The Lawmatics Freedom of press series
The case of ‘Express Newspaper Private limited v. UOI (1985)’ is a landmark case on Freedom of Speech and expression. In this case, Petitions were filed under Article 32 before the Supreme court of India.
Petitioners in the Case
- Petitioner no.1, the Express Newspapers Pvt. Ltd., was a company engaged in the business of printing and publishing the national newspaper the Indian Express (Delhi Edition) from the Express Buildings at 9-10, Bahadurshah Zafar Marg, New Delhi, held on a perpetual lease from the Union of India under a registered indenture of lease dated March 17, 1958.
- Petitioner no.2, the Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Pvt. Ltd.
- Petitioner no.3 Ram Nath Goenka was the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Pvt. Ltd.
- Petitioner no.4 Nihal Singh was the then Editor-in-chief of the Indian Express and
- Petitioner no.5 Romesh Thapar was the Editor of the Seminar published from the Express Building.
The Matter in Issue
- The petitioners challenged the constitutional validity of a notice of re-entry upon forfeiture of lease issued by the Engineer Officer, Land & Development Office, New Delhi dated March 10, 1980 purporting to be on behalf of the lessor i.e. the Government of India, Ministry of Works & Housing, New Delhi.
- The said notice required petitioner no.1, the Express Newspapers Pvt., New Delhi to show cause why the Union of India should not re-enter upon and take possession of the demised premises i.e. plots nos. 9 and 10, Bahadurshah Zafar Marg together with the Express Buildings built thereon, for the alleged breach of cls. 2(14 and 2(5) of the lease-deed.
- They also challenged the validity of an earlier notice dated March 1, 1980 issued by the Zonal Engineer (Buildings), Municipal Corporation, City Zone, Delhi to petitioner no.1, the Express Newspapers Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi to show cause why the aforesaid buildings being unauthorized should not be demolished under ss. 343 and 344 of the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957.
- The petitioners alleged that the impugned notices of re- entry upon forfeiture of lease and of threatened demolition of the Express Buildings at Bahadurshah Zafar Marg, New Delhi which constitute the nerve centre of the newspaper the Indian Express which has the largest combined circulation among all the daily newspapers in India and is published simultaneously from eleven cities in the country, are wholly mala fide and politically motivated.
- They further alleged that the impugned notices constitute an act of personal vendetta against the Express Group of Newspapers, in general, and Ram Nath Goenka, chairman of the Board of Directors in particular, and are violative of Arts. 14, 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.
The court’s Answer
- The freedom of thought and expression, and the freedom of the press are not only valuable freedoms in themselves but are basic to a democratic form of Government which proceeds on the theory that problems of the Government can be solved by the free exchange of thought and by public discussion of the various issues facing the nation. It is necessary to emphasize and one must not forget that the vital importance of freedom of speech and expression involves the freedom to dissent to a free democracy like ours.
- Democracy relies on the freedom of the press. It is the inalienable right of everyone to comment freely upon any matter of public importance. This right is one of the pillars of individual liberty-freedom of speech, which our Court has always unfailingly guarded.
- However precious and cherished the freedom of speech is under Art.19(1)(a), this freedom is not absolute and unlimited at all times and under all circumstances but is subject to the restrictions contained in Art. 19(2). That must be so because unrestricted freedom of speech and expression which includes the freedom of the press and is wholly free from restraints, amounts to uncontrolled licence which would lead to disorder and anarchy and it would be hazardous to ignore the vital importance of our social and national interest in public order and security of the State.
- Here, the impugned notices of re-entry upon forfeiture of lease and of the threatened demolition of the Express Buildings are intended and meant to silence the voice of the Indian Express. It must logically follow that the impugned notices constitute a direct and immediate threat to the freedom of the press and are thus violative of Art. 19(1)(a) read with Art.14 of the Constitution
- Mala fides on the part of the Government in power or its functionaries would be sufficient to invalidate the impugned notices. Fraud on power vitiates the impugned orders if they were not exercised bona tide for the purpose for which the power was conferred.
Decision of the court was that the court quashed the notices.
Express Newspaper Private limited v. UOI (1985)