The Lawmatics Freedom of Press Series

The case of ‘Sakal Papers Pvt. Ltd. v. Union of India (1961)’ is considered a landmark case on freedom of press in India. In this case, three petitions wherein the constitutionality of the Newspaper (Price and Page) Act, 1956, and the Daily Newspaper (Price and Page) Order, 1960, was questioned.

The Three Petitions

The first petition was by a private limited company carrying on business of publishing daily and weekly newspapers in Marathi named “Sakal” from Poona and by two persons who were the only shareholders in that company.

The second and third petitions were preferred by two readers of “Sakal” who also challenged the constitutionality of the Act.

The Sakal Newspaper

The newspaper “Sakal[1]” was started in the year 1932 and it was claimed that it had a net circulation of 52,000 copies on week days and 56,000 copies on Sundays in Maharashtra and Karnataka and as such plays a leading part in the dissemination of news and views and in moulding public opinion in matters of public interest. The daily addition of the newspaper contains six pages a day for five days in a week and four pages on one day. This edition is priced at 7 nP. The Sunday edition consists of ten pages and is priced at 12nP. About 40% of the space in the newspaper is taken up by advertisement matter and the rest is &voted to news, articles, features, Views etc.

The effect of the Act and of the impugned Order was to regulate the number of pages according to the price charged, prescribe the number of supplements to be publisher and prohibit the publication and sale of newspapers in contravention of any Order made under s. 3 of the Act. The Act also provides for regulating by an Order under s. 3, the sizes and area of advertising matter in relation to the other matters contained in a newspaper. Penalties are also prescribed for contravention of the provision of the Act or Order.

The petitioners pointed out that since the total number of pages which “Sakal” gives to its reading public on six days in a week is 34, and that as a result of the impugned Order they will either have to raise its price from 7 nP. to 8 nP. per day or to reduce the total number of pages to 24. They further point out that while at present all newspapers can issue any number of supplements as and when they choose, under the Order they would be prevented from doing so except with the permission of the Government.

According to them the Order would have the effect of either compelling them to increase the price or to reduce the number of pages of practically every newspaper in the country as also of preventing them from publishing supplements without extraneous restrictions, which they are able to do at then.

The case of Petitioner

  • It was the petitioners’ case that the impugned Act and the impugned Order were pieces of legislation designed to curtail and which would in effect curtail the freedom of the press end as such are violative of the right guaranteed under Art. 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
  • They pointed out that’ if they continue to give in their newspaper the same number of pages as at then, they would have to increase its selling price and that this will adversely affect its circulation. If, on the other hand, they reduce the number of pages in order to conform to the impugned order their right to disseminate news and, views will be directly interfered with.
  • Thus in either event there would be an interference with their right under Art. 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. The petitioners pointed out that the impugned Order reserves to the Central Government the power to permit issue of supplements, except those on January 26 and August 15, and that the result of this would be to place them at the mercy of the Government and thus interfere with their freedom of expression.
  • They further pointed out that the Act and the Order were violative of the provisions of Art. 14 of the Constitution inasmuch as their avowed object was to promote arbitrarily the interests of some newspaper at the expense of others. They contended that inequality was writ large in the provisions of the Act and of the Order and that there was no reasonable classification or basis or any rational relationship between the restrictions imposed and the objects sought to be achieved.

Analysis by the court

  • The right to propagate one’s ideas is inherent in the conception of freedom of speech and expression. For the purpose of propagating his ideas every citizen has a right to publish them, to disseminate them and to circulate them. He is entitled to do so either by word of mouth or by writing. The right guaranteed thus extends, subject to any law competent under Art. 19(2), not merely to the matter which he is entitled to circulate, but also to the volume of circulation. In other words, the citizen is entitled to propagate his views and reach any class and number of readers as he chooses subject of course to the limitations permissible under a law competent under Art. 19(2).
  • It is not disputed that every newspaper evolves a plan of its own for carrying on its activities. Bearing in mind factors such as the place of publication, the class of the reading public which may be excepted to subscribe to the paper, the conditions of labour, the price of material, the, availability of advertisements and so on it decides upon its size, the proportion of different kinds of matter published in the newspaper, such as news, comments, views of readers, advertisements etc., and the price to be charged.

The plan evolved by it is sought to be rudely shaken if not completely Upset by an order which it is open to the Central Government to make under s. 3(1) with a view to curtailment of circulation of newspapers.

  • After the schedule comes into force it will not be open to a newspaper proprietor to charge less than a certain minimum price if he wants to give a particular number of pages in his newspaper. If he should contravene this order he will incur a penalty. Similarly, he cannot publish supplements in excess of four as and when he chooses, except with the permission of Government. The Order does not indicate the circumstances which would entitle a newspaper proprietor to secure the special permission of Government. Apparently, whether to allow an additional supplement or not would be dependent on the sweet will and pleasure of the Government and this would necessarily strike at the root of the independence of the press.
  • It must-be borne in mind that the Constitution must be interpreted in a broad way and not in a narrow and pedantic sense. Certain rights have been enshrined in our Constitution as fundamental and, therefore, while considering the nature and content of those rights the Court must not be too astute to interpret the language-of the Constitution in so literal a sense as to whittle them down.

On the other hand, the Court must interpret the Constitution in a manner which would enable the citizen to enjoy the rights guaranteed by it in the fullest measure subject, of course, to permissible restrictions. Bearing this principle in mind it would be clear that the right to freedom of speech and expression carries with it the right to publish and circulate one’s ideas, opinions and views with complete freedom and by resorting to any available means of publication subject again to such restrictions as could be legitimately imposed under cl. (2) of Art. 19.

  • The advertisement revenue of a newspaper is proportionate to its circulation. Thus the higher the circulation of a newspaper the larger would be its advertisement revenue. So if a newspaper with a high circulation were to raise its price its circulation would go down and this in turn would bring down also the advertisement revenue. That would force the newspaper either to close down or to raise its price.

Raising the price further would affect the circulation still more and thus a vicious cycle would set in which would ultimately end in the closure of the newspaper.

If, on the other hand, the space for advertisement is reduced the earnings of a newspaper would go down and it would either have to run at a loss or close down or raise its price.

The object of the Act in regulating the space for advertisements was stated to be to prevent “unfair’ competition. It was thus directed against circulation of a newspaper. When a law was intended to bring about this-result there would be a’ direct interference with the right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Art. 19(1)(a). Since the very object of the’ impugned law is to affect the circulation of certain newspapers which, are said to be practising unfair competition it was difficult to appreciate how it could be sustained.

The right to freedom of speech and expression is an individual right guaranteed to every citizen by Art. 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. There is nothing in cl. (2) of Art. 19 which permits the State, to abridge this right on the ground of conferring benefits upon the public in general or upon a section of the public. It is not open to the State to curtail or infringe the freedom of speech of one for promoting the general welfare of a section or a group of people unless its action could be justified under a law competent under el. (2) of Art. 19.

  • Therefore, the right of freedom of speech cannot be taken away with the object of placing restrictions on the business activities of a citizen. Freedom of speech can be restricted only in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign State, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. It cannot, like the freedom to carry on business, be curtailed in the interest of the general public.

If a law directly affecting it is challenged it is no answer that the restrictions enacted by it are justifiable under cls. (3) to (6). For, the scheme of Art. is to enumerate different freedoms separately and then to specify the extent of restrictions to which they may be subjected and the objects for securing which this could be done. A citizen is entitled to enjoy each and every one of the freedoms together and el. (1) does not prefer one freedom to another.

That is the plain meaning of this clause. It follows from this that the State cannot make a law which directly restricts one freedom even for scouring the better enjoyment of another freedom. All the greater reason, therefore for holding that the State cannot directly restrict one freedom by placing an otherwise permissible restriction on another freedom.

  • The freedom of a newspaper to publish any number of pages or to circulate it to any number of persons is each an integral part of the freedom of speech and expression. A restraint placed upon either of them would be a direct infringement of the right of freedom of speech and expression.

Decision of the court

The court held that it would follow that s. 3(1) of the Act, which is its pivotal provision, is unconstitutional and therefore, the Daily newspaper (Price and Page) Order, 1960 made thereunder is also unconstitutional. If a. 3(1) is struck down as bad, nothing remains in the Act itself.


Sakal Papers Pvt. Ltd. v. Union of India, (1961)

[1] In Marathi, Sakal mean ‘early in the morning’