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LIC V PRof. Manubhai D Shah
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Brief

Citation – 1993 AIR 171, 1992 SCR (3) 595
Court – The Supreme Court Of India
Date of decision – 22 July 1992
Judges – Ahmadi, A.M, Punchhi, M.M, JJ Appellant – Life Insurance Corporation Limited and Others Respondent – Professor Manubhai D. Shah and Cinemart Foundation

Introduction

“Everyone is in favour of free speech, hardly a day passes without it being extolled but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage” Sir Winston Churchill. Human beings are blessed with the gift of speech through which they can express and convey their thoughts to another. The citizens of India have acquired the right of Freedom of Speech and Expression as their every natural right. We as humans cannot live without speaking our mind and sharing our opinions and we cannot think of a world where this right is nonexistent as Freedom of Speech and Expression is an vital part of a democracy and no democracy can function without this freedom.

The preamble of our Constitution itself speaks of “Securing to all citizens liberty of thought and expression” and Article 19 (1)(a) reflects on this resolve. Article 19 is found in Part III of the Constitution and it lists the Fundamental Rights of the citizens. In the case of Manubhai Shah we will be looking at the issues presented before the Apex Court, the issue was related to whether the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution of India includes within its scope the right to circulate and propagate views through electronic media, subject to reasonable restrictions and whether the above right can be extended to use the media to answer or reply to criticism levelled against the propagated view.

Facts

On 10th July 1978 the respondent prof.Manubhai after undertaking research into the functioning of the life insurance corporation published and circulated a study paper titled as “A fraud on policy holders – a shocking story” a document containing statistical information which highlighted the unduly high premiums charged by LIC from those who took out life insurance policies and thereby denying access of this insurance coverage to a large majority of people who were not in the position to afford to pay such high premiums.

On 6th November 1978, Mr.N.C Krishnan a member of LIC wrote a counter article to give answer to the previous article published against LIC, the article was titled as “LIC and its policyholders” this very article was published in the Hindu. Prof.Manubhai as an answer to the article published by LIC wrote an rejoinder titled as “Raw deal for policy holders” and this article was too published in the Hindu. Later LIC published its members article which was a counter answer to prof.Manubhai’s study paper, they published the article in their in-house magazine known as the Yogakshema.

Prof.Manubhai requested that his paper which was also published in the Hindu be published in the in-house magazine of LIC in order for the readers to have a fair idea and a clear complete view of the issues raised. The LIC rejected the request made by Prof.Manubhai on the grounds that their magazine was an in-house magazine and it is not available in the market for the sale of it to the general public, hereafter prof.Manubhai filed a petition contending that the refusal to his rejoinder in the magazine violated his Fundamental Right under Article 14 and Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.

In the second appeal it was revealed that a documentary film titled as “Beyond Genocide” which was based on true events of the Bhopal Gas tragedy which was produced by Shri.Tapari Bose who was the managing director of the respondents trust. This documentary was awarded the Golden Lotus award for the best non-feature film of 1987. During that time Central Minister for information had said that the award winning short films would be telecasted on Doordarshan channel. Furthermore Doordarshan refused to telecast the documentary on the grounds that the documentary was out dated and had lost its relevance, also the political parties during that time had raised various issues concerning the tragedy. The respondent hence filed a writ petition for the violation of his Fundamental Right and for mandamus directing Doordarshan to do the needful.

The High Court of Gujarat held that the refusal by LIC to publish the rejoinder was arbitrary in nature and is in violation of Article 14 and Article 19(1)(a). It was also held that under Article 19(2) the party who refuses to telecast the film has the burden to proof that it does not conform to the requirements of law. Hence the actions of LIC and Doordarshan were held as not justifiable and that they being state controlled agencies under Article 12 could not refuse to publish an important rejoinder or telecast a film except on valid grounds provided. Further an appeal was filed in the Supreme Court of India against the judgement given by the High Court.

Issues

  • whether the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution of India includes within its scope the right to circulate and propagate views via electronic media, subject to reasonable restrictions.
  • Whether the above right can be extended to use the media to answer or reply to criticisms levelled against the propagated view.

Judgement

This Landmark judgement by the Hon’ble Supreme Court, upheld the decision given by the Gujarat High Court and recognised people’s rights as constitutional rights. The petitioner had contented before the court that it is an editorial privilege under freedom of speech and expression to refuse rejoinder to the the article published by them but the court held it to be unfair and unreasonable as it had failed at showcasing both the viewpoints and petitioner also lacked logic while refusing the publication of the rejoinder.

The court highlighted that the freedom of speech and expression should be read and interpreted vastly, it also includes the right to propagate one’s view through various mediums. The court observed that freedom to air one’s view is the lifeline of any democratic institution and any attempt to stifle or suffocate or gag this right would sound a death knell to democracy and would help the user in autocracy and dictatorship.

It was contented by the court that it is no matter of the dispute that LIC is State within the definition of the state mentioned under Article 12 of the Constitution, it was held in the case of Sukhdev Singh and ors V Bhagatram Sardar Singh. LIC is created under an Act known as the Life Insurance Corporation Act, 1956 and by this act it is under obligation of the duty to carry on the life insurance business on both within the territory as well as outside the territory of India.

It has been entrusted with the duty to act and function in the best of interest of the community by the virtue of Section 6(1) of the Life Insurance Corporation Act. Hence the community has the right and is empowered as well as entitled to know about if the LIC is acting in the best interest or not. The respondents efforts, knowledge and research in preparing the study paper was to bring to notice of the community that LIC has strayed from its path by charging unduly high premiums which could be low if the LIC avoided its wasteful indulgences.

The main object of the study paper was to raise awareness in the community about the drawbacks and shortcomings of the corporation and to highlight the areas where the improvement was much needed and was possible. The refusal of the respondents request for publishing his rejoinder in the in-house magazine by LIC was unfair and unreasonable. It was unfair because fairness is when both the viewpoints are placed before the readers in order for them to draw their conclusion. It was unreasonable as there was no logic or proper reasoning for the refusal of publication.

The court held that a monopolistic instrument of the state that survives on the public funds cannot act arbitrary on the specious plea that the magazine is an in-house magazine and that the corporation holds the exclusive right and privilege to accept or to refuse to publish the rejoinder by the respondent. Hence LIC is under obligation to respect the respondent’s fundamental right to express his views to the public. On these grounds the Supreme Court rejected the appeal and upheld the decision given by the Gujarat High Court.

By doing this the Apex Court concluded that LIC is not bound merely because it is State but looking into the particular facts of the case the court rejected the contentions raised by the learned counsel for LIC, that the rejoinder by the respondent to the article of a member of LIC published on December 1968 has become stale with the passage of time and has lost its relevance. The court upheld that issue raised by the respondent regarding high premium prices charged by LIC is still present and the situation has not improved from what it was in 1978 hence the article still holds relevance and LIC is obligated to print the rejoinder in its magazine.

In accordance to the second appeal, the Apex Court has held that the judgement of the High Court revealed that the film was refused to be telecast on Doordarshan on the grounds that the contents of the film were outdated and did not hold any relevance. It was highlighted by the High Court that the mere fact that the film won a national award is not ipso facto to telecast it as the parameters applied for the selection of the film was different from those applied by the film selecting committee of Doordarshan when it comes to selection of the film for telecasting it.

The Apex Court held that the telecasting of the film was not refused on the grounds as contented that the list of the award winning films, it was long that it was not possible to telecast each award winning film rather the grounds for refusal that can be called out from the pleading is that the film was outdated and had lost its relevance and it also lacked in moderations, the political parties were raising various issues concerning the tragedy or that the claims for compensation by the victims of the tragedy is in subjudice.

Taking the reference of the above-metioned cases, the court held that the movie although enjoys the freedom under Article 19(1)(a) but it must be remembered that they have the potential to reach the masses and the most powerful mode of communication in recent times. Thus Censorship is permitted to protect the social interests enumerated under Article 19(2) of the Constitution and Section 58 of the Censorship Act, 1952.

Such censorship must be reasonable and fulfil the test laid down under Article 14 of the Constitution. In the following case the respondent has the right to convey his perception of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy by the means of a documentary film produced by him because not only has the short film won an national award but also received a “U” certificate from the censor board.

Analysis and section of law

Constitutional provisions in general and for that matter fundamental rights in particular must be construed broadly and it’s scope must not be restricted by a narrow interpretation and on broad interpretation the freedom of speech and expression includes within its scope the freedom to propagate and circulate one’s views and opinions by direct speech by writing and even by the means of electronic media. Every citizens has a right to air his or her opinions as guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) and the same is also subjected to reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

This right extends to reply to any criticism levelled against such expressed opinions. Hence the court referred to the cases of Romesh Thappar V State of Madras, Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Pvt. Ltd. & others V Union Of India, Sakal Papers (P). Ltd V Union Of India, Odyssey Communications Pvt. Ltd V Lokvidayan Sanghatana & ors are a few cases which the court referred. LIC was created under the Life Insurance Corporation Act, 1956 and it was held to be a State within the meaning of Article 12 and therefore its purpose was to serve the community in accordance the respondents paper was to inform the community of the shortcomings of the corporation and that there is a possibility for improvement.

Hence LIC cannot be said to be acting in the best of interest of the community by denying the absolute whole information and the case of Sukhdev Singh & ors V Bhagatram Sardar Singh was relied upon. LIC must have been sporting enough to publish the rejoinder and present both point of views to the readers and the doctrine of fairness demands that it should have been let upon the judgement of the readers to have their own opinions and conclusion.

Though movies enjoy the freedom to publicly exhibit and circulate they are a powerful mode of communication as they can have profound impacts on the viewers. Thus unrestricted exhibition cannot be permitted, censorship is thus necessary to protect social interests under Article 19(2) and Section 5B of the Cinematograph Act. The court held that the film maker had the right to broadcast his film under Article 19(1)(a), the film was an exact appraisal of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and what followed the gas leak. The film not only received the Golden Lotus award but was also granted an “U” certificate. Hence the respondent cannot be accused of distorting the events.

Under Article 19(2) the burden lies upon the petitioner to prove that the film did not conform to the requirements of law which in the present case are the guidelines. Doordarshan is financed by public funds and is a State controlled agency hence it cannot deny the respondent access to the screen except on valid grounds. The reasons listed by Doordarshan were found to be unsustainable, the precedents of K.A Abbas V Union of India, Ramesh V Union Of India and S. Rangarajan V P. Jagivan Ram were referred.

Conclusion

Freedom of speech is absolutely important as it allows for the self fulfilment of an individual and protects his individuality in a democracy and it allows for the free flow of ideas, beliefs and thoughts and strengths the community as a whole. Freedom of speech galvanises the process of dialogue and ensures voices are not being suppressed leading to the discovery of truth at large as well as it provides for a reasonable balance between the society at large and laissez faire.

India has freedom of speech and expression guaranteed as a Constitutional fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) though it is not absolute and is subjected to reasonable restrictions that may be imposed by the state under the grounds mentioned in Article 19(2) including public order, decency, morality, sovereignty and integrity of the nation amongst others. The Indian judiciary has played a vital role in constantly expanding the ambit of the aforementioned right to suit the changing times and situations.

Freedom of speech and expression means the right to express one’s own opinions freely by means of words of mouth, writing, printing, pictures or any other mode. In the recent times it is widely accepted that the right to freedom of speech is the core of every society and it must be protected at all costs, the first principle of a free society is an unstoppable flow of words in an open medium, liberty to express opinions and ideas without hindrance and especially without fear of being punished plays a significant role in the development of a particular society and ultimately for the state. It is one of the most important fundamental liberties guaranteed against the state restrain or regulation.

Freedom of speech is assured not only by the constitution or statutes of various states but also by various international conventions like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, International covenant and Civil and Political Rights and many more these declarations explicitly talk about the safeguard of freedom of speech and expression.

Through this case we are able to understand how the The Supreme Court Of India protects every citizens Fundamental Rights when they infringed by unfairness, unreasonable and arbitrary manner. The Supreme Court is truly the sentinel of our fundamental rights and makes sure they are at all costs protected and safeguarded for each and every individual of India.

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