Author: Anshika Tomar, Delhi metropolitan education, Noida
CASE – Indian Express v. Union of India 1985 SCR (2) 287
Bench– Venkataramiah, E.S (j), Reddy, O. Chinnappa (j), Sen, A.P, (j)
Legal provisions included:
- Indian press Act 1910
- The customs tariff Act 1975
- The Finance Act, 1981
- Article 19 of the Indian constitution
- Article 14 of the Indian constitution
- Sakal case (AIR 1962 SC 305)
- Bennett Coleman Case (AIR 1973 SC 106)
Freedom of press is the freedom of expression and communication that has various electronic media and published materials. While this freedom of press mostly has no interference from the government and it can be preserved through constitutional and other means. If we talk about the British rule, the Indian press has a long history with it. The Britishers brought many number of legislations at that time to take control over the press and curtail its freedom.
For example the Indian press Act 1910. After independence, there is a change in outlook. Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian constitution lays down that all the citizens of India has a right of “freedom of speech and expression”.
Position Of Press in the USA
Freedom of press is well known in the constitution of America. However, it was only added after the first amendment.
Position Of Press in India
In the case of Indian Express v. union of India it was observed by the court that the press has a very important part in the Indian Democracy and its machinery. In 2020 India was ranked 142nd on the world press freedom index released by international organization reporters.
Courts have a duty to protect the press declare all those laws as invalid which curtail that freedom. Freedom of press has 3 essential roles. They are –
1. Freedom to access all sources and information
2. Freedom to Publish.
3. Freedom of circulation.
- In 1985 the Government of India began levying heavy import duty on the newsprints that were imported from abroad along with customs duty.
- This led to an increase in the price of the newspapers and reduced their circulation.
- In this case, the petitioners were the companies, employees, and shareholders as well as the trusts who were indulged in the circulation of newspapers.
- They also challenged the obligation that was imposed on the newsprint under the Customs Tax Act of year 1975 and the auxiliary duty under the Finance Act 1981.
- Before the enactment of these acts the newspapers enjoyed an exception from the customs duty.
- The companies pleaded that forcing of such duty had a huge effect on cost and the circulation of newspapers and a devastating impact on the freedom of expression under article 19(1) (a) and also had a impact on the flexibility to practice any trade and occupation under article 19(1) (g).
- They also contended that no open interest favored their interference with these rights.
- The petitioners also submitted that the classification of newspapers into the three categories i.e small, medium, and large newspapers also violated the principle of non-arbitrariness under Article 14 of Indian Constitution.
- Whereas on the other side the government pleaded that the over cost borne by the newspapers is irrelevant consideration.
- The public interest which was involved in the taxation policy was just to increase the revenue of the government and therefore it clarifies that the exception which is given to newspapers cannot be justified and the government can abolish all those exceptions.
1. Whether the imposition of taxes on the newsprints were Violative under article 19 of constitution of India.
2. Whether the restrictions imposed on the freedom of press falls in the category of article 19(2)
3. Whether the interference in the name of public interest is justified or not
- The government didn’t agree that the levy suffered from any mala fides and also claimed that every group of the people had to face its equal share as the economical burden on the state thus, the imposition of the customs duty on the newspapers material cannot be regarded as violative of Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India.
- The petitioners claimed a powerful dependence on the Sakal case and the Bennett Coleman case to prove that the tax which is imposed on the newsprint i.e the essential part of newspaper can be unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court Finally held that the government can impose taxes on the newsprint but only within reasonable limits so it doesn’t affect the circulation of the papers and also ordered the government to review its taxation policy because the excessive nature of the tax was neither proven by the petitioners not it was refuted by the respondent.
This judgment is a landmark for creating a connection between the freedom of speech & expression and freedom of press in a democracy. Media act as the fourth pillar of our Democracy, it has the power to change minds and opinions of people thus any kind of interference with it will only narrow its reach to the public and can lead to serious damage to the Democracy.