Indian Express Private Limited and Others V. Union of India

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By ANANYA S from Mahatma Gandhi University Sree Narayana Law College, Kochi, Kerala

INTRODUCTION

Our Constitution guarantees certain fundamental rights and these fundamental rights are the essence of Constitution. Article 32 of Constitution provides constitutional remedies for the enforcement of these fundamental rights. One of the important fundamental rights is the freedom of speech and expression and it is provided in the Article 19(1) (a). It is the freedom to express one’s ideas, views through a communication medium. Freedom of press is a key element of Freedom of Speech and Expression. Every citizen has the right to know what all things are happening in all spheres of World. Press gives information to all and thus it is an integral part of our democracy.

Present case is a writ petition filed by the Indian Express Private Limited and others for violation of their freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1) (a) and right to carry on any occupation, trade or business under Article 19(1) (g).

In this writ Petition petitioner’s challenged the validity of a notification which was brought by Central Government. The crux of notification is that it created certain customs duty on imported Newsprint and also auxiliary duty butbefore this notification imported raw news prints were exempted from paying these duties. Petitioner’s main claim was that it affected their circulation of newspaper and violated their Freedom of press under Freedom of Speech and Expression and also the right to carry on any occupation, trade and business under Article 19 (1) (g).

Facts of the case

The facts of the case are following :-[1]

In the year 1934 under the Indian Tariff Act there was customs duty on imported news prints but after the recommendation of the Inquiry Committee of the Newspaper, the Government exempted imported Newsprint from customs duty in 1966. But after the coming of Customs Tariff Act in 1975, it imposed some basic customs duty on Newsprint and also some auxiliary duty under Finance Act(1973). In the year 1977 there came total exemption on Newsprint from customs duty.

In 1st March, 1981 the Central Government brought a notification, which eliminates the exemption of news prints from customs duty and auxiliary duty. The main crux of notification is that it created impose duty on imported newspaper and also added additional auxiliary duty on these newsprints.

The petitioner of this case imported certain Newsprint and it was essential for printing of their newspapers. The notification made by the government imposed a burden of impose duty and also auxiliary duty on them which created a high cost on production of newspaper and also leads to reduction of the circulation of newspaper, they claim that it leads to violation of their freedom of press under Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19 (1)(a) and also the right under Article 19 (1)(g).

There are mainly three types of newspapers, ie small, medium and large. The small newspapers are exempted from import and auxiliary duty. But the medium and large newspapers should pay custom duties. The petitioner’s in this case contended that the discrimination of government on matter is violative of Article 14 and also arbitrary.

Issues in the case

The main issues raised by the Petitioner is that the notification is violative of Article 19 (1) (a),i.e Freedom of speech and expression and also Article 19 (1)(g), i.e the right to carry on any occupation, trade and business. They also raised that classification of newspapers on payment of import duty and auxiliary duty is violative of Article 14.

The main issue is that whether notification imposing import duty and auxiliary duty on newspapers are violative Article 19 (1)(a) and Article 19 (1)(g) and also classification of newspapers is violative of Article 14 and whether it is arbitrary.

Arguments, Reasoning, Judgment

The claim of Petitioner is that the imposition of import duty and auxiliary duty on newsprints created high cost of production and also this leads to huge reduction in the circulation of newspapers. It affected their right to press in the freedom of speech and expression. They also claimed that they cannot bear this burden of high duty imposed by the Government and also leads to violation of their fundamental rights. Discrimination of government by exempting small newspapers from import and auxiliary duty is violative of their Article 14 and they claimed that it is arbitrary and against Constitution.

The argument of Government before Court is that they imposed duty on newspapers for revenue of government. They contended that everyone should pay some amount as tax for enjoying the benefit provided by government and by this only government is getting revenue. Government argued that earlier they allowed exemption for Newsprint for public interest and now there is no such public interest so that they are withdrawing that exemption.

They also defended that allowing exemption for small newspapers is necessary because it is based on public interest.

Thus the Government defended that there is no violation of Article 19(1)(a) and also Article 14 of Constitution.

The Honourable Supreme Court observed that the freedom of press is included in the freedom of speech and expression and also Dr. Ambedkar mentioned that there is no need of special expression of freedom of press in freedom of speech and expression because it is implied in this freedom.[2]

Court observed that the freedom of speech and expression should not be infringed by reason of public interest and also pointed out that reasonable restrictions under Article 19 (2) can be imposed but it should not violate the freedom of speech and expression of citizens. Everyone has the right to express their ideas and views and freedom of press gives the right to circulation of newspapers and it is an integral part of freedom of speech and expression.

Supreme Court also pointed out that while imposing custom duty on newsprints, government need to be more cautious and the freedom of speech and expression should not be infringed.

While considering the case, the Supreme Court quoted the importance of freedom of press in democratic society and also Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, Article 10 of European Convention on Human Rights and also First Amendment to the United States of America’s Constitution. There all Covenants and Amendments deals with the importance of freedom of speech and expression and also freedom of opinion and press.

The Supreme Court criticized the Government for imposing customs duty merely on the ground that newspapers created priffles and pointed that it is unconstitutional and also cited arguments by government cannot be taken as relevant and also held that government failed to fulfil their statutory obligation while deciding notification.

Supreme Court held that the classification of newspapers and exemption to small newspapers from import duty and from levy is not arbitrary and Court agreed with contentions of Government on that point and said that small newspapers cannot afford huge cost of production and they are all in Indian languages and their revenue is less as compared to large newspapers and held that it is not violative of Article 14 and it is not arbitrary.

Considering all the facts and circumstances of the case and also the arguments of both parties Supreme Court came to a decision.

Honourable Supreme Court held that newspaper industry is not fully exempted from the customs duty but it should not interfere in the freedom of speech and expression and should not infringe that freedom and also held that burden of tax should not be excessive. While considering the case, Court came to know that after imposing import duty and auxiliary duty the cost of production become high and also it leads to reduction of circulation. Both the petitioner and responded failed to explain the exact burden of tax and its excessiveness. Finally Court held that the matter of imposition of duty and auxiliary duty by Government should be re-examined and Supreme Court has given six months period for re-examination and while in this period the Government should not charge the import duty and auxiliary duty imposed by the notification.

Relevant cases cited by the Court while deciding the case are Sakal Paper Ltd v. Union of India, Bennet Coleman and Co v. Union of India and Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras. These are all famous cases of freedom of press. Court held in these cases that no one’s right to freedom of speech and expression can be infringed but reasonable restriction under 19(2) can be imposed by Government for the sovereignty and integrity of India, security of state, friendly relations with Foreign States, public order, decency or morality in relation to contempt of court and defamation or incitement to an offence. [3]

Analysis

The decision of Supreme Court in this case is appropriate and Court held that Government should re-examine the import duty and auxiliary duty imposed on newsprints. The Court also given six months period for this and within that period Government should reconsider it.

The decision of Court is conformity with the existing laws and also the reasoning made by court on this decision is consistent and clear and also the reasoning Court will significantly influence the existing laws.

The Court adequately justified its reasoning. In deciding whether classification of newspapers leads to violation of Article 14, the Court held that the classification is reasonable and there is sufficient nexus and held that it is not arbitrary. Court also held that the burden of tax should not exceed the limit and it should not be excessive.

Here the interpretation of law and reasoning is consistent and appropriates and also Court considered the issues and arguments of both parties and decided the case.

Court cannot allow full exemption of customs duty to newsprint because it is the power of government to decide such matters but when there is any violation of freedom of any right court can held it as unconstitutional and also can struck down that laws or any order.

Conclusion

Thus coming to the conclusion we can say that freedom of press is integral part of freedom of speech and expression. This is a famous case under right to freedom of press and in this case Supreme Court held that government should reconsider the imposition of import duty and auxiliary duty imposed on newsprints imported from abroad and also ordered to re-examine the notification issued by Government.

According to me it was a fair decision by court. We all know that fundamental rights are essential part in Indian Constitution, any thing which is contrary to fundamental right is unconstitutional and Court will  struck down.

Freedom of speech and expression is an important fundamental right under Constitution and Freedom of press is essence of that right. But this freedom is not unlimited it has certain reasonable restrictions and it is provided in Article 19 (2).The Government can impose this reasonable restrictions.

The imposition of heavy customs duty on imported newsprint will increase heavy cost on production and it also leads to their reduction in circulation of the newspaper and it will create a major impact on newspaper industry and leads to closure of industry and it is great violation their fundamental right under Article 19 (1)(a) and Article 19(1)(g) of India Constitution.

Thus we can say that the decision of Supreme Court is appropriate and Court will not allow any kind of infringements to fundamental rights and everyone can approach Court for enforcement of their fundamental right under Article 32.

Press is an important and one of essential   element in our democracy which gives information to all and it can be accessed by everyone in this   world and also it constitute the fourth pillar of democracy.

References

  • www.indiankanoon.org last visited on 9/11/2020,8.00pm
  • https://indianlegalsolution.com last visited on 9 /11/2020,5.30pm
  • TheConstitutionof India, 1950- Bare Act
  • Dr.J.N.PandeyConstitutionalLaw of India, Publishedby theCentral Law Agency

[1]www.indiankanoon.org, 9/11 /2020,2.00pm

[2] Constitutional Law of India – Dr. J. N. Pandey

[3]Constitutional Law Bare Act

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