1950 AIR 124, 1950 SCR 594.
- Justice Fazal Ali, Saiyid
- (CJ) Kania, Harilal
- Sastri, M. Patanjali
- Mahajan, Mehr Chand
- Das, Sudhi Ranjan
- Mukherjea, B.K.
JUDGEMENT GIVEN ON
26 May 1950
FACTS AND BACKGROUND OF THE CASE
Romesh Thappar was a publisher of a weekly magazine called Crossroads; certain articles were published in his magazine regarding the doubtful nature of public policies especially foreign policy. These articles created suspicion among the public about governmental policies leading to a communist movement rising in some regions of Madras forcing the state government to impose a ban on circulation of the magazine in areas where the communist movement was going on with enthusiasm.
- Madras Maintenance of Public Order Act, 1949 Section 9 (1-A): It allows the government to stop the circulation, selling, and distribution of any journal in any part of Madras to ensure ‘Public Safety’ or preserving ‘Public Order’.
- Constitution of India Article 19 (1) (a): Provides freedom of speech and expression to citizens of India. Freedom of speech and expression gives one a right to speak and express their opinions and ideas about something through traditional media or social media.
- Constitution of India Article 19 (2): Provides for the reasonable restrictions to freedom of speech and expression granted under Article 19 (1) (a). These restrictions include the sovereignty and integrity and security of the state and friendly relations with foreign states.
- Constitution of India Article 13: Provides for the laws that may or may not be passed before the commencement of the Constitution of India if violates fundamental rights mentioned in Part 3 of the Indian Constitution must be declared null and void.
- Constitution of India Article 32: Provides an Indian citizen right to approach Supreme Court if their fundamental right has been violated by any government authority. The article goes as ‘Heart & Soul of Indian Constitution’ due to its protective nature towards other fundamental rights specified in Part 3.
- Constitution of India Article 226: Provides High Courts the power to issue writs for enforcement of fundamental rights.
- Whether the violation of the fundamental right can be dealt with by Supreme Court before State High Court?
- Whether the order passed by the government under Madras Maintenance of Public Order Act, 1949 Section 9 (1-A) violate the freedom of Speech and Expression?
- Whether the existence of Madras Maintenance of Public Order Act, 1949 Section 9 (1-A) was itself unconstitutional for it violates fundamental rights mentioned in Part 3 of the Indian Constitution?
DECISION OF COURT
On the issue of whether the Supreme Court can be approached before the State High Court, the court believed that Article 32 gives power to Supreme Court to issue writs if any government authority violates fundamental rights provided in part 3 of the Indian Constitution, which in itself as a fundamental right that cannot be denied. Hence, the Supreme Court as the guardian of fundamental rights cannot refuse to entertain any petition for seeking against infringements of fundamental rights.
The order passed by the Madras government was declared unconstitutional as it violates the Freedom of Speech and Expression mentioned under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution. The ban imposed by the state government on the circulation of magazines prevents the freedom to propagate ideas, opinions, and viewpoints regarding any issue that concerns the general public.
The Madras Maintenance of Public Order Act, 1949 Section 9 (1-A) was made with the interest of issues like ‘Public Safety’ and ‘Public Order’. Here, ‘Public Safety’ means the security of health of the general public from dangers that vary according to the situation. ‘Public Order’ means to deal with events that may lead to disruption of peace and tranquility of the province. Regarding the question of the unconstitutionality of the law, the Supreme Court invokes the ‘Doctrine of Severability’ to ensure if severing any law defeats the entire purpose of legislation or not. Thereby, declared that the said order contradicts the fundamental right given under Article 19 (1) (a) hence ultra vires. However, Court is of the view that entire legislation cannot be considered void as Article 13 of the Indian Constitution states that the law can be declared null and void only to the extent of its inconsistency with fundamental rights.
This article is written by Simran Gulia, pursuing BA LLB from Maharaja Agrasen Institute of Management Studies.