Reached Daily Limit?

Explore a new way of legal research!

Click Here
Indian CasesSupreme Court of India

Prabha Dutt vs Union Of India & Ors on 7 November, 1981

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Supreme Court of India

Prabha Dutt vs Union Of India & Ors on 7 November, 1981

Equivalent citations: 1982 AIR, 6 1982 SCR (1)1184

Author: Y Chandrachud

Bench: Chandrachud, Y.V. ((Cj)

           PETITIONER:
PRABHA DUTT

	Vs.

RESPONDENT:
UNION OF INDIA & ORS.

DATE OF JUDGMENT07/11/1981

BENCH:
CHANDRACHUD, Y.V. ((CJ)
BENCH:
CHANDRACHUD, Y.V. ((CJ)
SEN, A.P. (J)
ISLAM, BAHARUL (J)

CITATION:
 1982 AIR    6		  1982 SCR  (1)1184
 1982 SCC  (1)	 1	  1981 SCALE  (3)1757


ACT:
     Constitution of  India-Article  19(I)(a)-Journalist  if
has a  right to means of information-If could claim right to
interview a prisoner sentenced to death.
     Jail Manual-Rule 549(4) Journalist-If could claim to be
friend of  society and	can claim  right of  interview	with
condemned prisoner.



HEADNOTE:
     The constitutional	 right	to  freedom  of	 speech	 and
expression   conferred	  by   article	 19(1)(a)   of	 the
Constitution, which includes the freedom of Press, is not an
absolute right;	 nor indeed  does it confer any right on the
Press  to   have  an   unrestricted  access   to  means	  of
information. The  Press is  entitled to exercise its freedom
of speech  and expression  by publishing a matter which does
not invade  the rights	of other citizens and which does not
violate the  sovereignty and integrity of India the security
of the State, public order, decency and morality. [1185 FG]
     The right	claimed by  the petitioner  in	the  present
case, a	 newspaper reporter, to interview two convicts under
sentence of  death is  not a right to express any particular
view, or  opinion but  the right  to  means  of	 information
through the  medium of an interview with them. No such right
can be	claimed by  the Press unless the person sought to be
interviewed is willing to be interviewed. [1185 H]
     The existence  of a  free Press does not imply or spell
out  any   legal  obligation   on  the	citizens  to  supply
information to	the Press,  such as  there is  under section
161(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code. [1186 A]
     Rule 549(4) of the Jail Manual provides that a prisoner
under a	 sentence of  death shall  be allowed interviews and
other  communications  with  relatives,	 friends  and  legal
advisers, journalists and newspapermen, though not expressly
referred to in this rule cannot be denied the opportunity of
interview without  good reasons.  There	 is  no	 reason	 why
newspapermen who  could be  termed as friends of the society
be denied the right of interview under rule 549(4). [1186 D-
F]
     There can	be no  doubt that  a person,  who desires to
interview a  prisoner may have to subject himself or herself
to the	search in  accordance with the rules and regulations
governing the interviews. [1187 A-B]
     Whether representatives  of the Press should be allowed
to be  present at  the time  of the  execution of  the death
sentence is  a matter  for the Superintendent to consider on
merits and  in accordance  with the  jail regulations. It is
not a matter for the Court to decide. [1187 G]
1185



JUDGMENT:

ORIGINAL JURISDICTION: Writ Petition No. 8193 of 1981. (Under article 32 of the Constitution of India.) R. K. Garg and C.S. Vaidyanathan for the Petitioner. Miss A. Subhashini for Respondent No. 1.

N. C. Talukdar, K.S. Gurumoorly and R. N. Poddar for Respondents Nos. 2 to 4.

P. N. Lekhi and K. C. Dua for the Applicants. P. K. Bahardwaj in person for Times of India. B. M. Srivastava for U.N.I.

V. S. Karnic for P.T.I.

The order of the Court was delivered by CHANDRACHUD, C.J. This is a petition under article 32 of the Constitution by the Chief Reporter of the Hindustan Times, Smt. Prabha Dutt, asking for a writ of mandamus or any other appropriate writ or direction directing the respondents, particularly the Delhi Administration and the Superintendent of Jail, Tihar, to allow her to interview two convicts Billa and Ranga who are under a sentence of death. We may mention that the aforesaid two prisoners have been sentenced to death for an offence under section 302 Indian Penal Code and the petitions filed by them to the President of India for commutation of the sentence are reported to have been rejected by the President recently.

Before considering the merits of the application, we would like to observe that the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression conferred by article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, which includes the freedom of the Press, is not an absolute right, nor indeed does it confer any right on the Press, to have an unrestricted access to means of information. The Press is entitled to exercise its freedom of speech and expression by publishing a matter which does not invade the rights of other citizens and which does not violate the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, public order, decency and morality. But in the instant case, the right claimed by the petitioner is not the right to express any particular view or opinion but the right to means of information through the medium of an interview of the two prisoners who are sentenced to death. No such right can be claimed by the Press unless in the first instance, the person sought to be interviewed is willing to be interviewed. The existence of a free Press does not imply or spell out any legal obligation on the citizens to supply information to the Press, such for example, as there is under section 161(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code. No data has been made available to us on the basis of which it would be possible for us to say that the two prisoners are ready and willing to be interviewed. We have, however, no data either that they are not willing to be interviewed and, indeed, if it were to appear that the prisoners themselves do not desire to be interviewed, it would have been impossible for us to pass an order directing that the petitioner should be allowed to interview them. While we are on this aspect of the matter, we cannot overlook that the petitioner has been asking for permission to interview the prisoners right since the President of India rejected the petitions filed by the prisoners for commutation of their sentence to imprisonment for life. We are proceeding on the basis that the prisoners are willing to be interviewed.

Rule 549(4) of the Manual for the Superintendence and Management of Jails, which is applicable to Delhi, provides that every prisoner under a sentence of death shall be allowed such interviews and other communications with his relatives, friends and legal advisers as the Superintendent thinks reasonable. Journalists or newspapermen are not expressly referred to in clause (4) but that does not mean that they can always and without good reasons be denied the opportunity to interview a condemned prisoner. If in any given case, there are weighty reasons for doing so, which we expect will always be recorded in writing, the interview may appropriately be refused. But no such consideration has been pressed upon us and therefore we do not see any reason why newspapermen who can broadly, and we suppose without great fear of contradiction, be termed as friends of the society be denied the right of an interview under clause (4) of rule

549. Rule 559A also provides that all reasonable indulgence should be allowed to a condemned prisoner in the matter of interviews with relatives, friends, legal advisers and approved religious ministers. Surprisingly, but we do not propose to dwell on that issue, this rule provides that no newspapers should be allowed. But it does not provide that no newspapermen will be allowed.

Mr. Talukdar who appears on behalf of the Delhi Administration contends that if we are disposed to allow the petitioner to interview the prisoners, the interviews can be permitted only subject to the rules and regulations contained in the Jail Manual. There can be no doubt about this position because, for example, rule 552A provides for a search of the person who wants to interview a prisoner. If it is thought necessary that such a search should be taken, a person who desires to interview a prisoner may have to subject himself or herself to the search in accordance with the rules and regulations governing the interviews. There is a provision in the rules that if a person who desires to interview a prisoner is a female, she can be searched only by a matron or a female warden.

Taking an overall view of the matter, we do not see any reason why the petitioner should not be allowed to interview the two convicts Billa and Ranga.

During the course of the hearing of this petition, representatives of the Times of India, India Today, PTI and UNI also presented their applications asking for a similar permission. What we have said must hold good in their cases also and they, in our opinion, should be given the same facility of interviewing the prisoners as we are disposed to give to the petitioner in the main writ petition.

We therefore direct that the Superintendent of the Tihar Jail shall allow the aforesaid persons, namely the representatives of the Hindustan Times, the Times of India, India Today, the Press Trust of India and the United News of India to interview the aforesaid two prisoners, namely, Billa and Ranga, today. The interviews may be allowed at 4 O’Clock in the evening. The representatives agree before us that all of them will interview the prisoners jointly and for not more than one hour on the whole.

There will be no order as to costs.

Mr. Lekhi who appears on behalf of the magazine India Today as also Mr. Jain who appears on behalf of the Hindustan Times has requested us to direct the Superintendent of Jail to allow the aforesaid representatives to be present at the time of the execution of the death sentence. That is not a matter for us to decide. If such an application is made to the Superintendent of Jail, he will be free to consider the same on merits and in accordance with the jail regulations.

P.B.R.