Indian Express Pvt Ltd & Ors V. Union of India

Indian Express Pvt Ltd & Ors V. Union of India


Author: Preeti Singh Bhadoria, Lloyd Law College, Greater Noida




Date of Judgment- 06/ 12/ 1984

Facts- The petitioners, in this case, were companies, employees, and shareholders thereof, as well as trusts locked in within the distribution of newspapers. They challenged the purport obligation on newsprint under the Customs Tax Act 1975 and the auxiliary duty under the Finance Act 1981, as altered by notices under the Customs Act 1962 with impact from March 1, 1981. Earlier to this notice, newsprint had enjoyed an exception from customs duty.

The petitioners contended that the imposition of this duty had an unfavorable impact on costs and circulation and, so, had a devastating impact on freedom of expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution and the flexibility to practice any trade or occupation under Article 19(1)(g). They assert that no open interest justified such interference with these principal rights since the foreign trade position of India was comfortable at the time. Finally, they submitted that the classification of newspapers into small, medium and large newspapers damaged the rule of non-arbitrariness under Article 14 of the Constitution (equality before law).

The government contended that the burden of the cost borne by the newspapers and the position of foreign exchange reserves were unessential contemplations. The public interest included in taxation was to increase the revenue of the government, a burden that’s borne by all citizens of the country. It declared that the exemption granted to newsprint was not justified and, so, can be removed by the government.

Issue Raised

       i.          Whether it includes Freedom of press restrictions other than those in Article 19(2).

     ii.          Whether reasonable interference in the name of public interest is justified.

    iii.          Fundamental rights under Article 19(1) and (g) whether different from right conferred by the first amendment to American Constitution.

    iv.          Article 14 classification of newspaper for levying customs duty whether discriminatory.

      v.          Article 13(3)(a) notification under section 25 customs act 1962 contrary to fundamental rights whether to be struck down.

    vi.          Whether tax on knowledge, people’s right to know the imposition of the tax government to be more cautious.

  vii.          Whether a sole guide helps in understanding the basic principles of freedom of speech and expression.

 viii.          Custom Act 1962 Section 25 power to grant immunity, whether legislative authority, whether notice of a subordinate piece of legislation, whether doubtful on the basis of the arbitrary power of law.

Judgment- The Supreme Court of India observed that the govt. was undoubtedly engaged to need charges affecting the publication of newspapers since such publication may be characterized as an industry and must be subject to the same levies as other businesses. It too allowed the classification into little, medium, and largely based on economic considerations, had a judicious nexus with the objective of taxation, and could not be considered arbitrary. In any case, where the power of taxation encroaches upon the freedom of expression beneath Article 19(1)(a), the limitation on the flexibility must be within reasonable limits.

Reasonable limits have been outlined in Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution, wherein “public interest” is a ground that will be taken to confine freedom of expression. The Court concluded that two basic standards must be borne in mind: first, newspapers enjoy the benefits of government services like all other industries and must accordingly contribute a reasonable share of government income through tax assessment; and second, the burden of taxation must not be excessive.

In the context of the present request, the Court observed that the excessive nature of the burden was neither sufficiently proven by the petitioners nor adequately refuted by the respondents. It stated that a “strict burden of proof’” needs not to be discharged, considering the possibility of interference with fundamental rights. It subsequently directed the government to re-examine the taxation policy by evaluating whether it constituted an excessive burden on the newspapers. The government’s stance that such a consideration was irrelevant was off base and therefore, the notification had to be revised by considering this factor.

Critical Analysis- A possible rule is provided in the case of Indian Express Newspapers v. Union of India. (1984) Responding to a challenge to an import obligation set upon newsprint, the Court differentiated between those general taxes or duties that would require newspapers to form a similar contribution to the exchequer as other individuals and businesses in a similar position and those that imposed a fiscal burden over and over such contribution. In Indian Express Newspapers, the petition was permitted; maybe then, the conclusion that’s to be drawn, on a combined perusing of all these cases, is that by encompassing a “direct impact” test has essentially differentiated between interference with freedom of speech and expression as well as the conditions under which freedom must be exerted. Two of those establishment conditions seem to be an unregulated marketplace and common authoritative provisions dealing with taxation and proportioning of newsprint that is applicable across the board.

In Indian Express Newspapers, the petition was permitted; possibly at that point, the conclusion that’s to be drawn, on a combined examining of all these cases, is that by including a “direct effect” test, the Court has distinguished between interferences with the freedom of speech and expression and background conditions inside which that freedom must be exercised. Two of those establishment conditions appear to be an unregulated marketplace and common authoritative provisions dealing with taxation and proportioning of newsprint that’s applicable across the board.