‘Freedom of Speech and Expression’ is a fundamental right given to Indian Citizen under part III of Indian Constitution. Article 19 of Indian Constitution gives several fundamental rights to citizens, and under sub-clause (a) of the article, provision of freedom of speech and expression is provided as follows-
“Art. 19 (1)- All citizens shall have a right;
- To freedom of speech and expression.”
However, this freedom is not absolute. Article 19(2) provides reasonable restrictions in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.
Here, the word ‘reasonable’ is important and this word was under consideration before the supreme court in many cases. Throughout the time, the supreme court interpreted the word ‘reasonable restrictions’ and analysed the concept thoroughly. In this article, we will discuss those analysis of Supreme court on ‘reasonable restrictions’.
Chintaman Rao v. State of M.P
In Chintaman Rao v. State of M.P., this Court, opined as under:-
“The phrase “reasonable restriction” connotes that the limitation imposed on a person in enjoyment of the right should not be arbitrary or of an excessive nature, beyond what is required in the interests of the public. The word “reasonable” implies intelligent care and deliberation, that is, the choice of a course which reason dictates. Legislation which arbitrarily or excessively invades the right cannot be said to contain the quality of reasonableness and unless it strikes a proper balance between the freedom guaranteed in article 19 (1) (g) and the social control permitted by clause (6) of article 19, it must be held to be wanting in that quality.”
State of Madras v. V.G. Row
In State of Madras v. V.G. Row, the Court has ruled that the test of reasonableness, wherever prescribed, should be applied to each individual statute impugned and no abstract standard, or general pattern of reasonableness can be laid down as applicable to all cases. The nature of the right alleged to have been infringed, the underlying purpose of the restrictions imposed, the extent and urgency of the evil sought to be remedied thereby, the disproportion of the imposition, the prevailing conditions at the time, should all enter into the judicial verdict.
Bennett Coleman & Co. and others v. Union of India; (1972) 2 SCC 788
In Bennett Coleman & Co. (supra) while dealing with the concept of reasonable restriction, Supreme Court has held that the law which lays excessive and prohibitive burden which would restrict the circulation of a newspaper will not be saved by Article 19(2), for the freedom of a newspaper to publish any number of pages or to circulate it to any number of persons is an integral part of the freedom of speech and expression and said freedom is violated by placing restraints upon it or by placing restraints upon something which is an essential part of that freedom.
Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India
In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India and another Bhagwati, J. referred to the authority in R.C. Cooper v. Union of India and the principles stated in Bennett Coleman & Co. (supra) and opined that: –
“It may be recalled that the test formulated in R.C. Cooper case (supra) merely refers to “direct operation” or ‘direct consequence and effect’ of the State action on the: fundamental right of the petitioner and does not use the word “inevitable” in this connection. But there can be no doubt, on a reading of the relevant observations of Shah, J., that such was the test really intended to be laid down by the Court in that case. If the test were merely of direct or indirect effect, it would be an open-ended concept and in the absence of operational criteria for judging “directness”, it would give the Court an unquantitiable discretion to decide whether in a given case a consequence or effect is direct or not.
Some other concept-vehicle would be needed to quantify the extent of directness or indirectness in order to apply the test. And that is supplied by the criterion of “inevitable” consequence or effect adumbrated in the Express Newspapers case. This criterion helps to quantify the extent of directness necessary to constitute infringement of a fundamental right. Now, if the effect of State action on fundamental right is direct and inevitable, then a fortiori it must be presumed to have been intended by the authority taking the action and hence this doctrine of direct and inevitable effect has been described by some jurists as the doctrine of intended and real effect. …”
M/s Laxmi Khandsari and others v. State of U.P. and others
In M/s Laxmi Khandsari and others v. State of U.P. and others the Court has observed that imposition of reasonable restrictions and its extent would depend upon the object which they seek to serve. The Court has observed that it is difficult to lay down any hard and fast rule of universal application but in imposing such restrictions the State must adopt an objective standard amounting to a social control by restricting the rights of the citizens where the necessities of the situation demand and in adopting the social control one of the primary considerations which should weigh with the court is that as the directive principles contained in the Constitution aim at the establishment of an egalitarian society so as to bring about a welfare State within the framework of the Constitution.
That apart, restrictions may be partial, complete, permanent or temporary but they must bear a close nexus with the object in the interest of which they are imposed. Another important consideration is that the restrictions must be in public interest and are imposed by striking a just balance between deprivation of right and danger or evil sought to be avoided.
Ramlila Maidan Incident, In re (2012),
In Ramlila Maidan Incident, In re (2012), the Court opined that a restriction imposed in any form has to be reasonable and to that extent, it must stand the scrutiny of judicial review. It cannot be arbitrary or excessive. It must possess a direct and proximate nexus with the object sought to be achieved. Whenever and wherever any restriction is imposed upon the right to freedom of speech and expression, it must be within the framework of the prescribed law, as subscribed by Article 19(2) of the Constitution.
Thereafter, it has been laid down that associating police as a pre-requirement to hold such meetings, dharnas and protests, on such large scale, would not infringe the fundamental rights enshrined under Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(b) of the Constitution as this would squarely fall within the regulatory mechanism of reasonable restrictions, contemplated under Articles 19(2) and 19(3). Furthermore, it would help in ensuring due social order and would also not impinge upon the rights of the others, as contemplated under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Emphasis was laid on the constitutional duties that all citizens are expected to discharge.
Sahara India Real Estate Corporation Ltd. And others v. Securities and Exchange Board of India and another
In Sahara India Real Estate Corporation Ltd. And others v. Securities and Exchange Board of India and another  the Court reiterated the principle of social interest in the context of Article 19(2) as a facet of reasonable restriction.
Dwarka Prasad Laxmi Narain v. State of U.P.,
In Dwarka Prasad Laxmi Narain v. State of U.P., while deliberating upon “reasonable restriction” observed that it connotes that the limitation imposed upon a person in enjoyment of a right should not be arbitrary or of an excessive nature beyond what is required in the interest of the public. It was also observed that to achieve quality of reasonableness a proper balance between the freedom guaranteed under Article 19(1) (g) and the social control permitted by clause (6) of Article 19 has to be struck.
Bishambhar Dayal Chandra Mohan and others v. State of Uttar Pradesh and others
In Bishambhar Dayal Chandra Mohan and others v. State of Uttar Pradesh and others, the Court ruled that the expression “reasonable restriction” signifies that the limitation imposed on a person in enjoyment of the right should not be arbitrary or of an excessive nature, beyond what is required in the interests of the public. The test of reasonableness, wherever prescribed, should be applied to each individual statute impugned, and no abstract standard, or general pattern of reasonableness can be laid down as applicable in all cases.
State of Bihar v. K.K. Misra
In State of Bihar v. K.K. Misra, the Court, after referring to Dr. N.B. Khare v. The State of Delhi (1950) and State of Madras v. V.G. Row, ruled that it is not possible to formulate an effective test which would enable the court to pronounce any particular restriction to be reasonable or unreasonable per se. All the attendant circumstances must be taken into consideration and one cannot dissociate the actual contents of the restrictions from the manner of their imposition or the mode of putting them into practice.
Papnasam Labour Union v. Madura Coats Ltd. and another
In Papnasam Labour Union v. Madura Coats Ltd. and another the Court on the base of earlier authorities summed up that when the constitutionality of a statutory provision is challenged on the ground of reasonableness of the restriction, the Court should evaluate whether the restriction is excessive in nature, existence of the reasonable nexus between restriction imposed and the object sought to be achieved, quality of reasonableness, felt need of the society and the complex issues facing the people which the legislature intends to solve, protection of social welfare prevailing within the social values, its consistency and accord with Article 14 of the Constitution.
Additionally, the Court also observed that in judging the reasonableness of the restriction imposed by clause (6) of Article 19, the Court has to bear in mind the Directive Principles of State Policy and any restriction so imposed which has the effect of promoting or effectuating a directive principle can be presumed to be a reasonable restriction in public interest.
Subhramaniyam Swamy v. UOI (2016)
In Subhramaniyam Swamy v. UOI (2016), the court has said,
“The principles as regards reasonable restriction as has been stated by this Court from time to time are that the restriction should not be excessive and in public interest. The legislation should not invade the rights and should not smack of arbitrariness. The test of reasonableness cannot be determined by laying down any abstract standard or general pattern. It would depend upon the nature of the right which has been infringed or sought to be infringed. The ultimate “impact”, that is, effect on the right has to be determined.
The “impact doctrine” or the principle of “inevitable effect” or “inevitable consequence” stands in contradistinction to abuse or misuse of a legislation or a statutory provision depending upon the circumstances of the case. The prevailing conditions of the time and the principles of proportionality of restraint are to be kept in mind by the court while adjudging the constitutionality of a provision regard being had to the nature of the right. The nature of social control which includes public interest has a role.
The conception of social interest has to be borne in mind while considering reasonableness of the restriction imposed on a right. The social interest principle would include the felt needs of the society. As the submissions would show, the stress is given on the right to freedom of speech and expression in the context of individual growth, progress of democracy, conceptual respect for a voice of dissent, tolerance for discordant note and acceptance of different voices.
Right to say what may displease or annoy others cannot be throttled or garroted. There can never be any cavil over the fact that the right to freedom of speech and expression is a right that has to get ascendance in a democratic body polity, but at the same time the limit has to be proportionate and not unlimited.”
 AIR 1951 SC 118
 AIR 1952 SC 196
 (1978) 1 SCC 248
 (1970) 2 SCC 298
 (1981) 2 SCC 600
 (2012) 10 SCC 603
 AIR 1954 SC 224
 AIR 1954 SC 224
 (1982) 1 SCC 39
 (1969) 3 SCC 377
 AIR 1952 SC 196
 (1995) 1 SCC 501