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Indian Case Summary

Reliance Petrochemicals Ltd vs Proprietors Of Indian Express … on 23 September, 1988 – Case Summary

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In the case of Reliance Petrochemicals Ltd vs Proprietors Of Indian Express Newspapers, Bombay Pvt. Ltd., the Supreme Court of India was called upon to adjudicate a matter that touched upon the delicate balance between the freedom of the press and the administration of justice. The case was heard by Justice Sabyasachi Mukharji and Justice Ranganathan on 23rd September 1988.

Facts of the Case

Reliance Petrochemicals Ltd. had offered for public subscription secured convertible debentures after obtaining the consent of the Controller of Capital Issues. Before the public issue was due to open, certain writ petitions were filed in some High Courts challenging the grant of consent or sanction for the public issue. Reliance Petrochemicals Ltd. then filed an application under Article 139A of the Constitution seeking transfer of those cases to the Supreme Court and prayed for vacation of any injunction or stay granted by the High Courts. On August 19, 1988, the Supreme Court, while issuing notice on the transfer applications, directed that the public issue be proceeded with “without let or hindrance” and vacated all orders of injunction in respect of the said issue.

On August 25, 1988, an article appeared in the Indian Express questioning the legality of the Controller of Capital Issues’ sanction to the issue, and suggesting that the issue was not a prudent or a reliable venture. Reliance Petrochemicals Ltd. moved the Court for initiating contempt proceedings against the Indian Express for alleged interference with the due administration of justice by publication of an article commenting on a matter which was sub-judice. The company also sought an injunction against the threatened or expected publication of similar comments.

Issues and Court’s Observations

The Court had to consider whether there was any necessity for the continuance of the order of injunction. It was contended that pre-stoppage of newspaper article or publication on matters of public importance was uncalled for and contrary to freedom of press enshrined in the Constitution and the laws. On the other hand, it was contended that there was an inherent jurisdiction to restrain by injunction any publication that interfered with a fair trial of a pending case or with the administration of justice in general.

The Court observed that the Constitution of India is not absolute with respect to freedom of speech and expression. It also noted that a judiciary is not independent unless courts of justice are enabled to administer law by absence of pressure from without, whether exerted through the blandishments of reward or the menace of disfavour. A free Press is vital to a democratic society for its freedom given it power.

The Court further observed that the law of contempt must be judged in a particular situation. The process of due course of administration of justice must remain. Public interest demands that there should be no interference with judicial process and the effect of the judicial decision should not be pre-empted or circumvented by public agitation or publications. At the same time, right to know is a basic right which citizens of a free country aspire in the broader horizon of the right to live in this age in our land under Article 21 of our Constitution. A balance has to be struck between the requirements of free Press and fair trial.

The Court held that the continuance of the injunction would amount to interference with the freedom of Press in the form of preventive injunction and it must therefore be based on reasonable grounds for the sole purpose of keeping the administration of justice unimpaired. There must be reasonable ground to believe that the danger apprehended is real and imminent. The subscription to debentures having been oversubscribed, there is no such imminent danger of the subscription being withdrawn before the allotment so as to make the issue vulnerable by any publication of article.


The Court concluded that as the issue is

oversubscribed, the apprehension of the company that the subscribers would withdraw their subscription is not real or substantial. The Court, therefore, lifted the injunction against the Indian Express, allowing it to publish articles on the matter. However, the Court also cautioned the press to be careful and responsible in its reporting, especially when matters are sub-judice.

The Court emphasized the importance of striking a balance between the freedom of the press and the administration of justice. It recognized the role of a free press in a democratic society and the power that comes with this freedom. However, it also stressed the need for the press to exercise this power responsibly, particularly when it comes to reporting on matters that are currently before the courts.

In this case, the Court demonstrated its commitment to upholding the freedom of the press, while also ensuring that this freedom does not interfere with the administration of justice. It made it clear that any attempt to interfere with the judicial process or preempt the effect of a judicial decision through public agitation or publications would not be tolerated.

This case serves as a reminder of the delicate balance that must be maintained between the freedom of the press and the administration of justice. It underscores the importance of the press in a democratic society, but also highlights the need for the press to exercise its freedom responsibly. It also reaffirms the Court’s commitment to ensuring that the administration of justice is not impaired by external pressures or influences.