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SC verdict on MPs, MLAs’ right to freedom of speech

GS Paper 2

Syllabus: Indian Constitution—Historical Underpinnings, Evolution, Features, Amendments, Significant Provisions and Basic Structure

 

Source: IE

 

Direction: The article highlights the recent SC judgement in the context of the scope of the right to free speech under the Constitution of India.

  

Context: The SC held there is no reason to impose “additional restrictions” on the right to free speech {under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution} of ministers, including MLAs and MPs.

 

Article 19 (Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, etc.):

(1) All citizens shall have the right-

      (a) to freedom of speech and expression;

(b) to assemble peaceably and without arms;

(c) to form associations or unions;

(d) to move freely throughout the territory of India;

(e) to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India;

(g) to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.

 

(2) Nothing in 19 (1) (a) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, as far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions in the interests of the –

●        Sovereignty and integrity of India,

●        Security of the State,

●        Friendly relations with foreign States,

●        Public order,

●        Decency or morality, or

●        In relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

Background:

  • The case (Kaushal Kishor v the State of UP), relates to the Bulandshahar rape incident of 2016, in which the then Minister of the State termed the incident a ‘political conspiracy and nothing else’.
  • The survivors then filed a writ petition before the SC and the court raised an important question – “Whether restrictions can be imposed on a public functionary’s right to freedom of speech and expression?”.

 

The majority judgement:

  • Even if the remarks are related to state affairs or intended to protect the government, the government is not legally responsible for them.
  • While citizens had the right to petition the Court for violations of Articles 19 and 21 (right to life), a statement made by the Minister that was inconsistent with citizens’ rights may not by itself be actionable.
  • However, if it results in an omission (error) or commission (command) of an offence by a public official, remedies can be sought.

 

The dissenting opinion:

  • Freedom of speech and expression is a much-needed right so that citizens are well-informed and educated on governance.
  • As a result, the dissenting judge agreed with the majority that further restrictions on speech were unnecessary.
  • If the statements made by a Minister are derogatory, the government should be legally liable.
  • The word ‘fraternity’ in the Preamble of the Constitution, ensures that the dignity of individuals cannot be harmed by an unwarranted speech by fellow citizens, including public officials.

 

Conclusion: Hate speech strikes at the foundational values of society. However, common law remedies are present to address those issues and creating another set of guidelines or laws is a matter for Parliament to deliberate (the dissenting opinion).

 

Insta Links:

Is the freedom of speech absolute?

 

Mains Links:

Q. Examine the scope of Fundamental Rights in light of the latest judgement of the Supreme Court on the Right to Privacy. (UPSC 2017)

 

Prelims Links: (UPSC 2017)

Which one of the following objectives is not embodied in the Preamble to the Constitution of India?

(a) Liberty of thought

(b) Economic liberty

(c) Liberty of expression

(d) Liberty of belief

 

Ans: b