AIR 1993 Ker 1 Court: Kerala High Court
Date of Decision: 27 July 1992
Judges: Chettur Sankaran Nair, J
Appellant: P.A. Jacob
Respondent: The Superintendent Of Police
“Noise is the most impertinent of all forms of interruption. it is not only an interruption, but also a disruption of thought” Arthur Schopenhauer. Freedom of speech is the protector of all liberties, speech is a ability which individuals posses to reflect and to speak freely to gather information from others through various mediums like publications and public dialogue without fearing of being restricted and repressed by the government. This case deals with the fundamental right of Freedom of Speech and Expression, in this case the petitioner was barred from using a loudspeaker at a religious congregation by the the withdrawal of the approval given by the Sub-inspector of police.
The petitioner purported violation of his Fundamental Right of Freedom of Speech and Expression. The Hon’ble court had to deal with the fundamental rights and its complexity and point out the reasonable restrictions which can be implemented under certain circumstances.
P.A. Jacob belonged to a denomination of Christianity which is known as ‘Knanaya’ Christians. Thomas of Cana came to India from Mesopotamia in 344 A.D and arranged the South Eastern Church of Syrian Christians, St.Thomas arranged the North Eastern Church in 52 A.D. the acolytes of Thomas of Cana were known as the Knanaya Christians, some of them followed the rites of the Catholic Church and some on the other hand followed the Marthomite rites. The members of the Knanaya denomination do not wed outside their denomination as it is alleged that it was done with view to preserve the purity of their stock.
This very practice was condemned by P.A. Jacob, as in his view a Knanaya Christian should be at liberty to marry anyone who professes the Christian faith. P.A Jacob to propagate his views sought permission to Conduct meetings using sound amplifiers. The Sub-Inspector of police had granted permission but later on withdrew the permission which was granted previously, apprehending that the views of P.A Jacob may incite to violence the conservatives of the church. Incidentally this apprehension or misapprehension was proved to be wrong as a meeting could be held pursuant to interim orders of this court, admittedly without any disturbance.
P.A. Jacob submitted that the freedom of speech and expression implies freedom to use amplifying devices and cited the decision given by the Gujarat High Court in the case of Indulal V State AIR 1963 Guj 259 (1963 (2) Cri LJ 502) to support his contention. The Gujarat High Court had relied on the opinion of the Judicial Committee in the case of Francis V Chief of Police (1973) 2 AER 251 to hold that freedom of speech included the freedom to circulate one’s views in any manner. The Allahabad High Court however took a contrary view in the case of Rajnikant V State AIR 1958 All 360 (1958 All LJ 56). H.M Seervai prefers the view of the Gujarat High Court.
There is also a decision of this court in the case of D.Ananda Prabhu V District Collector 1974 KLT 291 (AIR 1975 Ker 117) following the view of the Gujarat High Court but this court did not consider the question whether a fundamental right was involved in the matter of using a loud speaker. The learned judge assumed that there was a fundamental right and proceeded to consider the reasonableness of a restriction imposed after referring to the decision of the Gujarat High Court, the learned judge observed “It appears to me that the right conferred by Article 19(1)(a) have to be understood in the same way ‘as in Francis’s case’ I do not propose to examine this aspect any further” these were some of the important cases which were referred in context to the case of P.A.Jacob.
The issue around which this case revolves is whether Article 19 (1) (a) include the use of loudspeakers and amplifiers. This issue related to the use of loudspeakers and amplifiers arose when the Sub-Inspector of police withdrew the permission which was previously granted by him to P.A. Jacob to hold meetings using sound amplifiers. The Sub-Inspector of police had withdrawn his permission on the grounds that the views of P.A. Jacob may incite to violence the conservatives of the church. P.A Jacob belonged to a denomination of Christianity known as the Knanaya Christians, Thomas of Cana came to India from Mesopotamia in 344 A.D and organised the south eastern church of Syrian Christians and St.Thomas also organised the north eastern church in A.D 52.
The acolytes of Thomas came to be known as the Knanaya Christians and some them followed the rites of the Catholic Church while others followed the Marthomite rites. The members of the Knanaya denomination do not marry outside their denomination as it is alleged that it is done to preserve the purity of the stock and this very practice is criticised by P.A Jacob as his view was that Knanaya Christians should be free to marry anyone who professes Christian faith. In order to propagate his views he sought permission to hold meetings using sound amplifiers.
Petitioner : The petitioner established his case on the fact that his fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression was being infringed as he was being barred from expressing his opinions through the use of a loudspeaker. The petitioner submitted that the freedom of speech and expression implies the freedom to use amplifying devices and cited the decision given by the Hon’ble Gujarat High Court in the case of Indulal V State AIR 1963 Guj 259 (1963 (2)cri LJ 502) in accordance to support his contention.
In the case of Indulal V State the Hon’ble Gujarat High Court had relied on the opinion of the judicial committee given in the case of Francis V Chief of Police 1973 2 AER 251 to hold that freedom of speech and expression includes the freedom to express and circulate one’s views in any manner. The admirable justice agreed as well with the case for the right of speech and expression as presented in Francis V Chief of Police case.
Respondent : it was suggested by the respected justice that there are boundaries even to freedoms as liberty is not the right to perpetuate licentiousness, freedom of speech does not protect libel, obscenity and sedition. It does not authorise invasion into the rights of the others. To be let alone is as much freedom as is the freedom to be heard, the right to silence or solitude is as much a right as the right to expression is. Freedom of speech and expression is not an absolute right there are certain reasonable restrictions And it has been validated by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in various cases, some well known cases are Romesh Thapar V The State of Madras and Indian Express Newspapers Pvt. Ltd V Union Of India and many more.
It was further suggested that the right to speech implies, the right to silence as well and it also implies the freedom to not listen and no person can be forced into listening. Justice Douglas articulated this freedom through a speech which said “right to be let alone is the beginning of all freedoms, when we force people to listen to another’s ideas, we give the propagandist a powerful weapon. One man’s lyric maybe another’s vulgarity”. J.S Mill once said that “Liberty of an individual must be thus far limited, he must not make himself a nuisance to others”. Hence there were quite prominent negatives attached to allowing the use of a loudspeaker.
Respected justice Chettur Sankaran Nair stated saying that with great respect, he finds it difficult to agree with the view given by the Gujarat High Court in the case of Indulal V State that freedom of speech includes freedom to use sound amplifiers, the case of Francis V Chief of Police was relied on by the Gujarat High Court to deliver this verdict. Pearson L.J had highlighted that some regulation of the use of a loudspeaker is in order for the citizens who do not wish to hear what is being said should be protected.
Justice C.S Nair had referred to cases from United States and hence the use of loudspeakers was not considered in the purview of freedom of speech and expression by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. A similar view was seen in a US case of Lehman V City of Shaker Heights, where it was suggested that though the petitioner had a right to express his views to those who wish to listen, he had no right to force his message upon an audience incapable of declining to receive it.
The freedom which is guaranteed is of freedom to express one’s ideas and not the freedom to use different modes of expression hence a loudspeaker is a mechanical device which does not have a mind or any thought process attached to its nature and hence it is not human. The right to freedom of speech and expression solely belongs to human beings and not mechanical objects. It was also stated that Article 21 protection of Life and Personal Liberty guarantees the freedom from tormenting sounds. What is seen negatively as the right to be let alone is positively the right to be free from noise hence the petitioner was prevented from the use of loudspeakers.
The Hon’ble Court did not look the other way towards the wrongful act of the Superintendent of Police, it was said that if the police who hold authority to regulate the use of loudspeakers under Kerala Police Act, act beyond the authority which law confers upon them then they would be liable to be prohibited from such an act. The permission which was previously granted was denied to the petitioner for the use of loudspeakers on the grounds that holding meetings with the use of loudspeakers would lead to a law and order situation, thus this reason appeared to be an afterthought and the situations imagined by the Sub-Inspector of Police were unrealistic in nature.
The final verdict which was given stated that in the absence of valid grounds the cancellation of the permission granted previously to the petitioner was arbitrary in nature, though the petitioner had no fundamental right to use a loudspeaker, he was in fact free to avail amenity of the use of loudspeakers in a reasonable manner. The Sub-Inspector of Police had to give permission to the petitioner to hold meetings with the use of loudspeakers but the box type loudspeakers for the purpose of holding meetings in which the output of the loudspeakers did not exceed the range necessary to reach a willing audience, confined to that reasonable area.
In this particular case P.A Jacob wanted to hold meetings in order to propagate his religious views regarding the Knanaya denomination which he belonged to, he wanted to share his views with the use of loudspeakers. We all are quite aware of the fact we have the Fundamental Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression but we are also aware of the fact that these rights are not absolute and are subjected to reasonable restrictions. The petitioner wanted to propagate his opinions but they were related to religious beliefs and such opinions are subjected to high risk as they hold the power to cause riots and unnecessary stir ups in the religious communities, hence the permission which was previously granted was withdrawn.
The petitioner wanted to use the loudspeakers to convey his opinions but the petitioner had not considered what would be the outcome of his meeting as people who were not related to his subject matter would also have to hear his opinions as they were bound to fall on their ears unwillingly and one never knows how one might react towards certain opinions and this holds the power to incite violence. The petitioner has the right to convey his views and must do so in accordance to the law.
The Sub-Inspector of police had previously granted permission to the petitioner but withdrew it on the grounds that it may incite violence as it might provoke the conservatives in the Church. This reason given is not sufficient enough to bar the petitioner from the use of loudspeakers as it was stated that the conservatives of church would be provoked but not the other communities at large. This meeting in general did not hold the power to provoke other communities at large and cause public unrest and compromise the security of the public.
In this situation it was arbitrary of the Sub-Inspector of police to withdraw his permission and deny the petitioner of his right to speech and expression of his views, the police have the authority to curb the use of loudspeakers but in this very situation it was not necessary, the authority while granting the permission itself should have conveyed to the petitioner that he must not exceed the limit of volume and must use the speakers in a reasonable manner. The Hon’ble court in this case checked the misuse of power at the end of the police authority as well as reiterated the validity and restrictions on the fundamental rights.
This very judgement has laid down the certain criteria which one must follow as they direct the authorities to let petitioner hold his meeting but with the use of box type loudspeakers which did not exceed the range necessary to reach a unwilling audience. The Hon’ble court did an excellent job in checking the misuse of authority as well as setting the applicability of the petitioners use of loudspeakers as Article 19 (1) (a) is applicable only for the human beings and not to mechanical objects, the Hon’ble Kerala High Court believed that the right of speech does not involve the freedom to use speakers or any sound amplifiers to create noise pollution and cause risk to human well being.
“Of all the varieties of modern pollution, noise is the most Insidious” Robert Lacey.
In conclusion, we all are well aware of the fact that the fundamental rights guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution of India are not absolute and are subjected to reasonable restrictions. One must always be aware of the fact while exercising one’s own rights they cannot infringe the rights of another as it is violative. The constitution of India under Article 19 (1) (a) read with Article 21 of the constitution guarantees right to decent environment and right to live peacefully. The Hon’ble Kerala High Court held that freedom of speech under Article 19 (1) (a) does not include freedom to use loudspeakers or sound amplifiers, thus noise pollution caused by the loudspeakers can be controlled under Article 19 (1) (a) of the constitution.
In recent years loudspeakers have become a nuisance to the human health as well as the environment. Many people are using speakers to express their opinions, joy, celebrations and many more things but these speakers have turned into a nuisance in the urban areas as there is one or the other thing going on, on daily basis. This is causing great harm as this daily exposure to noise can cause variety of health effects such as annoyance, sleep deprivation, negative effects on the cardiovascular and metabolic system as well as is harmful to children as it can cause cognitive impairment. Due to such noise pollution many people have developed heart diseases which have even led to premature deaths.
These immensely loud loudspeakers not only affect human well-being but also affect animals a large as the loud noise created by these speakers scares them as well as damages their hearing. Even though there is a time limit set to the use of loudspeakers there must also be necessary precautions taken in relation to the noise it creates as it is highly disturbing and causes many health-related issues.