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Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression

Right to Freedom

(Article 19 - 22)

Protection of Six Freedom Rights

Article 19: Guarantees all citizens shall have the

·        Right to freedom of speech and expression.

·        Right to assemble peacefully and without arms.

·        Right to form associations or unions or co-operatives societies.

·        Right to move freely throughout the territory of India.

·        Right to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India.

·        Right to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade, or business.

Originally Article 19(1) had seven freedoms. But Article 19(1)(f) i.e., right to freedom of property was omitted by the 44th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1978. The rights granted under Article 19 are available only to the citizens.


Right to freedom of speech and expression

[Article 19 (1) (a)]

The freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a), means the right to speak and to express one's opinion by words of mouth, writing, printing pictures or in any other manner. It is the right of a citizen to express his views freely and openly. Openly means without any fear while freely denotes that the citizen can choose any medium to express his opinion e.g., printing, writing, putting banners and hoarding, etc. It is to express one's convictions and opinions or ideas freely, through any medium of communication or visible representation such as gestures, signs, and the like. The right to freedom of speech and expression has been subjected to wide interpretations by the Supreme Court.

Reasonable Restrictions on Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression

Clause 2 of Article 19, provides: Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or about contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offense.

Freedom of Press

Unlike the American Constitution, Article 19(1) does not specifically or separately provides for the liberty of the press. The omission was explained by Dr. BR Ambedkar when he observed: "The editor of a press or the managers are merely exercising the right of expression and therefore, no special mention is necessary of the freedom of the press."


Right to Know and to Obtain Information

It has been held that in a democratic government, It is elementary that citizens ought to know what their government is doing. They have the right to know every public act. It has also been held that exposure to public gaze and scrutiny is one of the surest means of achieving a clean and healthy administration.

With a view to promoting openness, transparency, and accountability in administration, the Right to Information Act came into operation on 12th October 2005. The act provides for furnishing information by the public information officer on request from the person desiring to obtain it. A penalty of up to Rs 25000 can be imposed for failure to give information.

Rights of the Citizens/Voters to Know the Antecedents (Social Background)

The Supreme Court in Association for Democratic Democratic reforms vs Union of India case, 2002, ruled that right to know the antecedents of the candidates contesting for MP or MLA including their criminal antecedents was fundamental and basic for survival of democracy. Holding that democracy cannot survive without free and fair elections, without fairly informed voters, the court said that the voter had the right to get material information concerning a candidate contesting election for a post, which was of utmost importance in the democracy was implied in the freedom of speech guaranteed by Article Article19(1)(a).

Right to Reply or Answer Criticism Against One's Views

In Life Insurance Corporation of India vs Manubhai D Shah, the Supreme court held that the right to reply, i.e., the right to get published one's reply in the same news media in which something was published against or about a citizen was a part of the freedom of speech and expression.

Demonstrations and Picketing

It has been held that demonstrations or picketing are visible manifestations of one's ideas and in effect a form of speech and expression. However, to be protected under Article 19(1)(a), the demonstrations or picketings must not go beyond the limits of persuasion or inducement and which does not restrain others from what they please would be saved under Article19(1)(a).

Right of a Convict to Express Himself

In M Hasan vs State of Andhra Pradesh, 1998, the Andhra Pradesh High Court held that refusal to journalists and videographers seeking interviews with condemned prisoners amounted to a deprivation of citizen's Fundamental Right to speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a). As far as the exercise of Fundamental Rights was concerned, the Court said, the position of a condemned prisoner was at the same level as a free citizenHe had a right, the court ruled, to give his ideas and was entitled to be interviewed or to be televised

No Right to Call or Enforce Bandh, Hartals, Blockades

The Supreme Court in CPI vs Bharat Kumar, 1998 reiterated with approval the decision of the Kerala High Court in Bharat Kumar vs the State of Kerala, 1997 and laid down that there was no right to call or enforce 'Bandh', which interfered with the exercise of fundamental freedoms of other citizens, in addition to causing a national loss in many ways. The court held that hartal and boycott can be illegal if accompanied by violence. Regarding a blockade, no one has a right to call for a blockade of the local authority's office in the exercise of the right of their free movement.

Freedom of Silence

In Bijou Emmanuel vs the State of Kerala, the Supreme Court held that no person could be compelled to sing National anthem 'if he has genuine conscientious objections based on his religious belief'. In this case, their children belonging to Jehovah's Witnesses were expelled from the school for refusing to sing the National Anthem during school prayers. They used to stand up respectfully when the national anthem was being sung but did not join in singing it.

The Kerala High Court upheld their expulsion from the school on the ground that it was their fundamental duty to sign the National Anthem and that they committed an offense under the Prevention of Insults to National Honours Act, 1971. The Supreme Court, however, reversed the decision of the High Court and observed that they did not commit any offense. It was held that the expulsion of the children from that school was a violation of their Fundamental Right under Article 19(1)(a) also included freedom of silence.   

Also Read:

preamble to the constitution of india

Right to equality

Citizenship of India



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