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Fifty one shades of speech

J. Sai Deepak

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In the previous piece, this author had raised the following questions in the process of etching the contours of public morality: “The sum and substance of these discussions is that under the framework of the Indian Constitution, it is the State, meaning thereby the Executive and the Legislature but not the Judiciary, which has the power to invoke public morality within reasonable bounds for the purposes of placing reasonable restrictions on fundamental rights guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution. The Judiciary’s role is limited to examining the constitutional validity of the claim made by the State that the latter’s action is in the interest of or furthers public morality. 

That said, what are the parameters that must be applied to such an examination? In other words, how does the State demonstrate that its action represents public morality? What kind of exercise must the State undertake, if at all required by the Constitution, to assess public morality in relation to a given right? Or does the Constitution grant elected representatives the unfettered right as parens patriae i.e. parent of the nation, to speak on behalf of their constituents on every issue merely because they have been elected? Can members of the State form an opinion on public morality in relation to a given issue or topic without consulting members of the society to marshal some form of concrete evidence to base their positions on? Critically, in the context of a diverse society such as Bharat, how can the State hope to do justice to varying and often conflicting positions on public morality?

… Does this mean that the scope of use of public morality by the State as the basis for limiting individual freedoms is limited to public spaces? What is the position of the Indian civilization and the Constitution on the spaces and contexts in which public morality may be used as a legitimate restriction on individual rights? What constitutes public morality within the framework of the Indic civilizational worldview and what are its sources?” 

While the author’s original intent was to address these specific questions in the present piece, a legitimate and related digression is warranted in the current atmosphere to give the discussion a much more relevant and concrete peg. Over the last few days, “hate speech” has become the talk of the town because some have taken offense to the contents of a certain programme which, they believe, target a particular community. While the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and the Hon’ble Supreme Court, are simultaneously, and perhaps incongruously, seized of the case, it may be worthwhile to understand the relationship between speech, culture and public morality. In the interest of fair disclosure, this author is appearing on behalf of a few Intervenors in the proceedings before the Supreme Court. Therefore, in the interest of propriety, he shall desist from commenting on the specific merits of the case. The focus of the instant piece is the meta nexus between speech and civilizational ethos.

 Language, while acting as the vehicle for expression of thought, results in speech. Therefore, speech could be treated as but one form of expression, and for the purposes of the discussion at hand, may be treated as a broad representative of varied forms of expression. To reduce speech to merely a collection of words is to betray one’s ignorance and superficial understanding of human psychology, both individual and collective. Speech, in fact, contains the markers of a civilisation’s journey, depth and the values it believes in. One could go even a step further to make the point that speech is perhaps the most literal, visible, audible and ubiquitous expression of public morality. The lessons, beliefs, achievements, tragedies, the objects of worship and hatred of a people take the shape of similes, idioms, usages, proverbs and even cuss words. Therefore, to police speech, is to police not just the ability to express thought, but thought itself because policing the formers chills and stifles the latter, thereby killing the idea at source. 

Given the implications of policing speech, society is naturally expected to be extremely cautious and selective in handing the right to police its speech and thought to any particular organ as part of its social contract with the State. To hedge against unilateralism and authoritarianism, the republican premise is that it is safer, if not the safest, to put faith in organs which are vulnerable to and are the product of the will of the people, namely the Legislature and the Executive. Even if this choice has the inherent risk of surrendering one’s individual right at the altar of a process which ruthlessly rewards the numerical majority, it still puts faith in the deeper churn of a society and its tendency to see the light through trial and error. Perhaps this is because of the unspoken belief in the existence of a “society” which shares a common minimum pool of values and aspirations, notwithstanding differing political perspectives and ideological persuasions. More often than not, this common minimum pool of shared values and aspirations traces its origins to the fundamental ethos of a people or a civilization i.e. the shared ethos which justify the reason for the existence as a single national/ civilizational, and hence political unit. This demonstrates that politics cannot faithfully and fully reflect the bonds that connect the members of a society. It also explains why as part of a social contract an individual is assumed and expected to submit to the dispensation which the majority has elected even if the individual is at loggerheads with the dispensation’s positions.

 In view of the above rationale, an organ, such as the Judiciary, whose rectitude is its hallmark and is presumed to translate to impartiality and objectivity, cannot, must not and is not designed to attempt to step into the shoes of elected organs. This is not only because it violates the rules of “the” social contract, namely the Constitution, but also because it deprives the people of their say in the process of laying down the law, which partakes significantly, if not solely, from public morality. Critically, since notions of public morality vary from society to society and even within society, only the State, namely the Legislature and the Executive but not the Judiciary, is competent to and mandated to prescribe the red lines of free speech.

 In a brilliant paper titled “Morality as a Legitimate Government Interest” published in Penn State Law Review in 2012, Daniel F. Piar, then a Professor of Law at Yale Law School, examined in detail the United States Supreme Court’s tendency to homogenize moral standards in the name of the Constitution (a.k.a constitutional morality), and concluded as follows:

 “As discussed above, moral diversity yields numerous moral benefits to individuals and to the society that they constitute. To resist the proliferation of moral diversity is to deny that we are a pluralistic society. If we are to remain true to our liberal commitments, we must acknowledge—and accept— that the world is full of matters on which people of reason and good will are apt to disagree. A productive moral diversity then may flourish, to the betterment of each of us and our society. 

The law, however, has trod a more dangerous road, threatening to suppress diverse responses to moral issues through a homogenizing constitutionalism. If society is to retain the social and personal benefits of moral diversity, society will need to be attentive to the points at which the law impedes it, as well as to the opportunities in law for sustaining it.” Why should the logic be any different in the Indian context?

 J. Sai Deepak is an Advocate practising as an arguing counsel before the Supreme Court of India and the High Court of Delhi. 

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Legally Speaking

MP HIGH COURT SEEKS DGP’S REPLY: DOES POLICE’S FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE FULL CRIMINAL ANTECEDENTS OF ACCUSED AMOUNTS TO MISCONDUCT, INTERFERENCE WITH JUSTICE?

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The Madhya Pradesh High Court in the case Kuldeep Dohare Versus the State of Madhya Pradesh observed, recently the Gwalior bench directed the Director General of Police, State of Madhya Pradesh to file an affidavit explaining as to whether non-communication of criminal antecedents of an Applicant or Accused to the Court is a minor misconduct or if it amounts to interference with the criminal justice dispensation system. Before the next date of hearing, the affidavit is to be filled.

The bench comprising of Justice G.S. Ahluwalia observed and remarked that the court was frequently finding that the police authorities were not sending the complete criminal antecedents, in spite of the circular issued by Police Headquarters.

It was observed that the police authorities did not send the criminal antecedents of the applicant. Furthermore, it is clear that it is a clear attempt to facilitate the applicant to obtain bail by projecting that he has no criminal antecedents. The issue raised is weather the conduct of police officers can be said to be a minor negligence or it is an interference with the criminal justice dispensation system?

In the present case, the court was dealing with a bail application moved by the accused applicant for offences punishable under section 307, Section 149, section 148, section 147, section 506, section 294, section 201. On an earlier hearing, the court had observed that even though the case diary did not reflect any criminal antecedents on the part of the Applicant. The impugned order passed by the lower court rejecting his bail application mentioned otherwise.

It was observed that a reply was sought by the court from the Superintendent of Police, District Bhind as to why the important information with regard to the criminal antecedents of the Applicant were withheld by the respective SHO. The SP informed the Court on the subsequent hearing that the SHO concerned as well as the Investigating Officer in the case were found guilty of misconduct and were fined with Rs. 2,000 and Rs. 5,000, respectively.

The Court observed that since the problem was stemming from different police stations. However, the DGP should file his reply regarding the prevailing situation-

Since in different police station, this situation is prevailing. Therefore, an affidavit is directed to be filled by the DGP, State of Madhya Pradesh as to whether non- communication of criminal antecedents of an applicant is a minor misconduct or it amounts to interfere with the criminal antecedents of justice dispensation system.

Accordingly, the affidavit needs to be filled within a period of 1 week, the matter would be heard next on 08.07.2022.

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Legally Speaking

HIGH COURT OF MADHYA PRADESH: SECTION 5 OF THE LIMITATION ACT APPLIES TO ARBITRATION REFERENCE UNDER NATIONAL HIGHWAY ACT, 1956

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The High Court of Madhya Pradesh in the case Ghanshyam Gupta v. State of Madhya Pradesh and Ors observed and stated that Section 5 of the Limitation Act would be applicable to reference to arbitration under the National Highways Act, 1956.

The Division Bench comprising of Justice Ravi Malimath and Justice Purushiandra Kumar Kaurav observed and reiterated that since no limitation is provided under Section 3G (5) of the National Highways Act. The bench stated that the provisions of Article 137 of the Schedule to the Limitation Act, 1963 would apply to such proceedings.

Therefore, the court held that the limitation period for filing an appeal against the decision of the competent authority before the arbitrator from the date of expiry of 90 days is three years from the decision of the competent authority.

FACTS OF THE CASE:

The petitioner, Mr. Ghanshyam Gupta was the landowner of the land which was acquired by the Respondent, Madhya Pradesh Road Development Corporation. Thereafter, the competent authority determined the quantum of compensation payable to the petitioner and passed an award to that effect on 30.07.2015.

The petitioner being dissatisfied with the quantum of compensation determined by the competent authority. On 04.12.2019, an appeal was filled by the petitioner before the arbitrator. The appeal was dismissed by the arbitrator as time-barred filed after the expiry of three years limitation period.

the petitioner filed a writ petition before the High Court, Aggrieved by the decision of the arbitrator.

Contentions Raised by the Parties:

It is stated that Section 5 of the Limitation Act is applicable to arbitration reference under Section 3G (5) of the National Highways Act, 1956.

It was observed that the petitioner was unaware of the availability of the remedy of appeal against the decision of the competent authority, the petitioner only after consulting his lawyer, that the petitioner came to know that he could seek enhancement. Further, there is a valid ground to condone the delay.

The submissions of the petitioner were countered by the Respondent on the following grounds:

Though, in the absence of a period of limitation for filing an appeal under Section 3G (5) of the Act of 1956, it was construed that the provisions of Article 137 of the Limitation Act would stand applicable.

It was stated that Article 137 provides for 3 years period, and the petitioner filed the appeal after a delay of 4 years.

COURT ANALYSIS:

The court observed and stated that since no limitation is provided under Section 3G (5) of the National Highways Act, the provisions of Article 137 of the Schedule to the Limitation Act would apply to such proceedings.

Therefore, the court held that the limitation period for filing an appeal against the decision of the competent authority before the arbitrator from the date of expiry of 90 days is three years from the decision of the competent authority.

The court observed that there is nothing in the National Highways Act that excludes the applicability of Section 5 of the Limitation Act. However, Section 5 of the Limitation Act would be applicable to reference to arbitration under the National Highways Act, 1956 and the arbitrator has the power to condone the delay against the award, in filing an appeal by the competent authority.

The court noted that the petitioner was not aware that an appeal could be filed against the decision of the Competent Authority and it is only after consulting his lawyer that the petitioner came aware of any such right, therefore, there is sufficient reason to condone the delay.

Accordingly, the application was allowed by the court and the court directed the arbitrator to decide the case of the petitioner on merit.

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Legally Speaking

KERALA HIGH COURT APPOINTS AMICUS CURIAE IN SARITHA NAIR’S PLEA; IS A STATEMENT RECORDED U/S 164 CRPC A PUBLIC DOCUMENT?

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The Kerala High Court in the case Saritha S. Nair v. Union of India & Anr observed and appointed an amicus curia to assist the court to decide the legal question of whether a statement recorded under Section 164 of the CrPC is a public document.

The bench comprising of Justice Kauser Edappagath appointed the amicus curiae, in the petition filled by Saritha S. Nair, the prime accused in the infamous solar panel scam seeking a direction to provide her with copies of the Section 164 statement given by Swapna Suresh, the accused in the gold smuggling case.

The court appointed Advocate K.K. Dheerendrakrishnan, as the amicus curiae in the case.

In the present case, it was observed that Saritha Nair is accused of having duped several influential people to the tune of 70 lakhs, by offering to install solar power units for them or by making them business partners and by receiving advance payments for the same.

Moreover, Swapna Suresh is accused of smuggling 30 kilograms of gold through diplomatic cargo dispatched to UAE Consulate at Thiruvananthapuram.

It was observed that when the petition came up for hearing, the counsel appearing for the petitioner, Advocate B.A Aloor appearing that the statement given by Swapna was a public document and therefore the petitioner was entitled to get a copy.

Further, Nair approached the Court apprehending that certain allegation may have been brought on record against her in the statement given by Suresh. It was prayed by Nair, that the c court allow her plea, directing the production of certified copies of the said document to her, failing which she would sustain an irreparable injury, the hardship and as well as physical and mental agony.

It was observed that the Nair had had initially moved the Principal District and Sessions Court of Ernakulam, with the same request, but this was denied. The court noted and adjourned the matter to July 11, while on a petition filed by the accuse, Saritha S. Nair in the solar scam cases, for seeking a directive to provide a copy of the statement given by Swapna Suresh, accused in the diplomatic gold smuggling case before a subordinate court.

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Legally Speaking

Supreme Court issues notice in an SLP; can section 156 (3) CRPC be invoked after failing to get desired relief in a civil suit?

It was observed that before the Calcutta High Court, it was contended by the accused that the allegations made in the application under Section 156(3) CrPC fails to make out any offence against them. Further, it was submitted that a frustrated unsuccessful litigant before the Civil Court has approached the Criminal Court and the Criminal Investigation.

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The Supreme Court in the case Usha Chakraborty vs State of West Bengal observed and issued a notice in a Special Leave Petition filled, raising an issue whether in a dispute essentially in a dispute of civil nature that can a person, after having failed to get the desired relief from a civil suit, invoke Section 156(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure?

In the present case, an FIR was registered against the accused under Sections 323, Section 384, Section 406, Section 423, Section 467, Section 468, Section 420 and Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 following an order passed by the Magistrate under Section 156(3) CrPC.

It was observed that before the Calcutta High Court, it was contended by the accused that the allegations made in the application under Section 156(3) CrPC fails to make out any offence against them. Further, it was submitted that a frustrated unsuccessful litigant before the Civil Court has approached the Criminal Court and the Criminal Investigation, which has commenced, is for the purposes of throttling them. The petition was dismissed by the High Court observing that the materials which have already been collected by the Investigating Agency, prima facie, make out a case for investigation. The issue raised before the court was weather the same would make out an offence after the investigation is concluded is absolutely at the end of the investigation to be analysed.

Therefore, challenging this order, one of the accused approached the Apex Court. However, It was submitted that the dispute is essentially of civil nature, for which the applicant in Section 156(3) CrPC petition filed a civil suit but having failed to get the desired relief, he invoked Section 156(3) CrPC.

The bench comprising of Justice Surya Kant and the Justice JB Pardiwala, while issuing notice also stayed further proceedings in FIR lodged against the accused.

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Legally Speaking

GAUHATI HIGH COURT QUASHES NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION AGAINST GRAM PANCHAYAT PRESIDENT CITING PARTICIPATION OF MEMBER DISQUALIFIED FOR HAVING THREE CHILDREN

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The Gauhati High Court in the case Jugitawali Pawe v State of Assam and 15 ors observed and quashed a resolution expressing no-confidence in the petitioner – the President of a Gram Panchayat, as a result of which she as removed from office. It was stated that it is as per the citing no compliance with Assam Panchayat Act, 1994, reading with Rule 62 of the Assam Panchayat (Constitution) Rules, 1995.

It was preferred by the petitioner to the materials available on record to argue that one of the members of the Gaon Panchayat, the respondent. The respondent voted against the petitioner and had given birth to her third child the previous year. Moreover, by virtue of Section 111(2)(a) of the Assam Panchayat Act, 1994, reading with Rule 62 of the Assam Panchayat (Constitution) Rules, 1995, the petitioner stood automatically disqualified on the date of voting. Following, which her vote was taken by passing No-confidence motion.

It was prayed by the petitioner in the plea for setting aside the impugned resolution and for issuance of a direction to restore his client back in the office. Thereafter, to initiate fresh proceedings, liberty should be granted to the respondent, following the due process.

It was agreed by the Counsel representing for the respondent that the said member of the panchayat had been disqualified but retained on the ground that the disqualification would have no bearing on the petitioner’s case, as the impugned resolution was passed before the declaration of petitioner disqualification.

In the present case, It was noticed by Justice Suman Shyam the member had voted against the petitioner and without her vote. The petitioner would not have been ousted from office. Justice Shyam also found no dispute about the fact that the member had incurred disqualification under the law prior the date of adoption of the impugned resolution. Justice Shyam found it unnecessary to delve into other aspects of the matter which includes the procedural formalities for declaring the member a disqualified candidate.

It is observed that the impugned resolution was declared to be vitiated and liable to be set aside. Further, the Court restored the petitioner to the office of the President of the Bongalmara Gaon Panchayat with immediate effect and it was stated by the court that the order will not stand in the way should the authorities or any member of the Gaon Panchayat propose a fresh motion of “no-confidence” against the petitioner and the due process of law needs to be followed.

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Halt DDA’s demolition action against jhuggis in Nizamuddin’s Gyaspur area, orders Delhi High Court

As per the JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy 2015 and the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board, the residents who can establish their residence prior to 01.01.2015 are eligible for rehabilitation under the JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy 2015.

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plea in Delhi High Court seeking repatriation of 56 pregnant nurses

The Delhi High Court in the case Manoj Gupta & Ors. v. DDA & Ors observed and has ordered status quo on the Delhi Development Authority’s proposal to demolish jhuggi clusters in city’s Gyaspur area in Hazrat Nizamuddin. The vacation bench comprising of Justice Neena Bansal Krishna observed in the petition filled by the residents and the court granted an interim relief.

It was ordered by the court status quo till July 11, the next date of hearing.

The bench orally remarked that a ten-day delay in demolition won’t make a difference but if today it is demolished and later, we come to know that they were entitled, who’s going to… the bench will consider it on July 11, 2022 but in the Meanwhile, some protections are entitled them. Adding this, Status quo be maintained. If since 1995, they have been there, heavens won’t come down if for 10 more days they are protected.

In the plea the petitioner stated that the T-Huts settlement in the area, which was stated by the authorities to vacate. It has been in existence for almost two decades and compromise of 32 jhuggis or households.

In the plea it was alleged that the bulldozers have been parked around the camp and a DDA official has orally asked them to vacate the area and it is noted that till date no proper notice have been sent to them nor has DDA conducted any survey of the area.

Furthermore, the DDA did not provide any alternate arrangement for their rehabilitation which resulted in extreme distress among the residents.

Moreover, it was admitted by the petitioner that the land in question belongs to DDA and they may seek that status-quo to be maintained at the site. It was urged that the residents should not be physically dispose or evicted from the demolition site until the survey is conducted and rehabilitation is provided to the residents as per the DUSIB policy of 2015.

As per the JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy 2015 and the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board. The residents who can establish their residence prior to 01.01.2015 are eligible for rehabilitation under the JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy 2015.

It is observed that in the case Ajay Maken v. Union of India, Reliance is placed on the Supreme Court decision and the High Court decision in the case Sudama Singh & Ors. v. Government of Delhi & Anr, it was held in the case that that removal of jhuggis without ensuring relocation would amount of gross violation of Fundamental Rights under Article 21 of the Constitution. Further, it was held that the agencies conducting the demolitions ought to conduct survey before undertaking any demolition.

It is submitted that these observations would apply across the board, in the entire NCT of Delhi.

Advocates Vrinda Bhandari, Shiyaz Razaq, Kaoliangpou Kamei, Jepi Y Chisho and Paul Kumar Kalai, represented the petitioner.

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