Harish Salve explains SC powers on contempt


NEW DELHI: If a person is found guilty of committing contempt of Supreme Court, will the apex court’s constitutional power to punish him be circumscribed by the Contempt of Court Act (CCA) provisions?

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing in the application filed by Vodafone complaining about misreporting during the hearing of its case, said CCA only provided the guiding principles and would in no way limit the apex court’s power on quantum of punishment, which in appropriate cases could exceed what is provided in the statute. The response came to a query from a five-judge bench comprising Chief Justice S H Kapadia and Justices D K Jain, S S Nijjar, Ranjana P Desai and J S Khehar whether Article 129 of the Constitution, which provides that “the Supreme Court shall be a court of record and shall have all powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself”, meant it was bridled by the CCA.

After hearing Salve’s view, the CJI said though the bench had not taken any final view, it was of the opinion that provisions of a statute could not limit the Constitution-vested powers of the apex court. In the midst of long deliberation on the necessity of framing media reporting guidelines to protect right of an accused to reputation and dignity as well as preserve sanctity of fair trial, the bench asked for Salve’s view on restricting press freedom derived from right to free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and whether it could only be done through parameters specified under Article 19(2).

The senior advocate said, “The Supreme Court need not deal with the restrictions specified under Article 19(2) because it is only engaged in an exercise to define the contours of press freedom in reporting pending investigation or trial of a case and balancing it with the right of the accused to dignity and reputation.”

Salve said these days it was common to find TV channels standing outside a house being raided by investigating agencies and telecasting minute by minute details of the search operation. “This surely besmirches someone’s reputation. What happens if the agency does not find any incriminating material or does not press any charge at the end of the investigations? Can he not move the constitutional courts seeking relief on the ground that such reporting was destroying his reputation,” he asked.

“The media should be beyond government regulations except acceptable censorship. But to argue that media is beyond all regulation is the limit,” he said. Salve also objected to media using unnecessary hyperboles to describe intense questioning by a bench in serious issues.

He said, “Judges ask sharp questions to get the best out of lawyers. There is no pulling up, tearing into or lambasting involved in the oral argument-based judicial scrutiny system in India. There is a talk of restraining judges from making comments on institutions. If anyone has to exercise restraint, it is the reporters who cover the courts, not the judges nor the lawyers who must not be inhibited in any manner from free and frank exchange of views.”

Counsel Nitya Ramakrishnan said the investigating agencies had been regularly leaking information to media to prejudice an accused branding him as a terrorist though ultimately he might get acquitted in a trial. Appearing for Rajasthan government, counsel Manish Singhvi said a state producing clear and cogent evidence of consistent media misreporting could seek temporary deferment of publication for a limited period.

“However, the order for postponement of publication must be direct, proximate with investigation and must be least intrusive to the freedom of press/electronic media. Thus, the press has a right to report even criminal sub-judice matters as long as they do not impair or destroy fair investigation,” he said. Singhvi said subordinate courts had sovereign power to dispense justice and hence, they had inherent powers to pass appropriate orders to secure the ends of justice.


SC to frame guidelines for reporting sub-judice matters; we need many more guidelines




In a constitutional democracy based on rule of law, citizens operate under a golden rule: “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins”. This articulation by American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes has conveyed to every one, including newspaper reporters, that their right to freedom of expression is not higher than the fundamental rights of others.

If a baseless swing of a reporter’s pen scratches another’s nose, then he faces law like ordinary citizens. But, some grave and incessant misreporting in media in the last few months has forced the Supreme Court to constitute a five-Judge constitution bench to deliberate on framing reporting guidelines on sub-judice matters.

The exercise is welcome. The guidelines will, probably, contain the golden principles telling reporters what to report and what not to, and importantly, how to write a news report. In the Indian Express judgement [1985 (1) SCC 641], the apex court had said the right to freedom of expression enjoyed by reporters could not be subjected to additional restriction other than those provided under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

The SC had also said: “Freedom of press is the heart of social and political intercourse…. Newspapers being purveyors of news and views having a bearing on public administration very often carry material which could not be palatable to the government and other authorities. With a view to checking malpractices which interfere with free flow of information, democratic constitutions all over the world have made provisions guaranteeing the freedom of speech and expression laying down limits of interference with it.”

“It is the primary duty of all national courts to uphold the said freedom and invalidate all laws or administrative actions which interfere with it, contrary to the constitutional mandate,” it had said.

Even if one takes that framing of guidelines for media on reporting sub-judice matters is a pressing issue, would it be more important than about 30% of the country’s population going hungry every day even after 62 years of India becoming a republic? When a vast humanity is living below poverty line and yet the government jokes that those who spend Rs 29 a day are not poor, doesn’t it ring an alarm bell about something being seriously wrong with governance? How about a guideline to make the right to life of one-third of Indians a little more meaningful? Would the SC attempt it?

The poor have been waiting for justice for years with no signs of better times in the immediate future. Another six crores (it would be much more but we take a very conservative estimate by assuming that only two persons are involved in each of the nearly 3 crore cases pending) are waiting for years in a labyrinthine queue for justice. Should the excruciating delays result in denial of justice? Would a guideline to limit case life to 2-3 years not pressing enough?

Talking about maladies faced by the country, the Vohra committee report in the 1990s pinned the blame on the unholy nexus among police-criminal-bureaucrat-mafia-politician. The SC in the Vineet Narain judgement dealt with this issue but did not issue a guideline to break the nexus.

It had also dealt with hawala scam in the 1990s and black money only two years ago. According to a conservative estimate by the National Institute of Public Policy, black money in our economy is around Rs 37,000 crore, which is a little more than one-fifth of the gross domestic product (GDP). It is an admitted position that on a conservative estimate the black money in circulation in India would match the quantum of white money. Should the SC not put forth guidelines to unearth the black money? A two-judge bench of the SC did make an attempt. But, the order is in limbo as a fresh bench hearing the Centre’s review petition gave a split verdict.

To give a specific example, the Rs 14,000-crore Satyam scam happened because of alleged deliberate auditing manipulations by chartered accountants of a reputed firm. With the plummeting share prices, dreams of millions crashed. Should the Supreme Court not frame guidelines for chartered accountants on how to audit, at least when it involves big listed companies?

For framing of guidelines, we must not forget the riots and its virulent kind, the communal riots. The apex court has dealt with the two most notorious ones in the history of modern India – the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and the 2002 post-Godhra riots. It did a great job in the 2002 case. It brought the perpetrators to book by breaking the shield provided to them by those in power. Should the SC have not framed guidelines for both police and governments on how to deal with communal riots? A guideline for rehabilitation of victims and prosecution of culprits would also not be out of place.

Reasonable restriction to Right of free speech and expression

The Indian Constitution preamble

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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.

Why India needs democracy

Sansad Bhavan, parliament building of India.

Image via Wikipedia


What is our national aim? To my mind, our national aim must be to make India a highly prosperous country for its citizens, and for that it is necessary to have a high degree of industrialization.

Even setting up and running a single primary school requires a lot of money, e.g. for buying land, erecting the school building and providing for the recurrent expenditure for salaries of teachers, staff, etc. We have to set up in our country not just one primary school, but hundreds of thousands of primary schools, tens of thousands of high schools and colleges and engineering colleges, technical institutes, medical colleges, scientific research centres, hospitals, libraries etc.

Where is the money for all these to come from? Money does not fall from the sky. It can only come from a highly developed industry, and it is industrialization alone which can generate the wealth we need for the welfare of our people. Today India is a poor country. Nobody respects the poor. It is for this reason that we do not have much respect in the world community (whatever we may think of ourselves). One proof of this is that we are not given a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council, although we have a population of 1200 million, whereas Britain and France with populations of 60 million each have permanent seats.

It is industrialization alone which can abolish poverty and unemployment, which are the main causes of crime and terrorism, and get us respect in the world community. Also, when there is rapid industrialization, which should be our national target, millions of jobs will be created which will solve the problem of unemployment. For industrialization, development of science is absolutely necessary, and for that freedom is also absolutely necessary, freedom to think, freedom to write, freedom to discuss with others, freedom to explain, freedom to criticize and freedom to dissent.

The growth of science requires certain supportive values, particularly liberty. This is because the thought process cannot develop without freedom. The values of a scientific community viz., pluralism, tolerance, individual freedom and free flow of information are very similar to the values of a democratic society (see ‘Science and the Making of the Modern World’ by John Marks).

A democratic society permits freedom of speech and expression, freedom to practice one’s own religion, which is based on tolerance, and freedom to dissent and criticize. These are precisely the values of a scientific community. In other words, in scientific matters authoritarianism and dogmatism are wholly out of place. Scientists must be largely left free to govern themselves, and have large amount of freedom which is necessary for innovation and creativity. Hence, democracy and liberty go hand in hand with the growth of science because both are based on tolerance, individual freedom and free flow of ideas. In democracy, as in a scientific community, there is freedom to speak, freedom to discuss, freedom to criticize and freedom to dissent.

Justice Louis D. Brandeis, of the U.S. Supreme Court in Whitney vs. California 274 U.S. 357, writing in 1927 observed:

“Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties; and that in its government the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that without free speech and assembly discussion would be futile; that with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government. They recognized the risks to which all human institutions are subject. But they knew that order cannot be secured merely through fear of punishment for its infraction; that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination; that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable government; that the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies; and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones. Believing in the power of reason as applied through public discussion, they eschewed silence coerced by law – the argument of force in its worst form. Recognizing the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities, they amended the Constitution so that free speech and assembly should be guaranteed”

Similarly, Justice William O. Douglas in Terminiello vs. Chicago 337 US 1 (1949) observed: “….[A] function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea. That is why freedom of speech, though not absolute, is nevertheless protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance or unrest… There is no room under our Constitution for a more restrictive view. For the alternative would lead to standardization of ideas either by legislatures, courts, or dominant political or community groups”.

In our own country, in ancient times the method of Shastrarthas had been developed. These were debates in which the thinkers of those times had full freedom to speak and to criticize their opponents in the opponent’s presence, and also in the presence of a large assembly of people. There are hundreds of references to such Shastrarthas in our epics and other literature. It was this freedom to freely discuss and criticize in ancient India which resulted in tremendous growth of knowledge even in such ancient times, including not only in philosophy, grammar law, etc. but also scientific knowledge, e.g. mathematics, astronomy, medicines, etc. The names of Aryabhatt, Brahmagupta, Bhaskar, Sushrut and Charak are known to all. With the aid of science we had built mighty civilizations e.g. the Indus Valley Civilization when people in Europe were living in forests.

In this connection, we may also mention about modern European history. England was the first country in the world to industrialize and modernize. This economic process was accompanied with the political struggle for liberty and democracy in the 17th and 18th centuries, which was particularly a struggle between the King and Parliament. As we all know, Parliament won, and this laid the foundation of freedom and civil liberties in England, which was necessary to create the atmosphere which science requires to prosper.

Similarly, in France, before the French Revolution of 1789, the thinkers of the Enlightenment — Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, Holbach, etc. who attacked feudalism and religious dogmatism paved the way for the Revolution of 1789 which destroyed feudalism, and led to scientific progress. On the other hand, in Italy, Spain and some other countries the Inquisition stifled free thinking and thereby scientific growth. All scientific ideas which were not consistent with the Bible were regarded as crimes e.g. the theory of Copernicus which stated that the earth moved around the sun and not the sun around the earth. As a result, these countries were left far behind England and France, and remained in the feudal dark ages for centuries.

The struggle to establish the scientific outlook was not an easy one. Scientific ideas initially were condemned because they were regarded as opposed to religious dogma. Voltaire and Rousseau had to fly for their lives to other countries. The Church persecuted the greatest scientists with blind cruelty, burning them at the stake (e.g. Bruno), torturing them (e.g. Galileo), and forbidding or destroying their works. As recently as in 1925 the teaching of Darwin’s theory of evolution was forbidden in the state of Tennessee in U.S.A., and a teacher John Scopes was tried in the famous ‘Monkey Trial’ for teaching that theory. For centuries the Church in Europe played an extremely reactionary role and fought pitilessly against the scientific conception of the world, and against the democratic movements. In India, if we are to progress and rise as a world power, we have to spread the scientific outlook to every nook and corner in our country, and destroy superstitions, e.g. the belief in astrology and palmistry, and the feudal ideas of casteism and communalism.

Science is that knowledge by which we can understand nature (and human society) and use this knowledge for our benefit. For doing so, the scientists rely on reason, observation and experiment. This obviously cannot be done on the dictates of anyone (though the government can certainly create the atmosphere where these can flourish). Science and democratic values go hand in hand.

In science, there is no final word, unlike in religion. Science questions everything and does not take anything for granted. Obviously, this approach is not permitted in an undemocratic society, e.g. feudal society (which is governed by religion) or fascist society (in which there is a dictator). Thus, Hitler, with his Nazi racial philosophy, caused an enormous setback to science in Germany by persecuting Jewish scientists and banning their works (e.g. Einstein).

Indeed, in India, after the Constitution was adopted in 1950, there was an atmosphere of liberal freedom in view of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution e.g. the right to free speech (Article 19), liberty (Article 21), equality (Articles 14 to 17), religious freedom (Article 25), etc. This helped growth of science and technology in our country, because it created an atmosphere of freedom where people including the scientists, could freely discuss and dissent. If we compare our country with the neighbouring countries, there were no such freedoms in those countries and hence those countries lagged far behind in economic growth.

Apart from the above, the advanced sections of society who want to take the country forward, and have the knowledge to do so, must have a lot of freedom to discuss, debate and criticize each other. They are the pioneers and are often entering into a new field, much of which is unknown. Hence, they must have freedom to think, discuss and criticize.

As pointed out by John Stuart Mill in his celebrated essay ‘On Liberty’, all progress, advancement of knowledge and progressive change and improvement of old ways of thinking, and the consequent old behaviour-patterns, habits, customs and traditions can come about only from free individual dissents and dissentions, innovations, etc. which are at first usually resisted by inert or conservative people (who are usually the vast majority), and by a free competition between the old and new ideas. As pointed out by Mill, in any society ordinarily the majority shares old thoughts and traditions, and there is a strong tendency to insist on conformity and collective unity or solidarity, to repress dissents and innovations, and to tolerate only what the majority agree with. This inevitably works to prevent any progress and to thwart the creative impulses of the more creative and original minds. Extensive freedom to dissent and innovate, in all spheres of life, activity, culture and thought in all directions, including expressing ideas initially thought strange and often disliked by the conservative tradition-bound majority are indispensable for progress. The intellectually advanced and creative individuals are often in the minority, and are regarded as non-conforming eccentrics and deviants, and there is often a tendency to suppress them. This is why liberal democracy, i.e. majority rule but qualified and limited by firm protection of minorities, and individual rights and liberties, even as against the governing majority, is essential for progress. The majority often consists of mediocre persons who wish to continue in the old ways of thinking and practices. Hence the liberties and rights have to be guaranteed to the often powerless tiny minorities and lone individuals so that scientific progress can take place.

As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes of the U.S. Supreme Court in his dissenting judgment in Abrams vs. United States, (1919) observed : “…The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market…”

The importance of the judiciary in India in this connection must also be highlighted in this country. In this connection reference may be made to two decisions of the Supreme Court delivered by me viz., Govt of A.P. and others vs. P. Laxmi Devi [2008 (4) SCC 720, JT 2008 (2) 639 and Deepak Bajaj vs. State of Maharashtra and others [JT 2008 (11) SC 609]. In these cases, I emphasized the importance of liberty for progress, and have observed that the judiciary must act as guardians of the liberties of the people, protecting them against executive, or even legislative arbitrariness or despotism. I have also in my judgments spoken out against honour killing, fake encounters, dowry deaths, etc. India needs democracy and scientific knowledge, and that means patiently spreading scientific ideas amongst the vast masses, raising their cultural level and involving them actively in the task of nation building.

To my mind, harsh and draconian laws will curb liberty, and that will not only violate the right to liberty granted by Article 21 of the Constitution, but will also lead to great evils e.g. increase in corruption in the police and other law enforcing agencies, which will have much more opportunities to extort money from the citizens, apart from impeding scientific and economic growth, which is vital for our country.

I have gone into some detail on this subject because I wished to clarify that I am a strong votary for liberty and have been misunderstood. However, liberty cannot be equated with licence to do anything one wishes. Should one be given the liberty to spread superstitions, to fan caste/or communal hatred, or put over emphasis on film stars, pop music, fashion parades and cricket in a poor country like ours? I think not. All freedoms are coupled with responsibilities, and no freedom is absolute. It is for this reason that I believe that while ordinarily issues relating to the media should be resolved by the democratic method of discussion and dialogue, in rare and exceptional cases (which may not be more than 5 per cent) harsh measures may be required, but that too not by the government but by any independent statutory authority e.g. the Lokpal.

(Justice Markandey Katju is the Chairman of Press Council of India)


Freedom of the press and journalistic ethics

Justice Markandey Katju  IN THE HINDU

Freedom is important, so is responsibility. In countries like India, the media have a responsibility to fight backward ideas such as casteism and communalism, and help the people fight poverty and other social evils.

Freedom of the press and journalistic ethics is an important topic today in India — with the word ‘press’ encompassing the electronic media also. There should be a serious discussion on the topic. That discussion should include issues of the responsibilities of the press, since the media have become very prominent and very powerful.

In India, freedom of the press has been treated as part of the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, vide Brij Bhushan and Another vs. The State of Delhi, AIR 1950 SC 129 and Sakal Papers (P) Ltd vs. Union of India, AIR 1962 SC 305, among others. However, as mentioned in Article 19(2), reasonable restrictions can be placed on this right, in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. Hence, freedom of the media is not an absolute freedom.

The importance of the freedom of the press lies in the fact that for most citizens the prospect of personal familiarity with newsworthy events is unrealistic. In seeking out news, the media therefore act for the public at large. It is the means by which people receive free flow of information and ideas, which is essential to intelligent self-governance, that is, democracy.

For a proper functioning of democracy it is essential that citizens are kept informed about news from various parts of the country and even abroad, because only then can they form rational opinions. A citizen surely cannot be expected personally to gather news to enable him or her to form such opinions. Hence, the media play an important role in a democracy and serve as an agency of the people to gather news for them. It is for this reason that freedom of the press has been emphasised in all democratic countries, while it was not permitted in feudal or totalitarian regimes.

In India, the media have played a historical role in providing information to the people about social and economic evils. The media have informed the people about the tremendous poverty in the country, the suicide of farmers in various States, the so-called honour killings in many places by Khap panchayats, corruption, and so on. For this, the media in India deserve kudos.

However, the media have a great responsibility also to see that the news they present is accurate and serve the interest of the people. If the media convey false news that may harm the reputation of a person or a section of society, it may do great damage since reputation is a valuable asset for a person. Even if the media subsequently correct a statement, the damage done may be irreparable. Hence, the media should take care to carefully investigate any news item before reporting it.

I know of a case where the photograph of a High Court judge, who was known to be upright, was shown on a TV channel along with that of a known criminal. The allegation against the judge was that he had acquired some land at a low price misusing his office. But my own inquiries (as part of which I met and asked questions to that judge and many others) revealed that he had acquired the land not in any discretionary quota but in the open market at the market price.

Also, sometimes the media present twisted or distorted news that may contain an element of truth but also an element of untruth. This, too, should be avoided because a half-truth can be more dangerous than a total lie. The media should avoid giving any slant to news, and avoid sensationalism and yellow journalism. Only then will they gain the respect of the people and fulfil their true role in a democracy.

Recently, reports were published of paid news — which involves someone paying a newspaper and getting something favourable to him published. If this is correct, it is most improper. Editors should curb this practice.

Media comments on pending cases, especially on criminal cases where the life or liberty of a citizen is involved, are a delicate issue and should be carefully considered. After all, judges are human beings too, and sometimes it may be difficult for them not to be influenced by such news. The British law is that when a case is sub judice, no comment can be made on it, whereas U.S. law permits such comment. In India we may have to take an intermediate view on this issue: while on the one hand we have a written Constitution that guarantees freedom of speech in Article 19(1)(a) — which the unwritten British Constitution does not — the life and liberty of a citizen is a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 21 and should not lightly be jeopardised. Hence, a balanced view has to be taken on this.

Also, often the media publish correct news but place too much emphasis on frivolous news such as those concerning the activities of film stars, models, cricketers and so on, while giving very little prominence to much more important issues that are basically socio-economic in nature.

What do we see on television these days? Some channels show film stars, pop music, disco-dancing and fashion parades (often with scantily clad young women), astrology, or cricket. Is it not a cruel irony and an affront to our poor people that so much time and resources are spent on such things? What have the Indian masses, who are facing terrible economic problems, to do with such things?

Historically, the media have been organs of the people against feudal oppression. In Europe, the media played a major role in transforming a feudal society into a modern one. The print media played a role in preparing for, and during, the British, American and French Revolutions. The print media were used by writers such as Rousseau, Voltaire, Thomas Paine, Junius and John Wilkes in the people’s fight against feudalism and despotism. Everyone knows of the great stir created by Thomas Paine’s pamphlet ‘Common Sense’ during the American Revolution, or of the letters of Junius during the reign of the despotic George III.

The media became powerful tools in the hands of the people then because they could not express themselves through the established organs of power: those organs were in the hands of feudal and despotic rulers. Hence, the people had to create new organs that would serve them. It is for this reason that that the print media became known as the Fourth Estate. In Europe and America, they represented the voice of the future, in contrast to the feudal or despotic organs that wanted to preserve the status quo in society. In the 20th century, other types of media emerged: radio, television and the Internet.

What should be the media’s role? This is a matter of great importance to India as it faces massive problems of poverty, unemployment, corruption, price rise and so on.

To my mind, in underdeveloped countries like India the media have a great responsibility to fight backward ideas such as casteism and communalism, and help the people in their struggle against poverty and other social evils. Since a large section of the people is backward and ignorant, it is all the more necessary that modern ideas are brought to them and their backwardness removed so that they become part of enlightened India. The media have a great responsibility in this respect.

(Markandey Katju is a Judge of the Supreme Court of India. The second part of this article will follow.)