Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras (1950) – Freedom of speech and expression case

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Introduction

  • The case of Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras (1950) was the first to directly address the rights of a free press in India.
  • Freedom of the press is a crucial component of a democratic society and is protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution.
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Background of the Case

  • The petitioner, Romesh Thapar, was a well-known communist who published articles in his weekly magazine, Crossroads, expressing skepticism about the policies of the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.
  • The Government of Madras imposed a ban on the entry and circulation of the magazine in certain parts of the province of Madras under Section 9(1-A) of the Madras Maintenance of Public Order Act, 1949.
  • Thapar filed a writ petition with the Supreme Court, claiming that the act’s powers were an unreasonable restriction on freedom of expression under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution.

Issues before the Court

  • Whether the order issued under Section 9(1-A) of the Madras Maintenance of Public Order Act was in violation of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution or fell within the limitations set out in Article 19 (2) of the Constitution.
  • Whether the challenged provision was unconstitutional under Article 13(1) of the Constitution since it violated the basic right to free speech and expression.
  • Whether the petitioner was required to first approach the High Court under Article 226 before proceeding to the Supreme Court.
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Judgment

  • The Court held that the petitioner was not required to first approach the High Court under Article 226 before proceeding to the Supreme Court.
  • The Court stated that freedom of speech and expression includes freedom of idea propagation, which can only be achieved through distribution.
  • The Court found that the impugned order was in violation of Article 19(1)(a) unless Section 9(1-A) of the impugned Act was protected by the reservation contained in Article 19 (2).
  • The Court used the Doctrine of Severability to determine the legality of Section 9(1-A) of the Madras Maintenance of Public Order Act and found it to be unlawful under Article 13(1) of the Constitution.

Implications of the case

  • The Romesh Thapar case established the importance of freedom of the press in a democratic society and the role of the judiciary in protecting this fundamental right.
  • The case set a precedent for future judgements that upheld the freedom of press and invalidated laws or administrative actions that interfered with it.
  • The court’s ruling in this case also emphasized on the significance of the press as a fourth estate and the role of the press in bringing to light the faults of people in positions of governance.

Conclusion

  • The Romesh Thapar case remains a landmark judgement in Indian legal history as it upheld the freedom of press as an essential component of a thriving democracy. The case also established the principle that freedom of press is protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution and that any restrictions on this freedom must pass the test of reasonableness as laid down in Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

This article is part of the series “Landmark Judgements that Shaped India” under the Indian Polity Notes & Prelims Sureshots. We aim to make the articles comprehensive while leaving out unnecessary information from the UPSC perspective. If you think this article is useful, please provide your feedback in the comments section below.

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