Freedom of Speech and Expression as enshrined in Art.19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India is one of the most important fundamental rights. This is not absolute though, as the subsequent clause in Art. 19(2) talks about reasonable restrictions that are placed upon the enjoyment of such rights.
This case is considered a landmark judgement on the question of the Independence of media and the legality of censorship in India.
The question that is this case arose on the legality of the S.7 (1)(c) of East Punjab Public Safety Act, 1949which was also extended to the province of Delhi. The petitioners, in this case, were the publisher of an English Weekly called “Organiser” and using the provision of art.32 of the constitution of India, they petitioned the apex court under the provisions of certiorari and prohibition, to examine and review the legality of such a provision and to restrict its operations thus saving the publishers and allowing them to enjoy their fundamental right to free speech and expression under art.19(1)(a) of the constitution of India.
- Legal validity of the provision of the East Punjab Public safety act
- The definition of ‘public order’ and ‘public safety’ and their role as a restriction to the right to free speech
Mr. Ganpat Rai, the learned counsel appearing before the apex court representing the petitioner, submitted before the hon’ble court that the Chief Commissioner of Delhi had under the East Punjab Safety Act of 1949 in Section 7(1)(c) passed an order which the petitioner submitted was in violation of the fundamental right of free speech and expression as the aforesaid order did not come under the purview of the reasonable restrictions of art 19(2) of the Indian Constitution. Thus, the petitioner’s arguments rested on the constitutional validity of the said section of the impugned act.
Mr. P.A. Mehta, the learned counsel for the Respondent which was the state of Delhi is this case submitted before the apex body, that the organiser of the weekly english publication in Delhi had been publishing text that was highly objectionable and said text posed a serious threat to the law and order situation in the region. The respondent further submitted that the impugned act was a necessary force to help prevent activities which were prejudicial to the situation of Law and Order in the state. The argument for the state of delhi rested on the submission that the aforesaid act came under the purview of responsible restriction under Art19(2) of the Constitution of India.
The Bench that presided over this case consisted of Fazal Ali, Saiyid, Kania, Hiralal J. (CJ), Sastri, M. Patanjali, Mahajan, Mehr Chand Das, Sudhi Ranjan, Mukherjea, B.K. they ruled in the favour of protecting the right of the publication to free speech and expression as protected by the constitution of India under Art. 19(1)(a). The judgment called censorship so pushed on to the journal was a restriction on the liberty of the press which is considered to be an infringement of the fundamental rights so protected by the constitution of India. The court in its judgement thus ruled that the restrictions imposed on the publishers were justified and could not be used as an authority of reasonable clause in Art. 19 (2) as a justification of the same.
The judgement goes into length to explain the concept of similar but slightly different concepts of ‘public order’ and ‘public safety’. The judgement talks of them as allied concepts and to appreciate how they stand in relation to each other we must pay attention to the facets that set them apart. The court thus opined that if the opposite of both of them were to be considered, they would be labelled as ‘public disorder ‘and ‘public unsafety’. Subsequently, if public safety was to seen as equivalent to the security of the state’ the designated opposite would be so called ‘insecurity of the state’, when thinking of these labels in such a format the court said, ‘public disorder’ would be wide enough to cover a small riot or related incidents involving a small number of individuals wherein the peace is disturbed by or is affected by a relatively small group of people this cannot be considered equal to the insecurity of the state as such ‘insecurity of the state’ will usually be connected to serious internal disorders and thus, such disturbances to the public tranquillity are linked to those that can jeopardise the security of the state.
The court further went on to explain it’s position based on the reasoning that the act was called “the East Punjab Public Safety Act” and so the term public safety in the name of the act so suggested that the purpose of the act was to deal with cases of that were of more serious nature than what it was being used for in this particular context. Public safety in the eyes of the court was a serious matter and was a circumstance of emergency or a grave situation. It was also further noted by the court that the phrase ‘special measures’ used in the act denoted the use of the provisions of the said act in special circumstances and not intended for ordinary cases or situations.
The apex court thus in its judgement ruled that though the provisions of the act so in question ie. East Punjab Public Safety Act was constitutionally valid and was not against the fundamental rights as enshrined under the constitution of India. They were but erroneously enforced on the petitioner in this circumstance. The reason so given was that the act was to give the state the authority to curtail the right to free speech in extraordinary circumstances and situations of emergencies, which the publication of English weekly was not and thus the petitioners grant to the motion was passed.
 S.7 The Provincial Government or any authority authorised by it on this behalf if satisfied that such action is necessary for the purpose of preventing or combating any activity prejudicial to the public safety or the maintenance of public order may, by order in writing addressed to a printer, publisher or editor –
(c) require that any matter relating to a particular subject or class or subjects shall before publication be submitted for scrutiny.
 Write issues to quash an order or a judgement made by an inferior court
 Writ issued to stop the inferior court from exceeding its jurisdiction.
 19. Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech
- All citizens shall have the right
- To freedom of speech and expression