This Article, 'Important Judgments on Article 19: A Conceptual Analysis,' intends to highlight how the Indian Courts have always thrived towards expanding the horizons of Article 19 through the liberal interpretation of the same.

This Article, 'Important Judgments on Article 19: A Conceptual Analysis,' intends to highlight how the Indian Courts have always thrived towards expanding the horizons of Article 19 through the liberal interpretation of the same.The Freedom of Expression enables one to express one’s own voice and those of others, but the freedom of the press must be subject to restrictions that apply to the freedom of speech and expression. The Indian Constitution is the world's most detailed...

This Article, 'Important Judgments on Article 19: A Conceptual Analysis,' intends to highlight how the Indian Courts have always thrived towards expanding the horizons of Article 19 through the liberal interpretation of the same.

The Freedom of Expression enables one to express one’s own voice and those of others, but the freedom of the press must be subject to restrictions that apply to the freedom of speech and expression. 

The Indian Constitution is the world's most detailed written constitution. The Indian Constitution was written in a way that allows for future amendments to benefit the country's citizens. We know that the Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the Constitution are distinct from the Legal Rights protected by other laws. Article 19 declares the freedom of speech and expression to be a fundamental right, although this freedom is not unrestricted and is subject to the limitations listed in Article 19(2).

The Freedom of Expression enables one to express one’s own voice and those of others, but the freedom of the press must be subject to restrictions that apply to the freedom of speech and expression. You are not allowed to say anything that may hurt national interests, stir up religious conflict, or highlight religious differences. The restrictions listed include those against defamation, judicial disobedience, decency or morality, state security, cordial ties between India and other nations, incitement to commit crimes, public order, and preservation of India's sovereignty and integrity.

The Indian Courts have always thrived towards expanding the horizons of Article 19 through the liberal interpretation of the same.

Some of the landmark judgements relating to Article 19 are as follows:

1. State of Uttar Pradesh v. Raj Narain, (1975) 3 S.C.R. 333, (Right to Know and to Obtain Information)

An Indian citizen named Raj Narain filed an election lawsuit with the Allahabad High Court, alleging that a political party had misappropriated public funds to help the incumbent prime minister of India win re-election. He demanded the State Government of Uttar Pradesh produce a book called the Blue Book, which covered security precautions for the Prime Minister's protection when travelling, in order to prove these accusations. In response, a representative of Uttar Pradesh's Home Security was given the go-ahead to assert a non-disclosure privilege in accordance with Section 123 of the Evidence Act. No one is allowed to provide evidence obtained from unpublished official records relating to any matter of state without the officer at the head of the Department concerned who shall give or withhold such permission as he thinks fit.”

The Supreme Court of India affirmed the High Court's order to release a government document. Raj Narain requested the Uttar Pradesh state government to release the "Blue Book," a document that detailed security precautions for the travels of the Indian prime minister. Because it was a secret official record and went against the public interest, government officials refused to turn out the document. The Court reasoned that the document was not an unpublished official record since the government official failed to file an affidavit to claim it. The Court also held that it has the power to decide whether a document is in the public interest.

2. Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms, 2002 (3) SCR 294, (Right to Know the Antecedents of the Candidates at Election)

The Association for Democratic Reforms petitioned the High Court of Delhi to compel the implementation of a number of recommendations addressing how to improve the fairness, transparency, and equity of the electoral process in India. The Law Commission made these recommendations in response to a request from the Government of India, and they stated that the Election Commission should require all candidates to disclose personal background information, including criminal history, educational background, personal financial information, and other information necessary for evaluating a candidate's capacity and capability, to the public.

The High Court of Delhi ruled that it is not in the interest of democracy to keep voters in the dark about a candidate's background, and directed the Election Commission to gather this information for their benefit. The Union of India appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court of India, claiming that the Election Commission and the High Court lacked the necessary authority to make the judgement and that voters had no access to such information. The Supreme Court of India upheld the High Court order mandating that the Election Commission is required to gather and make available background information on candidates for public office, including details on their assets, criminal histories, and educational backgrounds. The Supreme Court also ruled that the right to know about public officials is derived from the constitutional right to freedom of expression.

3. LIC v. Prof. Manubhai D. Shah, 1992 (3) S.C.R. 595 or 1993 AIR 171, (Right to Reply)

The Supreme Court of India, in this case, held that the right to respond to objections to one’s position was an integral part of freedom of expression. Both of the case's appeals make reference to distinct occasions in which a state-controlled organisation declined to print or broadcast content that opposed the administration. The Court argued that government-controlled media outlets have a stronger responsibility to acknowledge a person's right to self-defence, and if a State restricts content, it must justify its actions with legal justification.

The Supreme Court ruled that exercising one's right to free expression encompasses the freedom to speak and defend one's opinions. By recognising this right, it increased the burden on publications made with public funds. Therefore, both cases' claims of discretion were denied. The State is required to provide legal justifications for rejecting content. The principle of freedom to express one's opinion regarding an event is violated for reasons such as the content only presenting one side of the argument. Such justifications were therefore deemed to be false.

4. Bijoe Emmanuel v. State of Kerala, AIR 1987 SC 748, (Right to Silence)

In this case, the expulsion of schoolchildren for refusing to sing the national anthem violated their right to freedom of expression, as per the Supreme Court of India. Due to their refusal to sing the Indian national song since it went against their Jehovah's Witness faith, three schoolchildren were expelled. Their representative claimed that the deportation violated their fundamental rights to freedom of religion and expression under Articles 19 and 25, respectively, of the Indian Constitution. According to the Court, a limitation on the right to free speech must be supported by a statute. However, the State and individuals were not required by law to sing the national song, and the State of Kerala’s Department of Education lacked the statutory force to require schoolchildren to participate.

In addition, the Court determined that the applicable regulatory measures put in place by the Kerala State Department of Education regarding required participation in singing the national anthem in schools amounted to little more than "departmental instructions" and lacked the legal standing required by Article 19 of the Constitution to impose restrictions on the right to freedom of expression.

5. Bennett Coleman and Co. v. Union of India, AIR 1973 SC 106, (Freedom of Press)

The petitioners (Bennett Coleman and Co.) challenged the restrictions imposed on the import policy of the newsprint under Import Control Order 1955 and under the Newsprint Order 1962. The Supreme Court held that the petitioner’s case was maintainable and stated that even though the petitioner was a company, it cannot be taken as a bar to not award relief for violating the rights of shareholders and staff. The Court also said that, as claimed by the respondents, Article 358 cannot be applied to laws passed before the proclamation of emergency; hence, the newsprint policy can be challenged in the court. The Court noted that freedom of the press is an essential element of Article 19(1)(a), and the absence of an express mention of such freedoms as a special category was irrelevant.

6. Union of India v. Naveen Jindal, AIR 2004 SC 1559, (Right to host National Flag)

Naveen Jindal, the petitioner, was the Joint managing director of a factory whose office space had hoisted the Indian flag. Government representatives refused to let him do it, citing the Indian Flag Code. Mr Jindal submitted a petition to the High Court, claiming that the Flag Code of India was merely a series of executive directives from the Government of India and not actual law because no law could ban Indian citizens from hosting the National flag.

The Supreme Court of India upheld a judgment affirming that the Indian Constitution, and in particular the fundamental right to freedom of expression, protected the right to fly the national flag. A manufacturing director named Naveen Jindal filed a case after learning that the Flag Code of India prohibited him from flying the national flag. The Court reasoned that a person's freedom to fly the flag can be viewed as an expression of their loyalty to and pride in their country. The Court did point out that some logical statutory limitations may apply to this privilege.

7. Hamdard Dawakhana v. Union of India, SCR 1960 (2) 671

In this case, it was held that “commercial advertisements” were not covered within the concept of freedom of speech and expression. The case involved the promotion of goods and narcotics that were illegal. The Petitioners' product was advertised to the general public along with claims that it had self-medicating properties. The petitioners in the case claimed that it was impossible for them to advertise their product since so many people objected to their commercials.

In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that offensive advertising is not covered by Article 19(1)(a). It stated that an advertisement, which is a business transaction, is simply the dissemination of information about the product and that it is advantageous for the public if the information is made available to them through the methods of advertisement.

8. Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 597, (Right to Travel Abroad)

The petitioner in this case, Maneka Gandhi, was aggrieved by legislation that restricted her movement abroad. As per the Passport Act, of 1967, she was made to surrender her passport without any precise reason due to which she was not able to travel abroad. She had approached the Supreme Court claiming that this was a violation of her fundamental rights.

While this case mainly involved the question of the right to travel abroad included within Article 21, it also stirred a debate on the mutual exclusivity of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.

The Supreme Court then gave its judgement via which the golden triangle, Articles 14, 19 and 21 were claimed to be ‘inseparable’ and it was stated that they must be interpreted in consonance with each other. It was also stated in this case by the apex court that it might be true that there are certain rights which might not be expressly provided for elsewhere in the constitution, but if they are crucial for the freedom that a citizen must be provided under the constitution, then those rights are considered to be included within the ambit of Article 19 (1).

9. Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan, 1997 6 SCC 24, (Right to Practice any Profession)

This landmark case related to sexual harassment of women in the workplace interpreted Article 19 (1) (g). The petitioner was Vishakha in this case and the respondent was the State of Rajasthan. The issues involved in this case centred around the need to emphasize the equal protection of the rights of women in the workplace.

This could be inferred from the right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, as it was the freedom of women to work as per their choice being curtailed in this case.

The Supreme Court thus ruled that any sort of sexual harassment that takes place at the workplace, violates Article 19(1) (g) of women. Subsequently, POSH guidelines were then brought into the picture post this case.

10. Excel Wear v. Union of India, 1979 AIR 25, (Right to Close Business)

This case is also related to Article 19(1)(g) but highlights an entirely different side of the said fundamental right, which further proves the dynamic nature of this right.

In this case, the petitioners being the business owners contended that their right to close business is inherent within the right to practice any profession and business under Article 19(1) (g). The issue in this case thus was to decipher whether the ‘right to close businesses’ comes within the fundamental right’s purview.

The Supreme Court in this case held Section 25-O of the Industrial Disputes Act to be void because it demanded the business owner first take permission from the government before closing their business. This as per the apex court defeated the freedom provided to every person with regard to his or her business or profession as per Article 19(1) (g).

11. U.P. Avas Evam Vikas Parishad v. Friends Co-op. Housing Society Ltd.,1996 AIR 114, (Right to Shelter)

This case highlights the importance of Article 19(1) (e) which related to the right to settle in any part of the territory of India. The petitioners, in this case, were UP Avas Evam Vikas Parishad who pleaded for the consideration of their ‘right to shelter’ as a fundamental right. The issue was to adjudicate whether the said right could be brought within the ambit of the fundamental rights.

The Supreme Court had thus held in this case that the ‘right to shelter’ is inherent and impliedly a part of the right to residence as provided under Article 19(1) (e). The right to construct houses would then also become a part of the said right. Thus any infringement of the right to shelter of any person would be a direct infringement of his fundamental rights, this was thus decided by the Supreme Court in this case.

12. Chambara Soy v. Union of India, AIR 2008 Ori 148, (Right to Move Freely)

The petitioner, in this case, Chambara Soy, was a petitioner in the village who was thus aggrieved by the blockage on the road created by some people. The blockage was on National Highway No. 200 at Kalinga Nagar.

The issue, in this case, was to decide whether such blockages created by some unscrupulous elements of society qualifies to be an infringement of the fundamental rights of the aggrieved and affected people who cannot use the said road. The aggrieved petitioner was fighting this case as his son had died due to the delay in taking him to the hospital caused because of the road blockage.

The court, in this case, stated that this comes within the purview of Article 19 (1) (d) which guarantees all the citizens the right to move freely throughout the territory of India and anybody violating this by restricting movement is causing a direct infringement of the right to freedom as per Article 19 which is a fundamental right and is thus non-negotiable.


Therefore, it is a well-established fact that the citizen of India is entitled to a number of fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution. According to Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, one such right is the freedom of speech and expression and the Indian Courts have time and again reaffirmed the fact that being a fundamental right, it shall be protected for every Indian citizen in lieu of our Indian Constitution.


[1] Aastik Dhingra, My Freedom of Speech, Available Here

[2] Prachi Darji, Freedom of Speech and Expression in India, Available Here

[3]  Article 19 of Indian Constitution, Available Here

[4] Article 19 of Indian Constitution, Available Here

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Updated On 30 April 2024 4:31 AM GMT
Snehil Sharma

Snehil Sharma

Snehil Sharma is an advocate with an LL.M specializing in Business Law. He is a legal research aficionado and is actively indulged in legal content creation. His forte is researching on contemporary legal issues.

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