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Indian Case Summary

Bennett Coleman & Co. & Ors vs Union Of India & Ors on 30 October, 1972 – Case Summary

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In the case of Bennett Coleman & Co. & Ors vs Union Of India & Ors on 30 October 1972, the Supreme Court of India was called upon to adjudicate on a matter that had far-reaching implications for the freedom of the press in India. The case revolved around the Newsprint Control Order 1962 and the Newsprint Policy for 1972-73, which were challenged as being violative of Articles 19(1)(a) and 14 of the Indian Constitution.

Facts of the Case

The Import Control Order 1955, passed by the Central Government under sections 3 and 4A of the Imports and Exports Control Act 1947, imposed restrictions on the import of newsprint. As an essential commodity, newsprint was also subject to control under section 3 of the Essential Commodities Act 1955. The Newsprint Control Order 1962 was passed under section 3 of the Essential Commodities Act. The Newsprint Policy for 1972-73, which was the subject of this case, was challenged in the Supreme Court in petitions under Article 32 of the Constitution.

Issues Raised

The issues that the court had to consider were:

  1. Whether the petitioners, being companies, could invoke fundamental rights.
  2. Whether Article 358 of the Constitution was a bar to any challenge by the petitioners on violations of fundamental rights.
  3. Whether the restriction on newsprint import under the 1955 Order was violative of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
  4. Whether the Newsprint Policy fell within clause 5(1) of the Import Control Order 1955 and was valid.
  5. Whether clauses 3 and 3A of clause 3 of the 1962 Newsprint Order were violative of Articles 19(1)(a) and 14 of the Constitution.
  6. Whether Remarks V, VII(a), VII(c), VIII, and X of the Newsprint Policy for 1972-73 were violative of Articles 19(1)(a) and 14 of the Constitution.

Court’s Observations and Ruling

The majority of the bench (Sikri. C.J., Ray and Jaganmohan Reddy, JJ.) held that the fundamental rights of shareholders as citizens are not lost when they associate to form a company. When their fundamental rights as shareholders are impaired by State action, their rights as shareholders are protected. The court also held that Article 358 does not apply to executive action taken during the emergency if the same is a continuation of the prior executive action or an emanation of the previous law which would otherwise be violative of Article 19 or be otherwise unconstitutional.

The court found that the Newsprint Control Policy was essentially a newspaper control order in the guise of framing an Import Control Policy for newsprint, and thus was ultra vires the Import Control Act and the Import Control Order. The court also held that the provisions in remarks V, VII(a), VII(c), and VIII of the Policy being violative of Articles 14 & 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution must be struck down as unconstitutional. The prohibition in Remark X against common ownership unit from starting a new newspaper periodical or a new edition was also declared unconstitutional and struck down as violative of Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution.

However, Justice Mathew dissented from the majority opinion, arguing that the freedom of speech does not mean a right to obtain or use an unlimited quantity of newsprint, and that the restrictions imposed by the Newsprint Policy were essentially regulatory in character and did not amount to an abridgment of the freedom of speech.

This case is significant as it reaffirmed the

fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression, including the freedom of the press, and set important precedents for the interpretation of these rights in the context of business regulations and policies.

Detailed Analysis of the Case

The case was brought before the Supreme Court by Bennett Coleman & Co. and others (the petitioners), who were challenging the Newsprint Policy for 1972-73. The petitioners argued that the policy, which imposed restrictions on the import and use of newsprint, violated their fundamental rights under Articles 19(1)(a) and 14 of the Constitution. These articles guarantee the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to equality, respectively.

The Newsprint Policy for 1972-73 was formulated under the Import Control Order 1955, which was enacted by the Central Government under sections 3 and 4A of the Imports and Exports Control Act 1947. The policy imposed restrictions on the import of newsprint, an essential commodity that was also subject to control under section 3 of the Essential Commodities Act 1955.

The petitioners raised several issues for the court’s consideration:

  1. Whether companies, as the petitioners were, could invoke fundamental rights.
  2. Whether Article 358 of the Constitution, which pertains to the suspension of fundamental rights during a state of emergency, barred the petitioners from challenging the Newsprint Policy.
  3. Whether the restrictions on newsprint import under the 1955 Order violated Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
  4. Whether the Newsprint Policy was valid under clause 5(1) of the Import Control Order 1955.
  5. Whether clauses 3 and 3A of the 1962 Newsprint Order, which imposed further restrictions on the use of newsprint, violated Articles 19(1)(a) and 14 of the Constitution.
  6. Whether certain provisions of the Newsprint Policy, specifically Remarks V, VII(a), VII(c), VIII, and X, violated Articles 19(1)(a) and 14 of the Constitution due to their restrictive nature.

The court, in its judgment, made several key observations:

The majority of the bench (comprising Chief Justice Sikri, and Justices Ray and Jaganmohan Reddy) held that the fundamental rights of shareholders are not lost when they form a company. When state action impairs their fundamental rights as shareholders, those rights are protected. The court also held that Article 358 does not apply to executive action taken during an emergency if that action is a continuation of prior executive action or a result of a previous law that would otherwise violate Article 19 or be unconstitutional.

The court found that the Newsprint Control Policy was essentially a newspaper control order disguised as an Import Control Policy for newsprint. As such, it was ultra vires (beyond the powers of) the Import Control Act and the Import Control Order. The court also held that certain provisions of the Newsprint Policy (Remarks V, VII(a), VII(c), and VIII) violated Articles 14 and 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and must be struck down as unconstitutional. The prohibition in Remark X against a common ownership unit starting a new newspaper or a new edition was also declared unconstitutional and struck down as violating Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

However, Justice Mathew dissented from the majority opinion. He argued that the freedom of speech does not mean a right to obtain or use an unlimited quantity of newsprint. He also contended that the restrictions imposed by the Newsprint Policy were essentially regulatory in character and did not amount to an abridgment of the freedom of speech.

This case is significant as it reaffirmed the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression

, including the freedom of the press, and set important precedents for the interpretation of these rights in the context of business regulations and policies.

The court’s ruling underscored the importance of the freedom of the press in a democratic society and emphasized that any restrictions on this freedom must be reasonable and justified. The court also clarified that companies, like individuals, can invoke fundamental rights, and that these rights are not lost when individuals form a company.

The court’s decision in this case has had a lasting impact on the interpretation of the freedom of speech and expression in India. It has been cited in numerous subsequent cases and continues to be a touchstone for discussions on the freedom of the press and the limits of government regulation.

In conclusion, the case of Bennett Coleman & Co. & Ors vs Union Of India & Ors on 30 October 1972 is a landmark case in the annals of Indian jurisprudence. It reaffirmed the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression, including the freedom of the press, and set important precedents for the interpretation of these rights in the context of business regulations and policies. The case serves as a reminder of the importance of these fundamental rights in a democratic society and the need to protect them from undue government interference.