The Supreme Court has ruled that additional restrictions on the right to free speech cannot be imposed on ministers, MPs and MLAs. The grounds to restrict this right are exhaustive under Article 19(2), a Constitution bench said by a 4:1 majority on Tuesday.
A bench of Justices S Abdul Nazeer, BR Gavai, AS Bopanna, V Ramasubramanian and BV Nagarathna said that statements made by ministers cannot be attributed vicariously to the government even when the principle of collective responsibility is applied.
The case stemmed from a petition against Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan over his remarks allegedly trivialising a gangrape case in Bulandshahr in 2016. The court had asked Khan to submit an apology but observed that the matter raised serious questions about freedom of speech and state obligation.
It had reserved its judgment in November last year.
However, Justice Nagarathna gave a dissenting note, observing that ministers’ remarks can be attributed to the government if they make it in their “official capacity”, according to . She said they can be treated as personal remarks if they are not consistent with the government’s stand. She also expressed concern on rising cases of hate speech.
Arguing for the central government, Attorney General R Venkataramani had said that it was better for Parliament to debate the question, according to LiveLaw. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta reportedly said that these issues were already covered by the Amish Devgan and Tehseen Poonawalla cases.