendment added new dimensions to this right to freedom and purportedly, without any limitations. The expressions used in wording the Amendment have a wide magnitude and are capable of liberal construction. It reads as under :

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

3. The effect of use of these expressions, in particular, was that the freedom of speech of press was considered absolute and free from any restrictions whatsoever. Shortly thereafter, as a result of widening of the power of judicial review, the US Supreme Court preferred to test each case on the touchstone of the rule of `clear- and-present-danger’. However, application of this rule was unable to withstand the pace of development of law and, therefore, through its judicial pronouncements, the US Supreme Court applied the doctrine of `balancing of interests’. The cases relating to speech did not simply involve the rights of the offending speaker but typically they presented a clash of several rights or a conflict between individual rights and necessary functions of the Government. Justice Frankfurter often applied the above-mentioned Balancing Formula and concluded that “while the court has emphasized the importance of `free speech’, it has recognized that free speech is not in itself a touchstone. The Constitution is not unmindful of other important interests, such as public order, if free expression of ideas is not found to be the overbalancing considerations.

4. The `balancing of interests’ approach is basically derived from Roscoe Pound‘s theories of social engineering. Pound had insisted that his structure of public, social and individual interests are all, in fact, individual interests looked at from different points of view for the purpose of clarity. Therefore, in order to make the system work properly, it is essential that when interests are balanced, all claims must be translated into the same level and carefully labelled. Thus, a social interest may not be balanced against individual interest, but only against another social interest. The author points out that throughout the heyday of the clear-and-present-danger and preferred position doctrines, the language of balancing, weighing or accommodating interests was employed as an integral part of the libertarian position. [Freedom of Speech: The Supreme Court and Judicial Review, by Martin Shapiro, 1966]

5. Even in the United States there is a recurring debate in modern First Amendment Jurisprudence as to whether First Amendment rights are `absolute’ in the sense that the Government may not abridge them at all or whether the First Amendment requires the `balancing of competing interests’ in the sense that free speech values and the Government’s competing justification must be isolated and weighted in each case. Although the First Amendment to the American Constitution provides that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, press or assembly, it has long been established that those freedoms themselves are dependent upon the power of the constitutional Government to survive. If it is to survive, it must have power to protect itself against unlawful conduct and under some circumstances against incitements to commit unlawful acts. Freedom of speech, thus, does not comprehend the right to speak on any subject at any time. In the case of Schenck v. United States [63 L ed 1173], the Court held :

The character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which it is done. The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from an injunction against uttering words that have all the effect of force….the question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.

[Constitution of India, (2nd Edn.), Volume 1 by Dr. L.M. Singhvi]

6. In contradistinction to the above approach of the US Supreme Court, the Indian Constitution spells out the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a). It also provides the right to assemble peacefully and without arms to every citizen of the country under Article 19(1)(b). However, these rights are not free from any restrictions and are not absolute in their terms and application. Articles 19(2) and 19(3), respectively, control the freedoms available to a citizen. Article 19(2) empowers the State to impose reasonable restrictions on exercise of the right to freedom of speech and expression in the interest of the factors stated in the said clause. Similarly, Article 19(3) enables the State to make any law imposing reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred, again in the interest of the factors stated therein.

7. In face of this constitutional mandate, the American doctrine adumbrated in Schenck’s case (supra) cannot be imported and applied. Under our Constitution, this right is not an absolute right but is subject to the above-noticed restrictions. Thus, the position under our Constitution is different.

 8. In `Constitutional Law of India’ by H.M. Seervai (Fourth Edn.), Vol.1, the author has noticed that the provisions of the two Constitutions as to freedom of speech and expression are essentially different. The difference being accentuated by the provisions of the Indian Constitution for preventive detention which have no counterpart in the US Constitution. Reasonable restriction contemplated under the Indian Constitution brings the matter in the domain of the court as the question of reasonableness is a question primarily for the Court to decide. {Babulal Parate v. State of Maharashtra [(1961) 3 SCR 423]}.

9. The fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution itself being made subject to reasonable restrictions, the laws so enacted to specify certain restrictions on the right to freedom of speech and expression have to be construed meaningfully and with the constitutional object in mind. For instance, the right to freedom of speech and expression is not violated by a law which requires that name of the printer and publisher and the place of printing and publication should be printed legibly on every book or paper.

10. Thus, there is a marked distinction in the language of law, its possible interpretation and application under the Indian and the US laws. It is significant to note that the freedom of speech is the bulwark of democratic Government. This freedom is essential for proper functioning of the democratic process. The freedom of speech and expression is regarded as the first condition of liberty. It occupies a preferred position in the hierarchy of liberties, giving succour and protection to all other liberties. It has been truly said that it is the mother of all other liberties. Freedom of speech plays a crucial role in the formation of public opinion on social, political and economic matters. It has been described as a ;basic human right ;a natural right; and the like. With the development of law in India, the right to freedom of speech and expression has taken within its ambit the right to receive information as well as the right of press.

11. In order to effectively consider the rival contentions raised and in the backdrop of the factual matrix, it will be of some concern for this Court to examine the constitutional scheme and the historical background of the relevant Articles relating to the right to freedom of speech and expression in India. The framers of our Constitution, in unambiguous terms, granted the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to assemble peaceably and without arms. This gave to the citizens of this country a very valuable right, which is the essence of any democratic system. There could be no expression without these rights. Liberty of thought enables liberty of expression. Belief occupies a place higher than thought and expression. Belief of people rests on liberty of thought and expression. Placed as the three angles of a triangle, thought and expression would occupy the two corner angles on the baseline while belief would have to be placed at the upper angle. Attainment of the preambled liberties is eternally connected to the liberty of expression. (Ref. Preamble, The Spirit and Backbone of the Constitution of India, by Justice R.C. Lahoti). These valuable fundamental rights are subject to restrictions contemplated under Articles 19(2) and 19(3), respectively. Article 19(1) was subjected to just one amendment, by the Constitution (44th Amendment) Act, 1979, vide which Article 19(1)(f) was repealed. Since the Parliament felt the need of amending Article 19(2) of the Constitution, it was substituted by the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951 with retrospective effect. Article 19(2) was subjected to another amendment and vide the Constitution (Sixteenth Amendment) Act, 1963, the expression "sovereignty and integrity of India was added. The pre-amendment Article had empowered the State to make laws imposing reasonable restrictions in exercise of the rights conferred under Article 19(1)(a) in the interest of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement of an offence. To introduce a more definite dimension with regard to the sovereignty and integrity of India, this Amendment was made. It provided the right spectrum in relation to which the State could enact a law to place reasonable restrictions upon the freedom of speech and expression.

12. This shows that the State has a duty to protect itself against certain unlawful actions and, therefore, may enact laws which would ensure such protection. The right that springs from Article 19(1)(a) is not absolute and unchecked. There cannot be any liberty absolute in nature and uncontrolled in operation so as to confer a right wholly free from any restraint. Had there been no restraint, the rights and freedoms may become synonymous with anarchy and disorder. {Ref.: State of West Bengal Vs. Subodh Gopal Bose [AIR 1954 SC 92]}.

13. I consider it appropriate to examine the term `liberty’, which is subject to reasonable restrictions, with reference to the other constitutional rights. Article 21 is the foundation of the constitutional scheme. It grants to every person the right to life and personal liberty. This Article prescribes a negative mandate that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law. The procedure established by law for deprivation of rights conferred by this Article must be fair, just and reasonable. The rules of justice and fair play require that State action should neither be unjust nor unfair, lest it attracts the vice of unreasonableness, thereby vitiating the law which prescribed that procedure and, consequently, the action taken thereunder.

14. Any action taken by a public authority which is entrusted with the statutory power has, therefore, to be tested by the application of two standards – first, the action must be within the scope of the authority conferred by law and, second, it must be reasonable. If any action, within the scope of the authority conferred by law is found to be unreasonable, it means that the procedure established under which that action is taken is itself unreasonable. The concept of `procedure established by law’ changed its character after the judgment of this Court in the case of Maneka Gandhi v. UOI [AIR 1978 SC 597], where this Court took the view as under : "The principle of reasonableness, which legally as well as philosophically is an essential element of equality or non arbitrariness pervades Article 14 like a brooding omnipresence and the procedure contemplated by Article 21 must answer the test of reasonableness in order to be right and just and fair and not arbitrary fanciful or oppressive otherwise it would be no procedure at all and the requirement of Article 21 would not be satisfied.This was also noted in the case of Madhav Hayawadanrao Hoskot v. State of Maharashtra (1978) 3 SCC 544 where this Court took the following view:

Procedure established by law are words of deep meaning for all lovers of liberty and judicial sentinels.

15. What emerges from the above principles, which has also been followed in a catena of judgments of this Court, is that the law itself has to be reasonable and furthermore, the action under that law has to be in accordance with the law so established. Non-observance of either of this can vitiate the action, but if the former is invalid, the latter cannot withstand.

16. Article 13 is a protective provision and an index of the importance and preference that the framers of the Constitution gave to Part III. In terms of Article 13(1), the laws in force before the commencement of the Constitution, in so far as they were inconsistent with the provisions of that Part were, to the extent of such inconsistency, void. It also fettered the right of the State in making laws. The State is not to make any law which takes away or abridges the rights conferred by this Part and if such law is made then to the extent of conflict, it would be void. In other words, except for the limitations stated in the Articles contained in Part III itself and Article 13(4) of the Constitution, this Article is the 13 reservoir of the fundamental protections available to any person/citizen.

17. While these are the guaranteed fundamental rights, Article 38, under the Directive Principles of State Policy contained in Part IV of the Constitution, places a constitutional obligation upon the State to strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting, as effectively as it may, a social order in which justice – social, economic and political – shall inform all the institutions of the national life. Article 37 makes the Directive Principles of State Policy fundamental in governance of the country and provides that it shall be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws.

18. With the development of law, even certain matters covered under this Part relating to Directive Principles have been uplifted to the status of fundamental rights, for instance, the right to education. Though this right forms part of the Directive Principles of State Policy, compulsory and primary education has been treated as a part of Article 21 of the Constitution of India by the courts, which consequently led to the enactment of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2010.

 19. Article 51A deals with the fundamental duties of the citizens. It, inter alia, postulates that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to abide by the Constitution, to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood, to safeguard public property and to abjure violence.

20. Thus, a common thread runs through Parts III, IV and IVA of the Constitution of India. One Part enumerates the fundamental rights, the second declares the fundamental principles of governance and the third lays down the fundamental duties of the citizens. While interpreting any of these provisions, it shall always be advisable to examine the scope and impact of such interpretation on all the three constitutional aspects emerging from these parts. It is necessary to be clear about the meaning of the word "fundamental as used in the expression ;fundamental in the governance of the State to describe the directive principles which have not legally been made enforceable. Thus, the word "fundamental has been used in two different senses under our Constitution. The essential character of the fundamental rights is secured by limiting the legislative power and by providing that any transgression of the limitation would render the offending law pretendo void. The word fundamental in Article 37 also means basic or essential, but it is used in the normative sense of setting, before the State, goals which it should try to achieve. As already noticed, the significance of the fundamental principles stated in the directive principles has attained greater significance through judicial pronouncements.

21. As difficult as it is to anticipate the right to any freedom or liberty without any reasonable restriction, equally difficult it is to imagine the existence of a right not coupled with a duty. The duty may be a direct or indirect consequence of a fair assertion of the right. Part III of the Constitution of India although confers rights, still duties and restrictions are inherent thereunder. These rights are basic in nature and are recognized and guaranteed as natural rights, inherent in the status of a citizen of a free country, but are not absolute in nature and uncontrolled in operation. Each one of these rights is to be controlled, curtailed and regulated, to a certain extent, by laws made by the Parliament or the State Legislature. In spite of there being a general presumption in favour of the constitutionality of a legislation under challenge alleging violation of the right to freedom guaranteed by clause (1) of Article 19 of the Constitution, on a prima facie case of such violation being made out, the onus shifts upon the State to show that the legislation comes within the permissible restrictions set out in clauses (2) to (6) of Article 19 and that the particular restriction is reasonable. It is for the State to place on record appropriate material justifying the restriction and its reasonability. Reasonability of restriction is a matter which squarely falls within the power of judicial review of the Courts. Such limitations, therefore, indicate two purposes; one that the freedom is not absolute and is subject to regulatory measures and the second that there is also a limitation on the power of the legislature to restrict these freedoms. The legislature has to exercise these powers within the ambit of Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

22. Further, there is a direct and not merely implied responsibility upon the Government to function openly and in public interest. The Right to Information itself emerges from the right to freedom of speech and expression. Unlike an individual, the State owns a multi-dimensional responsibility. It has to maintain and ensure security of the State as well as the social and public order. It has to give utmost regard to the right to freedom of speech and expression which a citizen or a group of citizens may assert. The State also has a duty to provide security and protection to the persons who wish to attend such assembly at the invitation of the person who is exercising his right to freedom of speech or otherwise. In the case of S. Rangarajan v. Jagjivan Ram [(1989) 2 SCC 574], this Court noticed as under : The problem of defining the area of freedom of expression when it appears to conflict with the various social interests enumerated under Article 19(2) may briefly be touched upon here. There does indeed have to be a compromise between the interest of freedom of expression and special interests. But we cannot simply balance the two interests as if they are of equal weight. Our commitment of freedom of expression demands that it cannot be suppressed unless the situations created by allowing the freedom are pressing and the community interest is endangered. The anticipated danger should not be remote, conjectural or far-fetched. It should have proximate and direct nexus with the expression. The expression of thought should be intrinsically dangerous to the public interest. In other words, the expression should be inseparably locked up with the action contemplated like the equivalent of a "spark in a power keg

23. Where the Court applies the test of `proximate and direct nexus with the expression’, the Court also has to keep in mind that the restriction should be founded on the principle of least invasiveness i.e. the restriction should be imposed in a manner and to the extent which is unavoidable in a given situation. The Court would also take into consideration whether the anticipated event would or would not be intrinsically dangerous to public interest.

24. Now, I would examine the various tests that have been applied over the period of time to examine the validity and/or reasonability of the restrictions imposed upon the rights.

Upon the Rights Enshrined in the Constitution

 25. No person can be divested of his fundamental rights. They are incapable of being taken away or abridged. All that the State can do, by exercise of its legislative power, is to regulate these rights by imposition of reasonable restrictions on them. Upon an analysis of the law, the following tests emerge:-

a) The restriction can be imposed only by or under the authority of law. It cannot be imposed by exercise of executive power without any law to back it up.

b) Each restriction must be reasonable.

c) A restriction must be related to the purpose mentioned in Article 19(2).

 26. The questions before the Court, thus, are whether the restriction imposed was reasonable and whether the purported purpose of the same squarely fell within the relevant clauses discussed above. The legislative determination of what restriction to impose on a freedom is final and conclusive, as it is not open to judicial review. The judgments of this Court have been consistent in taking the view that it is difficult to define or explain the word "reasonable" with any precision. It will always be dependent on the facts of a given case with reference to the law which has been enacted to create a restriction on the right. It is neither possible nor advisable to state any abstract standard or general pattern of reasonableness as applicable uniformly to all cases. This Court in the case of State of Madras v. V.G. Row [AIR 1952 SC 196] held :- "It is important in this context to bear in mind that the test of reasonableness, whereever prescribed, should be applied to each individual statute impugned, and no abstract standard or general pattern of reasonableness, can be laid down as applicable to all cases.

27. For adjudging the reasonableness of a restriction, factors such as the duration and extent of the restrictions, the circumstances under which and the manner in which that imposition has been authorized, the nature of the right infringed, the underlining purpose of the restrictions imposed, the extent and urgency of the evil sought to be remedied thereby, the disproportion of the imposition, the prevailing conditions at the time, amongst others, enter into the judicial verdict. [See: ChintamanraoAnr. v. State of Madhya Pradesh (AIR 1951 SC 118)].

 28. The courts must bear a clear distinction in mind with regard to `restriction’ and `prohibition’. They are expressions which cannot be used inter-changeably as they have different connotations and consequences in law. Wherever a `prohibition’ is imposed, besides satisfying all the tests of a reasonable `restriction’, it must also satisfy the requirement that any lesser alternative would be inadequate. Furthermore, whether a restriction, in effect, amounts to a total prohibition or not, is a question of fact which has to be determined with regard to facts and circumstances of each case. This Court in the case of State of Gujarat v. Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab Jamat and Others [(2005) 8 SCC 534] held as under:- "75. Three propositions are well settled: (i) ‘restriction’ includes cases of ‘prohibition’; (ii) the standard for judging reasonability of restriction or restriction amounting to prohibition remains the same, excepting that a total prohibition must also satisfy the test that a lesser alternative would be inadequate; and (iii) whether a restriction in effect amounts to a total prohibition is a question of fact which shall have to be determined with regard to the facts and circumstances of each case, the ambit of the right and the effect of the restriction upon the exercise of that right…..

29. The obvious result of the above discussion is that a restriction imposed in any form has to be reasonable and to that extent, it must stand the scrutiny of judicial review. It cannot be arbitrary or excessive. It must possess a direct and proximate nexus with the object sought to be achieved. Whenever and wherever any restriction is imposed upon the right to freedom of speech and expression, it must be within the framework of the prescribed law, as subscribed by Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

 30. As already noticed, rights, restrictions and duties co-exist. As, on the one hand, it is necessary to maintain and preserve the freedom of speech and expression in a democracy, there, on the other, it is also necessary to place reins on this freedom for the maintenance of social order. The term `social order’ has a very wide ambit. It includes `law and order’, `public order’ as well as `the security of the State’. The security of the State is the core subject and public order as well as law and order follow the same. In the case of Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras [1950 SCR 594], this Court took the view that local breaches of public order were no grounds for restricting the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution. This led to the Constitutional (First Amendment) Act, 1951 and consequently, this Court in the case of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia v. State of Bihar [AIR 1966 SC 740] stated that an activity which affects `law and order’ may not necessarily affect `public order’ and an activity which might be prejudicial to `public order’ may not necessarily affect `security of the State’. Absence of `public order’ is an aggravated form of disturbance of public peace which affects the general current of public life. Any act which merely affects the security of others may not constitute a breach of `public order’.

31. The expression `in the interest of’ has given a wide amplitude to the permissible law which can be enacted to impose reasonable restrictions on the rights guaranteed by Article 19(1) of the Constitution.

 32. There has to be a balance and proportionality between the right and restriction on the one hand, and the right and duty, on the other. It will create an imbalance, if undue or disproportionate emphasis is placed upon the right of a citizen without considering the significance of the duty. The true source of right is duty. When the courts are called upon to examine the reasonableness of a legislative restriction on exercise of a freedom, the fundamental duties enunciated under Article 51A are of relevant consideration. Article 51A requires an individual to abide by the law, to safeguard public property and to abjure violence. It also requires the individual to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of the country. All these duties are not insignificant. Part IV of the Constitution relates to the Directive Principles of the State Policy. Article 38 was introduced in the Constitution as an obligation upon the State to maintain social order for promotion of welfare of the people. By the Constitution (Forty-Second Amendment) Act, 1976, Article 51A was added to comprehensively state the fundamental duties of the citizens to compliment the obligations of the State. Thus, all these duties are of constitutional significance. It is obvious that the Parliament realized the need for inserting the fundamental duties as a part of the Indian Constitution and required every citizen of India to adhere to those duties. Thus, it will be difficult for any Court to exclude from its consideration any of the above-mentioned Articles of the Constitution while examining the validity or otherwise of any restriction relating to the right to freedom of speech and expression available to a citizen under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. The restriction placed on a fundamental right would have to be examined with reference to the concept of fundamental duties and non-interference with liberty of others. Therefore, a restriction on the right to assemble and raise protest has also to be examined on similar parameters and values. In other words, when you assert your right, you must respect the freedom of others. Besides imposition of a restriction by the State, the non-interference with liberties of others is an essential condition for assertion of the right to freedom of speech and expression. In the case of Dr. D.C. Saxena v. Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India [(1996) 5 SCC 216], this Court held:

If maintenance of democracy is the foundation for free speech, society equally is entitled to regulate freedom of speech or expression by democratic action. The reason is obvious, viz., that society accepts free speech and expression and also puts limits on the right of the majority. Interest of the people involved in the acts of expression should be looked at not only from the perspective of the speaker but also the place at which he speaks, the scenario, the audience, the reaction of the publication, the purpose of the speech and the place and the forum in which the citizen exercises his freedom of speech and expression. The State has legitimate interest, therefore, to regulate the freedom of speech and expression which liberty represents the limits of the duty of restraint on speech or expression not to utter defamatory or libellous speech or expression. There is a correlative duty not to interfere with the liberty of others. Each is entitled to dignity of person and of reputation. Nobody has a right to denigrate others’ right to person or reputation. Therefore, freedom of speech and expression is tolerated so long as it is not malicious or libellous, so that all attempts to foster and ensure orderly and peaceful public discussion or public good should result from free speech in the market-place. If such speech or expression was untrue and so reckless as to its truth, the speaker or the author does not get protection of the constitutional right.

33. Every right has a corresponding duty. Part III of the Constitution of India although confers rights and duties, restrictions are inherent thereunder. Reasonable regulations have been found to be contained in the provisions of Part III of the Constitution of India, apart from clauses (2) to (4) and (6) of Article 19 of the Constitution {See Union of India v. Naveen Jindal and Anr. [(2004) 2 SCC 510]}.

34. As I have already discussed, the restriction must be provided by law in a manner somewhat distinct to the term `due process of law’ as contained in Article 21 of the Constitution. If the orders passed by the Executive are backed by a valid and effective law, the restriction imposed thereby is likely to withstand the test of reasonableness, which requires it to be free of arbitrariness, to have a direct nexus to the object and to be proportionate to the right restricted as well as the requirement of the society, for example, an order passed under Section 144 Cr.P.C. This order is passed on the strength of a valid law enacted by the Parliament. The order is passed by an executive authority declaring that at a given place or area, more than five persons cannot assemble and hold a public meeting. There is a complete channel provided for examining the correctness or otherwise of such an order passed under Section 144 Cr.P.C. and, therefore, it has been held by this Court in a catena of decisions that such order falls within the framework of reasonable restriction.

35. The distinction between `public order’ and `law and order’ is a fine one, but nevertheless clear. A restriction imposed with `law and order’ in mind would be least intruding into the guaranteed freedom while `public order’ may qualify for a greater degree of restriction since public order is a matter of even greater social concern. Out of all expressions used in this regard, as discussed in the earlier part of this judgment, `security of the state’ is the paramount and the State can impose restrictions upon the freedom, which may comparatively be more stringent than those imposed in relation to maintenance of `public order’ and `law and order’. However stringent may these restrictions be, they must stand the test of `reasonability’. The State would have to satisfy the Court that the imposition of such restrictions is not only in the interest of the security of the State but is also within the framework of Articles 19(2) and 19(3) of the Constitution.

36. It is keeping this distinction in mind, the Legislature, under Section 144 Cr.P.C., has empowered the District Magistrate, Sub- Divisional Magistrate or any other Executive Magistrate, specially empowered in this behalf, to direct any person to abstain from doing a certain act or to take action as directed, where sufficient ground for proceeding under this Section exists and immediate prevention and/or speedy remedy is desirable. By virtue of Section 144A Cr.P.C., which itself was introduced by Act 25 of 2005, the District Magistrate has been empowered to pass an order prohibiting, in any area within the local limits of his jurisdiction, the carrying of arms in any procession or the organizing or holding of any mass drill or mass training with arms in any public place, where it is necessary for him to do so for the preservation of public peace, public safety or maintenance of the public order. Section 144 Cr.P.C, therefore, empowers an executive authority, backed by these provisions, to impose reasonable restrictions vis-`-vis the fundamental rights. The provisions of Section 144 Cr.P.C. provide for a complete mechanism to be followed by the Magistrate concerned and also specify the limitation of time till when such an order may remain in force. It also prescribes the circumstances that are required to be taken into consideration by the said authority while passing an order under Section 144 Cr.P.C.

37. In Babu Lal Parate (supra) where this Court was concerned with the contention raised on behalf of the union of workers that the order passed in anticipation by the Magistrate under Section 144 Cr.P.C. was an encroachment on their rights under Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(b), it was held that the provisions of the Section, which commit the power in this regard to a Magistrate belonging to any of the classes referred to therein cannot be regarded as unreasonable. While examining the law in force in the United States, the Court further held that an anticipatory action of the kind permissible under Section 144 Cr.P.C. is not impermissible within the ambit of clauses (2) and (3) of Article 19. Public order has to be maintained at all times, particularly prior to any event and, therefore, it is competent for the legislature to pass a law permitting the appropriate authority to take anticipatory action or to place anticipatory restrictions upon particular kind of acts in an emergency for the purpose of maintaining public order.

38. In the case of Madhu Limaye v. Sub Divisional Magistrate and Ors. [AIR 1971 SC 2481], a Constitution Bench of this Court took the following view:

 The procedure to be followed is next stated. Under Sub-section (2) if time does not permit or the order cannot be served, it can be made ex parte. Under Sub-section (3) the order may be directed to a particular individual or to the public generally when frequenting or visiting a particular place. Under sub-section (4) the Magistrate may either suo motu or on an application by an aggrieved person, rescind or alter the order whether his own or by a Magistrate subordinate to him or made by his predecessor in Office. Under Sub-section (5) where the magistrate is moved by a person aggrieved he must hear him so that he may show cause against the order and if the Magistrate rejects wholly or in part the application, he must record his reasons in writing. This sub-section is mandatory. An order by the Magistrate does not remain in force after two months from the making thereof but the State Government may, however, extend the period by a notification in the Gazette but, only in cases of danger to human life, health or safety or where there is a likelihood of a riot or an affray. But the second portion of the sub-section was declared violative of Article 19 in State of Bihar v. K.K. Misra [1969] S.C.R. 337. It may be pointed out here that disobedience of an order lawfully promulgated is made an offence by Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, if such disobedience causes obstruction, annoyance or injury to persons lawfully employed. It is punishable with simple imprisonment for one month or fine of Rs. 200 or both.

25. The gist of action under Section 144 is the urgency of the situation, its efficacy in the likelihood of being able to prevent some harmful occurrences. As it is possible to act absolutely and even ex parte it is obvious that the emergency must be sudden and the consequences sufficiently grave. Without it the exercise of power would have no justification. It is not an ordinary power flowing from administration but a power used in a judicial manner and which can stand further judicial scrutiny in the need for the exercise of the power, in its efficacy and in the extent of its application. There is no general proposition that an order under Section 144, Criminal Procedure Code cannot be passed without taking evidence : see Mst. Jagrupa Kumari v. Chotay Narain Singh (1936) 37 Cri.L.J. 95 (Pat) which in our opinion is correct in laying down this proposition. These fundamental facts emerge from the way the occasions for the exercise of the power are mentioned. Disturbances of public tranquility, riots and affray lead to subversion of public order unless they are prevented in time. Nuisances dangerous to human life, health or safety have no doubt to be abated and prevented. We are, however, not concerned with this part of the section and the validity of this part need not be decided here. In so far as the other parts of the section are concerned the key-note of the power is to free society from menace of serious disturbances of a grave character. The section is directed against those who attempt to prevent the exercise of legal rights by others or imperil the public safety and health. If that be so the matter must fall within the restrictions which the Constitution itself visualises as permissible in the interest of public order, or in the interest of the general public. We may say, however, that annoyance must assume sufficiently grave proportions to bring the matter within interests of public order.

 26. The criticism, however, is that the section suffers from over broadness and the words of the section are wide enough to give an absolute power which may be exercised in an unjustifiable case and then there would be no remedy except to ask the Magistrate to cancel the order which he may not do. Revision against his determination to the High Court may prove illusory because before the High Court can intervene the mischief will be done. Therefore, it is submitted that an inquiry should precede the making of the order. In other words, the burden should not be placed upon the person affected to clear his position. Further the order may be so general as to affect not only a particular party but persons who are innocent, as for example when there is an order banning meetings, processions, playing of music etc.

27. The effect of the order being in the interest of public order and the interests of the general public, occasions may arise when it is not possible to distinguish between those whose conduct must be controlled and those whose conduct is clear. As was pointed out in Babulal Parate case where two rival trade unions clashed and it was difficult to say whether a person belonged to one of the unions or to the general public, an order restricting the activities of the general public in the particular area was justified.

28. …A general order may be necessary when the number of persons is so large that distinction between them and the general public cannot be made without the risks mentioned in the section. A general order is thus justified but if the action is too general the order may be questioned by appropriate remedies for which there is ample provision in the law. In the case of Himat Lal K. Shah v. Commissioner of Police, Ahmedabad & Anr. [(1973) 1 SCC 227], again a Constitution Bench of this Court, while dealing with a situation where a person seeking permission to hold a public meeting was denied the same on the ground that under another similar permission, certain elements had indulged in rioting and caused mischief to private and public properties, held Rule 7 framed under the Bombay Police Act, 1951 as being arbitrary and observed as under :.It is not surprising that the Constitution makers conferred a fundamental right on all citizens ‘to assemble peaceably and without arms’. While prior to the coming into force of the Constitution the right to assemble could have been abridged or taken away by law, now that cannot be done except by imposing reasonable restrictions within Article 19(3). But it is urged that the right to assemble does not mean that that right can be exercised at any and every place. This Court held in Railway Board v. Narinjan Singh (1969) 3 SCR 548; 554 : (1969)1 SCC 502 that there is no fundamental right for any one to hold meetings in government premises. It was observed: `The fact that the citizens of this country have freedom of speech, freedom to assemble peaceably and freedom to form associations or unions does not mean that they can exercise those freedoms in whatever place they please’.

 40. Section 144 Cr.P.C. is intended to serve public purpose and protect public order. This power vested in the executive is to be invoked after the satisfaction of the authority that there is need for immediate prevention or that speedy remedy is desirable and directions as contemplated are necessary to protect the interest of others or to prevent danger to human life, health or safety or disturbance of public tranquility or a riot or an affray. These features must co-exist at a given point of time in order to enable the authority concerned to pass appropriate orders. The expression `law and order’ is a comprehensive expression which may include not merely `public order’ but also matters such as `public peace’, `public tranquility’ and `orderliness’ in a locality or a local area and perhaps some other matters of public concern too. `Public order’ is something distinct from order or orderliness in a local area. Public order, if disturbed, must lead to public disorder whereas every breach of peace may not always lead to public disorder. This concept came to be illustratively explained in the judgment of this Court in the case of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia (supra) wherein it was held that when two drunkards quarrel and fight, there is `disorder’ but not `public disorder’. They can be dealt with under the powers to maintain `law and order’ but cannot be detained on the ground that they were disturbing `public order’. However, where the two persons fighting were of rival communities and one of them tried to raise communal passions, the problem is still one of `law and order’ but it raises the apprehension of public disorder. The main distinction is that where it affects the community or public at large, it will be an issue relatable to `public order’. Section 144 Cr.P.C. empowers passing of such order in the interest of public order equitable to public safety and tranquility. The provisions of Section 144 Cr.P.C. empowering the authorities to pass orders to tend to or to prevent the disturbances of public tranquility is not ultra vires the Constitution.

 41. In the case of State of Karnataka v. Dr. Praveen Bhai Thogadia, [(2004) 4 SCC 684], this Court, while observing that each person, whatever be his religion, must get the assurance from the State that he has the protection of law freely to profess, practice and propagate his religion and the freedom of conscience, held more emphatically that the courts should not normally interfere with matters relating to law and order which is primarily the domain of the concerned administrative authorities. They are by and large the best to assess and handle the situation depending upon the peculiar needs and necessities within their special knowledge.

42. The scope of Section 144 Cr.P.C. enumerates the principles and declares the situations where exercise of rights recognized by law, by one or few, may conflict with other rights of the public or tend to endanger the public peace, tranquility and/or harmony. The orders passed under Section 144 Cr.P.C. are attempted to serve larger public interest and purpose. As already noticed, under the provisions of the Cr.P.C. complete procedural mechanism is provided for examining the need and merits of an order passed under Section 144 Cr.P.C. If one reads the provisions of Section 144 Cr.P.C. along with other constitutional provisions and the judicial pronouncements of this Court, it can undisputedly be stated that Section 144 Cr.P.C. is a power to be exercised by the specified authority to prevent disturbance of public order, tranquility and harmony by taking immediate steps and when desirable, to take such preventive measures. Further, when there exists freedom of rights which are subject to reasonable restrictions, there are contemporaneous duties cast upon the citizens too. The duty to maintain law and order lies on the concerned authority and, thus, there is nothing unreasonable in making it the initial judge of the emergency. All this is coupled with a fundamental duty upon the citizens to obey such lawful orders as well as to extend their full cooperation in maintaining public order and tranquility.

43. The concept of orderly conduct leads to a balance for assertion of a right to freedom. In the case of Feiner v. New York (1951) 340 U.S. 315, the Supreme Court of the United States of America dealt with the matter where a person had been convicted for an offence of disorderly conduct for making derogatory remarks concerning various persons including the President, political dignitaries and other local political officials during his speech, despite warning by the Police officers to stop the said speech. The Court, noticing the condition of the crowd as well as the refusal by the petitioner to obey the Police requests, found that the conduct of the convict was in violation of public peace and order and the authority did not exceed the bounds of proper state Police action, held as under: It is one thing to say that the Police cannot be used as an instrument for the suppression of unpopular views, and another to say that, when as here the speaker passes the bounds of arguments or persuasion and undertakes incitement to riot, they are powerless to prevent a breach of the peace. Nor in this case can we condemn the considered judgment of three New York courts approving the means which the Police, faced with a crisis, used in the exercise of their power and duty to preserve peace and order. The findings of the state courts as to the existing situation and the imminence of greater disorder couples with petitioner’s deliberate defiance of the Police officers convince us that we should not reverse this conviction in the name of free speech.

44. Another important precept of exercise of power in terms of Section 144 Cr.P.C. is that the right to hold meetings in public places is subject to control of the appropriate authority regarding the time and place of the meeting. Orders, temporary in nature, can be passed to prohibit the meeting or to prevent an imminent breach of peace. Such orders constitute reasonable restriction upon the freedom of speech and expression. This view has been followed consistently by this Court. To put it with greater clarity, it can be stated that the content is not the only concern of the controlling authority but the time and place of the meeting is also well within its jurisdiction. If the authority anticipates an imminent threat to public order or public tranquility, it would be free to pass desirable directions within the parameters of reasonable restrictions on the freedom of an individual. However, it must be borne in mind that the provisions of Section 144 Cr.P.C. are attracted only in emergent situations. The emergent power is to be exercised for the purposes of maintaining public order. It was stated by this Court in Romesh Thapar (supra) that the Constitution requires a line to be drawn in the field of public order and tranquility, marking off, may be roughly, the boundary between those serious and aggravated forms of public disorder which are calculated to endanger the security of the State and the relatively minor breaches of peace of a purely local significance, treating for this purpose differences in degree as if they were different in kind. The significance of factors such as security of State and maintenance of public order is demonstrated by the mere fact that the framers of the Constitution provided these as distinct topics of legislation in Entry III of the Concurrent List of Seventh Schedule to the Constitution.

45. Moreover, an order under Section 144 Cr.P.C. being an order which has a direct consequence of placing a restriction on the right to freedom of speech and expression and right to assemble peaceably, should be an order in writing and based upon material facts of the case. This would be the requirement of law for more than one reason. Firstly, it is an order placing a restriction upon the fundamental rights of a citizen and, thus, may adversely affect the interests of the parties, and secondly, under the provisions of the Cr.P.C., such an order is revisable and is subject to judicial review. Therefore, it will be appropriate that it must be an order in writing, referring to the facts and stating the reasons for imposition of such restriction. In the case of Dr. Praveen Bhai Thogadia (supra), this Court took the view that the Court, while dealing with such orders, does not act like an appellate authority over the decision of the official concerned. It would interfere only where the order is patently illegal and without jurisdiction or with ulterior motive and on extraneous consideration of political victimization by those in power. Normally, interference should be the exception and not the rule.

46. A bare reading of Section 144 Cr.P.C. shows that : (1) It is an executive power vested in the officer so empowered; (2) There must exist sufficient ground for proceeding; (3) Immediate prevention or speedy remedy is desirable; and (4) An order, in writing, should be passed stating the material facts and be served the same upon the concerned person.

47. These are the basic requirements for passing an order under Section 144 Cr.P.C. Such an order can be passed against an individual or persons residing in a particular place or area or even against the public in general. Such an order can remain in force, not in excess of two months. The Government has the power to revoke such an order and wherever any person moves the Government for revoking such an order, the State Government is empowered to pass an appropriate order, after hearing the person in accordance with Sub-section (3) of Section 144 Cr.P.C. Out of the aforestated requirements, the requirements of existence of sufficient ground and need for immediate prevention or speedy remedy is of prime significance. In this context, the perception of the officer recording the desired/contemplated satisfaction has to be reasonable, least invasive and bona fide. The restraint has to be reasonable and further must be minimal. Such restraint should not be allowed to exceed the constraints of the particular situation either in nature or in duration. The most onerous duty that is cast upon the empowered officer by the legislature is that the perception of threat to public peace and tranquility should be real and not quandary, imaginary or a mere likely possibility. This Court in the case of Babulal Parate (supra) had clearly stated the following view : "the language of Section 144 is somewhat different. The test laid down in the Section is not merely `likelihood’ or `tendency’. The section says that the magistrate must be satisfied that immediate prevention of particular acts is necessary to counteract danger to public safety etc. The power conferred by the section is exercisable not only where present danger exists but is exercisable also when there is an apprehension of danger.

48. The above-stated view of the Constitution Bench is the unaltered state of law in our country. However, it needs to be specifically mentioned that the `apprehension of danger’ is again what can inevitably be gathered only from the circumstances of a given case.

49. Once an order under Section 144 Cr.P.C. is passed, it is expected of all concerned to implement the said order unless it has been rescinded or modified by a forum of competent jurisdiction. Its enforcement has legal consequences. One of such consequences would be the dispersement of an unlawful assembly and, if necessitated, by using permissible force. An assembly which might have lawfully assembled would be termed as an `unlawful assembly’ upon the passing and implementation of such a preventive order. The empowered officer is also vested with adequate powers to direct the dispersement of such assembly. In this direction, he may even take the assistance of concerned officers and armed forces for the purposes of dispersing such an assembly. Furthermore, the said officer has even been vested with the powers of arresting and confining the persons and, if necessary, punishing them in accordance with law in terms of Section 129 Cr.P.C. An order under Section 144 Cr.P.C. would have an application to an `actual’ unlawful assembly as well as a `potential’ unlawful assembly. This is precisely the scope of application and enforcement of an order passed under Section 144 Cr.P.C.

‘Wholly arbitrary, capricious and contrary to public interest’


Supreme Court of India

Reproduced here are excerpts from the concluding paragraphs of the Supreme Court’s verdict cancelling 122 2G licences issued during A. Raja’s term as Minister of Communications and Information Technology.

69. …There is a fundamental flaw in the principle of first-come-first-served inasmuch as it involves an element of pure chance or accident. In matters involving award of contracts or grant of licence or permission to use public property, the invocation of first-come-first-served principle has inherently dangerous implications. Any person who has access to power corridor at the highest or the lowest level may be able to obtain information from the Government files or the files of the agency/instrumentality of the State that a particular public property or asset is likely to be disposed of or a contract is likely to be awarded or a licence or permission would be given. He would immediately make an application and would become entitled to stand first in the queue at the cost of all others who may have a better claim… the duty of the Court to exercise its power in larger public interest and ensure that the institutional integrity is not compromised the State and its agencies/instrumentalities must always adopt a rational method for disposal of public property and no attempt should be made to scuttle the claim of worthy applicants. When it comes to alienation of scarce natural resources like spectrum etc., the State must always adopt a method of auction by giving wide publicity so that all eligible persons may participate in the process. Any other methodology for disposal of public property and natural resources/national assets is likely to be misused by unscrupulous people who are only interested in garnering maximum financial benefit and have no respect for the constitutional ethos and values.

70. The exercise undertaken by the officers of the DoT [Department of Telecommunication] between September, 2007 and March 2008, under the leadership of the then Minister of C&IT [Communications & Information Technology] [A.Raja] was wholly arbitrary, capricious and contrary to public interest apart from being violative of the doctrine of equality. The material produced before the Court shows that the Minister of C&IT wanted to favour some companies at the cost of the Public Exchequer and for this purpose, he took the following steps:

(i) Soon after his appointment as Minister of C&IT, he directed that all the applications received for grant of UAS [Universal Access Service] Licence should be kept pending till the receipt of TRAI [Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of India] recommendations.

(ii) The recommendations made by TRAI on 28.8.2007 were not placed before the full Telecom Commission which, among others, would have included the Finance Secretary. The notice of meeting of the Telecom Commission was not given to any of the non permanent members …

(iii) The officers of the DoT who attended the meeting of the Telecom Commission held on 10.10.2007 hardly had any choice but to approve the recommendations made by TRAI [or] they would have incurred the wrath of Minister of C&IT.

(iv) In view of the approval by the Council of Ministers of the recommendations made by the Group of Ministers, DoT had to discuss the issue of spectrum pricing with the Ministry of Finance…However, as the Minister of C&IT was very much conscious of the fact that the Secretary, Finance, had objected to the allocation of 2G spectrum at the rates fixed in 2001, he did not consult the Finance Minister or the officers of the Finance Ministry.

(v) The Minister of C&IT brushed aside the suggestion made by the Minister of Law and Justice for placing the matter before the empowered Group of Ministers. Not only this, within few hours of the receipt of the suggestion made by the Prime Minister in his letter dated 2.11.2007 that keeping in view the inadequacy of spectrum, transparency and fairness should be maintained in the matter of allocation of the spectrum, the Minister of C&IT rejected the same by saying that it will be unfair, discriminatory, arbitrary and capricious to auction the spectrum to new applicants because it will not give them level playing field. He simultaneously introduced cut off date as 25.9.2007 for consideration of the applications received for grant of licence despite the fact that only one day prior to this, press release was issued by the DoT fixing 1.10.2007 as the last date for receipt of the applications. This arbitrary action of the Minister of C&IT though appears to be innocuous was actually intended to benefit some of the real estate companies who did not have any experience in dealing with telecom services and who had made applications only on 24.9.2007, i.e. one day before the cut off date fixed by the Minister of C&IT on his own.

(vi) The cut off date, i.e. 25.9.2007 decided by the Minister of C&IT on 2.11.2007 was not made public till 10.1.2008 and the first-come-first served principle, which was being followed since 2003 was changed by him at the last moment through press release dated 10.1.2008. This enabled some of the applicants, who had access either to the Minister or the officers of the DoT, to get the bank drafts etc. prepared towards performance guarantee etc. of about Rs.1600 crores.

(vii) The manner in which the exercise for grant of LoIs [letters of intent] to the applicants was conducted on 10.1.2008 leaves no room for doubt that every thing was stage managed to favour those who were able to know in advance change in the implementation of the first-come-first served principle…

71. The argument of Shri Harish Salve, learned senior counsel that if the Court finds that the exercise undertaken for grant of UAS Licences has resulted in violation of the institutional integrity, then all the licences granted 2001 onwards should be cancelled does not deserve acceptance because those who have got licence between 2001 and 24.9.2007 are not parties to these petitions and legality of the licences granted to them has not been questioned before this Court.

72. In majority of judgments relied upon by learned Attorney General and learned counsel for the respondents, it has been held that the power of judicial review should be exercised with great care and circumspection and the Court should not ordinarily interfere with the policy decisions of the Government in financial matters. There cannot be any quarrel with [this]. However, when it is clearly demonstrated before the Court that the policy framed by the State or its agency/instrumentality and/or its implementation is contrary to public interest or is violative of the constitutional principles, it is the duty of the Court to exercise its jurisdiction in larger public interest …When matters like these are brought before the judicial constituent of the State by public spirited citizens, it becomes the duty of the Court to exercise its power in larger public interest and ensure that the institutional integrity is not compromised by those in whom the people have reposed trust and who have taken oath to discharge duties in accordance with the Constitution and the law …

73. Before concluding, we consider it imperative to observe that but for the vigilance of some enlightened citizens … and non governmental organisations who have been constantly fighting for clean governance and accountability of the constitutional institutions, unsuspecting citizens and the nation would never have known how scarce natural resource spared by the Army has been grabbed by those who enjoy money power and who have been able to manipulate the system.

74. In the result, the writ petitions are allowed in the following terms:

(i) The licences granted to the private respondents on or after 10.1.2008 pursuant to two press releases issued on 10.1.2008 and subsequent allocation of spectrum to the licensees are declared illegal and are quashed.

(ii) The above direction shall become operative after four months.

(iii) Within two months, TRAI shall make fresh recommendations for grant of licence and allocation of spectrum in 2G band in 22 Service Areas by auction, as was done for allocation of spectrum in 3G band.

(iv) The Central Government shall consider the recommendations of TRAI and take appropriate decision within next one month and fresh licences be granted by auction.

(v) Respondent Nos.2, 3 and 9 who were benefited by a wholly arbitrary and unconstitutional action taken by the DoT for grant of UAS Licences and allocation of spectrum in 2G band and who off-loaded their stakes for many thousand crores in the name of fresh infusion of equity or transfer of equity shall pay cost of Rs.5 crores each. Respondent Nos. 4, 6, 7 and 10 shall pay cost of Rs.50 lakhs each because they too had been benefited by the wholly arbitrary and unconstitutional exercise undertaken by the DoT for grant of UAS Licences and allocation of spectrum in 2G band.

(vi) 50% of the cost shall be deposited with the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee for being used for providing legal aid to indigent litigants. The remaining 50% cost shall be deposited in the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund.

(vii) However, it is made clear that the observations and conclusions contained in this order shall not, in any manner, affect the pending investigation by the CBI, Directorate of Enforcement and others agencies or prejudice the defence of those who are facing prosecution in the cases registered by the CBI and the Special Judge, CBI shall decide the matter uninfluenced by this judgment.

Justice G.S. Singhvi

Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly

New Delhi

‘I Don’t See Any Need To Add To Exemptions In RTI’



The CIC on his recent remark that if the legislature had its way, there would have been an express provision in the RTI Act to exclude the office of the CJI Anuradha Raman Interviews Satyananda Mishra / PUBLISHED IN THE OUTLOOK

Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Satyananda Mishra recently remarked that if the legislature had its way, there would have been an express provision in the law to exclude the office of the Chief Justice of India from the RTI Act. In an interview to Anuradha Raman, he explains the reasons for his controversial pronouncement. Excerpts:

You are referred to as the architect of the recent order on making the procedure of appointment of judges public?

We passed an order (last week) because every information is important and is presumed to be important to the applicant seeking information. The public has a right to know the parameters and the procedures followed in the appointment of judges. If there is a procedure, the public has a right to know. That’s the spirit behind the order.

An argument could be made that observations made in strict confidence on eligible candidates by the collegium that chooses judges may be compromised if they are brought out in the public domain. The entire exercise began when RTI activist S.C. Aggarwal sought information on the correspondence between the then law minister Veerappa Moily and former cji K.G. Balakrishnan on procedures of appointments and modification of appointments…

The Supreme Court refused, saying there was no record of such correspondence. It is strange that no evidence of this exists between a law minister and the Chief Justice of India. Given that there is a stay in the matter by the apex court, we can hope that the order of the CIC will make the correspondence public in 10 days following the issuance of the order. If, despite this, the court says there is no correspondence, then we have to accept it in good faith, for the RTI only deals with written information.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently commented that RTI should be critically examined in the light of fears expressed by government servants that it prevents them from freely expressing their opinion?

I am sure that the prime minister was told about this by senior bureaucrats. I feel the running of the government is equally important as information about how the government is run. The fears expressed by senior executives of the government should be removed. One often hears that many government servants are wary of allotment of land—for several reasons and most of them prefer not to pass an order for fear of being questioned about it later. I think we should sit up and think on how to reverse this fear. I think the prime minister has expressed a concern that needs careful thought. In the meantime, no proposal has come forth on modifying the rules of RTI, neither has an attempt been made to abridge it from any quarter.

One understands that you keep writing to the government asking them to furnish the information they have to the public…

I keep requesting them to make maximum public disclosures. What kind of information the different wings of the government hold which should be in the public domain is mandated under Article 4(1) of the RTI Act. Once the rules and responsibilities and the allocation of business rules are out there in the open, for all such appointments are made in the name of the President of India, it makes information all the more accessible to the general public. In the last three years that I have held office, I don’t see any need to add to the exemption clauses that are already provided for in RTI. And in case of doubt, we accept the limits of any law by the courts of the land.

‘Amending power is unique’

T.R. ANDHYARUJINA: "In the Kesavananda case external political forces operated for over 66 days."

T.R. ANDHYARUJINA: "In the Kesavananda case external political forces operated for over 66 days."


 Interview with T.R. Andhyarujina, Senior Advocate in the Supreme Court.

TEHMTAN R. ANDHYARUJINA, a Senior Advocate in the Supreme Court of India, faced a lot of criticism from his colleagues, especially Soli J. Sorabjee, who was a junior to Nani Palkhivala during the hearing of the Kesavananda case, that his latest book, The Kesavananda Bharati Case: The Untold Story of Struggle for Supremacy by Supreme Court and Parliament, was a wasted effort. The former Solicitor-General took the flak in his stride, saying, “The purpose of my book is only to give a historical account of how the basic structure doctrine came to be established in our constitutional law.” Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline:

Your book suggests that the inviolability of the basic structure doctrine was a dubious view of the majority of the Kesavananda Bench. What should have been the ratio of that judgment?

Extracting the ratio from the 11 judgments should have been the task of either the 13-judge Bench or a subsequent Bench. It is difficult to say what would have been the ratio on a proper judicial exercise. Had that exercise been done, there may not have been a majority holding that there is a limitation of the basic structure of the Constitution in amending the Constitution. There was no majority for any implied limitation on the amending power as Justice [H.R.] Khanna had rejected the implied limitations on the Constitution. What would have been extracted as the ratio of the Kesavananda case by a later Bench is a matter of speculation. This difficult exercise was purposely avoided by Chief Justice [S.M.] Sikri when he created the so-called View by the Majority note and passed it around for signatures of the judges on April 24, 1973.

In the concluding chapter, you concede that the basic structure doctrine is so deeply enshrined in our constitutional law that it would not be shaken even by the knowledge of the process by which it came to be formulated. What then is the purpose of the book, if it is not to make readers question that long-held belief?

It is correct that the basic structure theory has become an axiom of our constitutional law and one cannot imagine any Bench of the Supreme Court annulling that theory. It is also true that for whatever reason and method the majority view was arrived at, the axiom of unamendability of the basic structure of the Constitution has had a salutary check and control on the amending power. The purpose of my book is only to give a historical account of how the basic structure doctrine came to be established in our constitutional law. After this case, Parliament and the government gained by different approaches on its social and economic policies, which the court did not interfere with merely because some fundamental right was perceived to be violated. In that sense, the judgment served a useful purpose to society.

Can you explain how the then government sought to appoint judges before the hearing of the case?

After the Golaknath case, the government took a predominant role in the appointment process. By and large the new government nominees, though men of eminence and distinction, decided in favour of the unlimited power of Parliament except Justice A.K. Mukherjea. After Golaknath, the initiative came from the government. Justice Sikri was initially reluctant to appoint Justices [M.H.] Beg and [S.N.] Dwivedi. The government prevailed upon him. He selected Justice Khanna. The government accepted it. The relations between Justice Sikri and Indira Gandhi were also strained.

Justice Sikri had to choose 13 out of the then total strength of 15 judges to hear the Kesavananda case [the earlier relevant case, Golaknath, was decided by 11 judges and the Kesavananda Bench had to be bigger than that]. There were just two remaining judges who did not have a long tenure: Justice [V.] Alagirisamy and Justice Inder Dev Dua. But their tenure could have been extended in the form of ad hoc judges [and could have been chosen to be part of the Kesavananda Bench to replace Justices Sikri and J.M. Shelat]. The general practice is when your view is being reviewed, propriety requires that you recuse yourself from the Bench. But nobody raised objections [against Justices Sikri and Shelat being on the Kesavananda Bench because they were earlier part of the majority judges on the Golaknath Bench].

You mention that there was a move to exclude Justice Beg, a pro-government judge, from the Bench after 66 days of hearing on his hospitalisation. Who was behind this move?

It is unfortunate that a strong attempt was made by the petitioners and the CJI [Chief Justice of India] to exclude him on his third and last illness. His exclusion would not have changed the number of the majority, as the majority would have still prevailed with 7:5 instead of 7:6. In a case with such political overtones, the [likely] exclusion of Justice Beg at the last moment created tensions. It was felt that if the case was adjourned for the return of Justice Beg, the case would have prolonged beyond the retirement of CJI Sikri and the whole effort of the 13-judge Bench would have come to naught. Therefore, the petitioners and the CJI wanted to drop Justice Beg from the Bench and proceed as if there were 12 judges. The illness of Justice Beg at the crucial moment was interpreted as some sort of a game plan of the government to put an end to the case. The petitioners believed that it was a move to favour the government. As a result, Justice Beg was retained on the Bench, with Palkhivala being asked to give written submissions. It was a serious illness, but the question was whether his illness would go beyond the tenure of Justice Sikri.

The Attorney-General had threatened to walk out if Justice Beg was dropped. [Justice H.M.] Seervai supported him. Without one judge on the Bench, the legitimacy of the judgment would have come into question. Palkhivala, therefore, submitted to the government’s wish, and agreed to close his oral arguments on the 66th day.

By signing the View by the Majority note, did the neutral judges not apply their minds? You suggest that some of them reluctantly signed it because of constraints of time as Justice Sikri was due to retire.

The only judge who said that he signed the View by the Majority note to accommodate Sikri was Justice Y.V. Chandrachud. The rest of the judges, except Mukherjea, were by and large committed to the view of Parliament not having the amending power to change the basic structure. It would not have made any difference to the ultimate result, as at least five of the judges were clearly in favour of limiting Parliament’s amending power, and, one judge, Justice Khanna, was in favour of limiting its powers only on the grounds of basic structure. The absence of judicial conference does not invalidate the judgment. The view by the majority cannot be considered invalid because of the absence of a judges’ conference [preceding it], but it had become dubious because it was a hurriedly prepared paper passed on for signatures just before the judgment was delivered.

You have also claimed that the then government was in possession of some of the draft judgments before they were delivered. What was the basis of this claim?

The government decided on the supersession of judges even before the judgment was delivered in open court. Kuldip Nayar, in his book, says that Chief Justice Sikri queried Justice Beg. Justice Dwivedi said [after his appointment] that he was going to the Supreme Court to reverse Golaknath. Justice Beg was the nominee of Indira Gandhi. The government had advance notice of the views of the judges. Justice Mukherjea, Justice P. Jagannatha Reddy, Justice Chandrachud and Justice Khanna did not give the impression of being one way or the other. They appeared to be uncommitted. So, they would tilt the balance. Justice Reddy, on his own, came to more or less the same conclusion as the Sikri-led judges.

Justice Mukherjea wrote a joint judgment with Justice Hegde. Justice Khanna took a midway position. Justice Chandrachud was perceived by the petitioners to be in favour of limiting the amending power by some of his statements in the court, and the fact that he had been invited by Justice Sikri to the only judicial conference of like-minded judges. Therefore, his writing a judgment in favour of Parliament was a great surprise. This gave rise to the rumour that he had been influenced by the then Law Minister H.R. Gokhale and retired Chief Justice Gajendragadkar [a family friend of Chandrachud]. Justice Chandrachud later said that he was entitled to change his views. He denied that he was influenced by Gokhale and Justice Gajendragadkar.

Why did Chief Justice A.N. Ray dissolve the 13-judge Bench to review the Kesavananda judgment within two days of its constitution in 1976? You have speculated on the reasons, like his isolation on the Bench, Palkhivala’s letter to the Prime Minister on the eve of the hearing protesting against the move, and so on. Can you elaborate?

I think the 13-judge Bench was constituted by Justice A.N. Ray to review the Kesavananda case without any judicial order and there was no indication why the case was required to be reviewed. This was the strongest reason advanced by Palkhivala. On this point, neither Chief Justice Ray nor Attorney-General Niran De was able to give a convincing answer. And from the observations of other judges, this question was a worrying one. Therefore, in my view, Ray could not carry the majority with him to review the Kesavananda case, and on the third day, he felt compelled to dissolve the Bench without any reason.

How would you interpret Justice Ray’s legacy?

Chief Justice Ray’s acceptance of the CJI post is often misunderstood. It was not he who manoeuvred it but the government. After knowing the views of the judges who were going to decide against Parliament, the government decided that the next CJI should not be a judge from among those judges. It is now known that the government even asked Justice K.K. Mathew whether he would accept the position of the CJI. But he declined. Chief Justice Ray himself was reluctant to be the CJI in such a controversial way, but he was told that if he did not accept the position, the government was determined to go down the line and appoint any other judge who would consent to be the CJI. Therefore, Justice Ray accepted the position with reluctance.

Your mentor H.M. Seervai changed his view after the Emergency that the doctrine of basic structure was required for Indian democracy as without it many of the abuses of power during the Emergency could not have been reversed legally. Do you similarly support the doctrine now, even while legally questioning its birth?

In the Kesavananda case, it was argued that the amending power could be abused. It was not an unknown fact. But that could never be the reason for cutting down any power. Seervai changed his view for personal reasons. Today, after 38 years, one can say that as a matter of political argument a check on the amending power is always to be welcomed. In other countries, the amending power is not subjected to such judicial constraints, except in Bangladesh. Any power is capable of being abused and the fact of the abuse is never a ground for limiting the governing power.

The difficulty in ascertaining the basic structure is that it is a highly nebulous and subjective standard. It gives a vital power to the judiciary, which was never contemplated by the Constitution makers. It is true that Parliamentary and executive misuse is something that requires judicial correction and which is done in the normal course. But the amending power is a unique power, which cannot be compared with the ordinary legislative or executive power. The amending power is a quasi-political power and its validity may not be within the domain of the executive, which is a view taken in most jurisdictions of the world, including, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and South Africa. It is a unique power to create the Constitution. Judges are bound by the Constitution.

All constitutional cases, in a sense, are political. In the Kesavananda case the external political forces operated for over 66 days, and in that sense it was not a normal, constitutional case deciding political issues.

The federalism question



The principle of federalism became the deal-breaker on the Lokpal issue, bringing the BJP, the Trinamool Congress and various other political parties together, vocalising that the Lokpal Bill in the current form was being used as a Trojan horse by the central government to weaken the powers of the states.

The argument was that the provision pertaining to setting up of Lokayuktas struck at the root of the federal concept enshrined in the Constitution of India. The opposition parties united on one common factor: that the constitution of the Lokayktas could not be made under Article 253 of the Constitution. The central government backtracked and provided state legislatures an option on constituting Lokayuktas as set out by Parliament.

 This entire issue raises an important question of constitutional law. Given the federal structure of our Constitution and the division of powers between the Centre and the states, can there be a uniform legislation enacted by Parliament under Article 253 that provides for both the Lokpal in the Centre and the Lokayuktas in the states?

 Article 253 appears in Chapter I of Part XI of the Constitution, which deals with legislative relations (distribution of legislative powers between the Union and the states). The Chapter begins with Article 245, which provides that Parliament may make laws for the whole or any part of the territory of India, and the legislature of a state may make laws for the whole or any part of the state. Article 246 distributes legislative power subject-wise between Parliament and state legislatures. However, Articles 247, 249, 250, 252 and 253 enact some of the exceptions to the rule contained in Article 246.

 Amongst these, Article 253 confers power upon Parliament to make any law for the whole or any part of the territory of India for implementing any treaty, agreement or convention with any other country or countries or any decision made at any international conference, association or other body. It must be noted that Article 253 starts with a non-obstante clause, and thereby takes precedence over the rest of the Articles contained in this chapter.

 The Lokpal and the Lokayuktas Bill, 2011 was brought by the government under Article 253 to implement the UN Convention Against Corruption, which has been signed and ratified by India. Article 6 of the Convention enshrines a specific obligation for member states to establish regulatory bodies that prevent corruption. Importantly, under Article 253, in implementing any treaty or convention, the federalism constraints imposed by Articles 245 and 246 are removed and the total field of legislation is open to the Parliament.

 Therefore, the competency of the legislature of any state and exclusive power to make laws for the whole of the state with respect to any of the matters enumerated in List II of the 7th Schedule, referred to as the State List in the Constitution, itself is subject to the power of Parliament to make any law for the whole or any part of the territory of India under Article 253.

Applied in the current context, Article 253 empowers Parliament to implement the UN Convention Against Corruption and provide for setting up of Lokayuktas in the states, even though doing so may impinge upon certain subject matters (state public services – entry 41 List II) which belong to the State List in the Constitution. This proposition is supported by previous decisions of the Supreme Court of India, and various high courts in the country.

The issue was first decided in 1960 in an advisory opinion rendered by the Supreme Court as a response to a presidential reference under Article 143(1) of the Constitution (In Ref. By President of India under Article 143(1), AIR 1960 SC 845). In the words of the court: “The effect of Article 253 is that if a treaty, agreement or convention with a foreign state deals with a subject with the competence of the State Legislature, the Parliament alone has, notwithstanding Article 246(3), the power to make laws to implement the treaty, agreement or convention or any decision made at any international conference, association or other body. In terms, the Article deals with legislative power, and thereby power is conferred upon Parliament which it may not otherwise possess.”

 This position of law was confirmed and reiterated by Justice JC Shah of Supreme Court in Maganbhai v. Union of India, AIR 1960 SC 783, and recently by Justice B Sudershan Reddy in Perambaduru Murali Krishna and Others v. State of Andhra Pradesh and Others, 2005 1 PDD (CC) 231, and also by Justice AP Shah in Prof. I Elangovan v. The Government of Tamil Nadu, W.P. Nos. 35808 and 36777 of 2007.

 Also, India’s most noted constitutional jurist, HM Seervai, in his classic book Constitution Law of India, points out that Article 253 was enacted by the drafters in order to avoid the difficulties faced by Canada in implementing international conventions. He describes a Privy Council judgment (A.G. for Canada v. A.G. for Ontario, 1937 AC 326), where the Privy Council held that the power to implement a treaty did not include the power to legislate on a subject of exclusive provincial (state) legislation. He noted that, to prevent such a position arising in India, Article 253 was widely worded to enable Parliament to implement a treaty or convention even if the subject matter of the law is a subject of exclusive state legislation.

What’s more, even the US Supreme Court in Missouri v. Holland, 252 US 416 (1920) has held that the treaty power in the US Constitution (more federal in nature than the Indian Constitution) is not limited by concerns of federalism.

This position of law gets a further constitutional thrust by Article 51(c) of our Constitution (Directive Principles of State Policy) which enjoins the state to foster respect for international law and treaty obligations. There is also an earlier precedent that is apposite to the entire Lokpal controversy. The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 providing for the constitution of the National Human Rights Commission in the Centre and the State Human Rights Commission in the states was enacted by the Parliament under Article 253 to implement the Paris Principles, 1991 for “better protection of human rights”.

 Accordingly, a single comprehensive federal enactment dealing with the Lokpal and the Lokayuktas is constitutionally valid. Justice JS Verma, former chief justice of the Supreme Court who appeared before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Lokpal and provided his written submission on the federalism issue, confirmed the same.

 Unfortunately, despite the length and detail, the arguments raised in both Houses of Parliament on the crucial federalism question were rather polemical and exaggerated in tone and substance. More fundamentally, the opposition to the provision of setting up of Lokayuktas in the states, is plagued by constitutional inconsistencies, and the tendentious and exaggerated way in which it was presented further undermines its reliability.

The writer is an associate attorney with an international law firm.

‘Constitutional Lokpal would have been difficult to repeal’



With the Lokpal Bill becoming the focus of attention within and outside Parliament, Justice V N Khare, former chief justice of India, spoke with Rudroneel Ghosh on the constitutional dimensions of the anti-corruption legislation:

How does the failure to confer constitutional status on the Lokpal affect the anti-corruption ombudsman?

Such an anti-corruption ombudsman was earlier established in Haryana and Punjab through a legislative instrument, that is through an ordinary statute. But there were some political bigwigs who were involved in corruption and the Lokayukta was on the verge of catching them. What the government did then was it repealed the (Lokayukta) Act itself through an ordinance. This happened both in Haryana and Punjab. My apprehension is that if a political heavyweight is under investigation, and the ombudsman has been established through an ordinary statute, then a simple ordinance can be passed to scrap the whole institution. But if the body has constitutional status, then it can’t be amended like this. It would have been difficult to repeal the Lokpal had it been given constitutional status.

Can the opposition argue that the minority quota in the Lokpal is unconstitutional?

No. Consider Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution. Nowhere do they talk about a Hindu, Muslim or Christian quota. What they say is that nothing will prevent Parliament from enacting a law for advancement of educationally and socially backward class of citizens and members of the scheduled caste. There’s no mention of religion. When you identify certain Hindu castes such as Yadavs, Kurmis, etc you don’t say ‘Hindus’ are getting reservation; you say they are backward groups and on this basis you give them reservation. Similarly, among the Muslim community you can identify certain backward segments and have a quota for them. So it’s not a question of religion but educationally and socially backward communities.

Does the Lokpal Bill impinge on the country’s federal structure?

Article 252 of the Constitution provides that in case Parliament doesn’t have the power to enact a law, it can on the request of the states make law for those states as well as whosoever is concerned with the law. Article 253 says that Parliament is empowered to enact laws for the enforcement of international treaties and UN conventions. For example, there is no legislative subject called human rights. But because we were a signatory to the UN Human Rights Convention, we enacted laws to establish the National Human Rights Commission. Similarly, the 2003 UN convention on fighting corruption empowers Parliament to make laws to tackle graft. It is on this basis that the Lokpal Bill has been introduced under Article 253. If the UN convention did not exist, then you could say the Lokpal Bill impinges on federalism. But not in this case.

Is there any merit in the Team Anna argument that the CBI should be brought under the Lokpal?

I don’t think that the entire CBI can be brought under the Lokpal. The CBI is a huge organisation whose investigative capabilities are used for so many things other than fighting corruption. At best you can put 50 or 60 CBI officers on deputation with the Lokpal. However, if the CBI is under the government and the government is the prosecutor, there is a clear conflict of interest in prosecuting government corruption. I believe the CBI should be autonomous in any case.

Do you think the Lokpal can be a magic bullet against corruption?

Not at all. Just like water finds its own level, people will find other routes to corruption. But the Lokpal can be a deterrent and create some fear in the minds of potential offenders.

%d bloggers like this: