Freedom of speech and expression – Article 19(1)(a)

Freedom of speech and expression under article 19(1)(a)


Freedom of speech and expression means the right of an individual to express his views, opinions, and thoughts freely by words of mouth, writing, printing, publishing, pictures, or any other mode, by which one can express himself. Freedom to speak your mind and views is one of the most basic right which a human should be provided. Every nation around the world provides to its citizens this basic right so that being the citizen of a nation one can express his views, ideas, criticism, opposition in different events and circumstances.

“Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government:
When this support is taken away, the constitution of a free
Society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins, and
Limited monarchies derive their strength and vigor from a
Popular examination into the action of the Magistrates.”

Benjamin Franklin

The above quote some how suffices the importance of freedom of speech and expression of the citizens of a country. All our rights will become callous if we are not allowed to express our sentiments and thoughts.

Freedom of speech and expression under Indian Constitution

Freedom of speech and expression is one of the six rights provided by our constitution, under Article 19 ( Right to freedom) to its citizens. It says “All the citizens shall have right To freedom of speech and expression”

This means that all the citizens of India have the right to express themselves. It is to be noted here that the word used here is ‘citizens’ not persons which means that this right is available only to citizens of India. The founding fathers Of our constitution included “liberty of thought, expression and belief” as one of the objectives of the constitution of India i.e. it is the duty of the state to provide its citizens the liberty to express their thoughts and beliefs freely and through any medium ( by way of words of mouth, writing. Printing, publishing, art, signs & the like)


1. Freedom of press
2. Right to know or information
3. Right to interview
4. Right to advertisement
5. Right to telephone tapping
6. Right to strike
7. Freedom of silence.

The above mentioned particulars may be illustrated with the help of following case laws.

Freedom of press

  • In our Constitution there is no separate provision for Freedom of press and as press is a medium to promote information it is included in article 19(1)(a)
  • Press plays a vital role in a democratic country, it even reaches to those who can not read and write and provides the necessary information about happenings of the country and the world. It is also a medium to connect those who are left out to the rest of the world and a medium of information of their rights.
  • In Indian Express Newspaper V. UOI.¹ the court observed, the expression “Freedom of the press” has not been used in Article 19 but it is comprehended within Article 19(1)(a). There cannot be any interference with that freedom in the name of public interest. Freedom of press is heart of social and political intercourse. It is the primary duty of the courts to upheld the freedom of the press and invalidate all laws or administrative actions which interfere with it contrary to the constitutional mandate.
  • In Bennet Coleman and Co. V. UOI² the validity of the order which fixed the maximum number of pages a newspaper could publish was challenged. The court held the newsprint policy as unreasonable and violation of their right of freedom of speech and expression.

Right to know

In Union of India V. Association for democratic reforms³ Supreme Court laid down the decision and directed the election commission to issue a notification making it compulsory for those who contest elections to make available information about their education, assets, liabilities, and criminal antecedents for the benefit of voters.

Right to Interview

In Prabhu dutt v. UOI(4) The SC held that the Right to know news and information regarding the administration of the Government is included in the freedom of the press. But this right is not absolute and restrictions can be imposed on it in the interest of the society and the individual from which the press obtains the information. They can obtain information from an individual when he voluntarily agrees to give such information. In the instant case Court directed the Superintendent of the Tihar jail to permit the chief reporter of Hindustan times newspaper to interview Ranga and Billa two death sentence convicts under article 19(1) as they were willing to be interviewed.

Right to Advertisement

In Hamdard Dawa khana v. UOI(5) the restriction on commercial advertisement of drugs having magical remedies under Drug and Magic remedies (objectionable advertisement) act was challenged on the ground that it abridged the Right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a). SC held that the Right to freedom of speech undoubtedly includes right to advertisement but it does not includes commercial advertisement because they include commercial gain for trade &commerce and it is no where related to propagating one’s idea.

Right to telephone tapping

In people’s union for civil liberties V. UOI (6) the petitioner challenged the validity of Sec(5)(2) of Indian telegraph act 1985 under which telephone tapping is allowed under certain circumstances provided in the act. The petitioner contended that the section is violation of freedom of speech which a person exercises during a phone call, hence it should be held void.

The court declined to strike down the section unconstitutional and provided necessary guidelines for telephone tapping that under what circumstances it may be done and it cannot exceed the period of 2months unless approved by reviewing authority which can extend up to 6 months.

Right to strike

In kameshwar singh V. State of Bihar(7) court held that demonstrations and picketings are protected under Article 19(1)(a) provided they are not violent and disorderly.

In recent judgement of protest in Shaheen bagh court held that the protest should be peaceful And should not create inconvenience for general public.

Kerala high court in communist party of India v. Bharat Kumar and others(8) held that no political party has the right to call for Bundh on the ground that its their fundamental right under article 19 and Bundha are not in the interest of the nation.
Thus calling for and holding of bundh doesn’t comes under Right to freedom of speech and is unconstitutional.

Freedom of Silence

In Bijoe Emmanuel v. State of kerala (8) In this case the three children belonging to a sect Jehovah’s witnesses who only worship Jehovah the creator and no other were expelled from school for not singing national anthem because it was against their religious belief. The court held that this is violation of their fundamental right under article 19(1)(a) and article 25(1) and held that there is no provision of law which obliges anyone to sing the national anthem nor it is disrespectful to the national anthem. They stood respectfully when national anthem was sung Thus they did nothing disrespectful and Freedom of speech includes freedom to not speak.


An absolute freedom is harmful and no one’s freedom should curtail the freedom of another. Thus freedom of speech is also not absolute and is subject to restrictions provided under Article 19(2). However supreme court in various cases held that these restrictions must be reasonable and not arbitrary. A restriction to be reasonable must have a rational relation with the object which the legislation seeks to achieve. Grounds of restriction on freedom of speech , under article19(2) are as follows;

  • Sovereignty and integrity of India.
  • Security of the state
  • Friendly relations with foreign states
  • Public order
  • Decency or morality
  • Contempt of court
  • Defamation
  • Incitement to offence

1.Sovereignty and Integrity of India

It was added in the constitution by the sixteenth amendment act 1963. A person while exercising his freedom of speech should not affect the sovereignty and integrity of the nation. It also includes sedition in it . Sedition as provided under section 124_A of IPC is defined as follows;
“Whoever by words either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation or otherwise brings or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India shall be Punished.”

Explanation 3 of the section says that mere criticism of government is no offence.

In a recent case when civil activist lawyer Mr. Prashant Bhusan said while arguing on the spike of cases Of sedition charges that it has become a weapon of Government to choke the voice of dissent on which court revived its judgement of kedarnath case. In kedarnath Singh V. State of Bihar (9) supreme court held that only those act will amount to sedition which create a public disturbance and incite violence.

2. Security of state

In Romesh Thapper V. State of Madras(10) Romesh thapper was a noted communist and Editor of English Weekly Crossroad. At that time the communist movements were rising and fearing that it will give the fuel to fire Govt. Of Madras banned the entry of it in the state issuing an order saying Its for public order and safety. At that time Public order was not included as one of its restrictions and court interpreted the meaning of security of state and said that it refers only to serious and aggravated form of public disorder and mere riot or affray can not be said as breach of security of state.

3. Friendly relation with Foreign states 

This ground was added by the constitution 1st amendment act, 1951. The main cause behind was that nothing should be spoken, published or done in other way which may strain the friendly relationship with foreign states.

4. Public order

This ground was added in constitution 1st amendment act 1951. After the Supreme court judgement in Romesh Thapper’s case.

5. Decency or morality

Section 292 to 294 of Indian penal code provides for punishment for offences of indecency or obscenity. And restricts representation of books, pamphlets, art, drawing or any other form which may incite the prurient interest and may corrupt the mind of the person who read, see or hear the matter those who are open to such immoral influences. In Ranjit D. Udeshi v. State of Maharashtra(11) A bookseller was convicted under section 292 of IPC for selling a book said to be Obscene “lady chatterley’s lover”. He appealed in the Supreme court that section 292 of IPC is violation of his Right to speech under Article 19(1)(a) the court upheld the section and dismissed his appeal and said that the restrictions covered under article 19(2) include section 292 of IPC and It is a reasonable restriction.

6. Contempt of Court 

This section makes it clear that a citizen while exercising his freedom to speech should not exceed it and does anything which amounts to contempt of court. Contempt of court is of two types (1)civil contempt – when a person willfully disobeys any order of court and (2) criminal contempt- any kind of scandalous words, images or any other form of speech published by a person against the court and its judges. Article 129 and 215 put a stamp on this restriction which provide that Supreme court and High courts may simultaneously have a the power to punish for contempt of itself.

Under the contempt of court Act 1971 contempt of court is punishable with simple imprisonment for a term of 6 months, or with fine which may extend to Rs.2000 or with both. Recently Supreme court took suo moto cognizance over two tweets of Civil activist lawyer Prashant Bhusan which were critical to CJI and SC. Contempt proceedings against him were criminal contempt of court.

7. Defamation

Any statement which injures someone’s reputation is called defamation. And this restriction makes it sure that no person should defame or use any words by any way of speech which may hurt someone’s reputation .

8. Incitement to an offence

This ground was added in constitution by way of 1st amendment act 1951. Incitement to offence means something said, or done in way which may incite hate and Violence and which may lead to an offence. Offence means any act or omission which is punishable by law.


Book referred

Dr. Pandey J.N.
Case law citations-
1.(1985)1 SCC 64
2.AIR 1973 SC 106
3.AIR 2002 SC 2112
4. AIR 1982 SC 6.
5.AIR. 1960 SC 554
6.AIR 1997 SC 568
7.AIR 1962 SC 1166
8.(1986) 3 SCC 615
9.AIR 1962 SC 955
10.AIR 1950 SC 124
11. (1965) 1 S.C.R. 65.

Author: Saumya Shukla,
Final year CMP degree college Prayagraj

Leave a Comment