Fundamental rights are the charter of rights contained in the Constitution of India, it guarantees civil liberties so that all the citizens can lead their lives in peace and harmony. Articles 19 to 22 of the Indian constitution deal with the different facets of fundamental rights, these four articles form a charter of personal liberties that provide the backbone to the chapter on fundamental rights.
The fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution of India are not absolute, certain restrictions can be imposed by the state according to the procedure established by the law. However, these restrictions must be reasonable and not arbitrary. Article 19 provides these fundamental freedoms as well as the restrictions that can be imposed on these rights.
Rights guaranteed under Article 19:
Article 19 of the Constitution confers certain basic rights for every citizen of India. They are as follows :
- Freedom of speech and expression.
- Right to assemble peacefully without arms.
- Right to form associations or unions.
- Freedom to move freely throughout the territory of India
- Right to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India
- Right of every citizen to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade, or business.
Article 19 also provides for certain restrictions and authorizes the state to impose reasonable restrictions on the said rights to ensure the larger interest of the society in general.
Restrictions on right to freedom:
The freedoms which have been provided by Article 19(1) are not absolute as no rights can be, each of these rights is liable to be controlled and regulated to some extent by-laws made by the parliament or the state legislatures., and accordingly clauses (2) to (6) of Article 19 lays down the grounds on which the legislature can impose reasonable restrictions to the rights guaranteed by Article 19(1) (a) to (g).
The limitation imposed serves a two-fold purpose, on one hand, it specifies that the freedoms are not absolute but are subject to the regulation and on the other, they put a limitation on the power of the legislature to restrict these freedoms. A legislature cannot restrict these freedoms beyond the requirements of Articles 19 (2) to 19( 6).
Hence a restriction to be constitutionally valid must satisfy the following two tests:
- The restriction must be for the purposes mentioned in clauses (2) to (6) of Article 19.
- The restriction must be reasonable.
Reasonableness of restriction:
There is no exact definition of the term reasonable and no definite test to adjudge the reasonableness of restriction, each case is to be judged on its own merits and no abstract, standard or general pattern of reasonableness is applicable uniformity in all cases.
The supreme court in State of Madras v. VG row laid down the basic principle that the test of reasonableness whenever prescribed shall be applied to each statute impugned and no abstract or general principle of reasonableness shall be laid down as applicable in all cases. And in Chintaman Rao v. State of Madhya Pradesh, the supreme court opined that a restriction to be reasonable shall not be arbitrary and shall not be beyond what is required in the interest of the public.
Some of the principles which the supreme court has affirmed in ascertaining the reasonableness of restrictions are as follows:
- Reasonableness demands proper balancing: legislation arbitrarily invading the right of a person cannot be regarded as reasonable. A restriction to be valid must have direct and proximate nexus with the object which the legislation seeks to achieve and the restriction must not be more than that object i.e., there should be a balance between the freedoms guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (a) to (g) and the social control permitted by clause (2) to (6) of Article 19.
- Reasonableness both substantive and procedural: The courts while determining the reasonableness of the restriction also consider the nature of the restriction and procedure prescribed by the statute, not only substantive but procedural provisions of the statute enter into the verdict of its reasonableness.
- Reasonableness and objective concept: Judges should not bring their predilections in ascertaining the reasonableness of the restrictions, the reasonability of restriction has to be determined objectively and should from the standpoint of the general public and not form the view of the persons upon which the restrictions are imposed.
- Reasonableness and DPSP: Directive Principles of State Policy are also relevant in considering whether a restriction on a fundamental right is reasonable or not. A restriction that generally promotes a directive principle is regarded as reasonable.
Grounds of restrictions:
It is necessary to maintain and preserve freedom of speech and expression in a democracy, so also it is necessary to place some restrictions on this freedom for the maintenance of social order as no freedom can be absolute or completely unrestricted., Accordingly, Article 19(2) of the constitution of India authorizes the state to make a law imposing reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right to freedom of speech and expression in the interest of the public on the following grounds :
- Sovereignty and integrity of India: The constitution 16th (Amendment) Act 1963 added this ground to clause (2) of Article 19. Under this clause freedom of speech and expression can be restricted as not to permit anyone to challenge the integrity or sovereignty of India or to preach cession of any part of India from the union.
- Security of the state: The security of the state may well be endangered by the crimes of violence intended to overthrow the government, waging of war and rebellion against the government, external aggression or war, etc serious or aggravated forms of the public disorder are within the expression “security of the state”. The state may impose restrictions on this ground.
- Friendly relations with foreign states: This ground was added by the constitution 1st (Amendment) Act of 1951. The state can impose reasonable restrictions on the freedom of speech in the interest of friendly relations with foreign states, to maintain good relations with other countries.
- Public order: The expression of public order was added to Article 19 (2) as one of the grounds for imposing restrictions on freedom of speech and expression by the constitution 1st (Amendment) Act, 1951
- Decency and morality: Decency is the same as lack of obscenity, it becomes a subject of constitutional interest since it illustrates well the clash between the rights of the individuals to freely express their opinion and the duty of the state to safeguard their morals, the state may restrict on this ground.
- Contempt of court: The constitutional right to freedom of speech does not prevent the courts from punishing for their contempt spoken or printed words or any other expression calculated to have that effect.
- Defamation: A statement which injuries a man’s reputation amounts to defamation, it consists in exposing a man to hatred, ridicule, or contempt. The law of defamation is divided into libel and slander .libel consists in the publication of a defamatory statement expressed in some permanent form like in writing, printing, etc., and if it is in spoken words or gestures then it amounts to slander. The right to free speech does not entitle us to violate the rights of others.
- Incitement to an offense: This ground was also added by the constitution 1st (Amendment) Act,1951. Obviously freedom of speech and expression cannot confer a license to incite people to commit the offense.
The right to freedom is one of the most important fundamental rights provided under the constitution of India. However, the rights granted under Article 19 are not absolute, they can be restricted in case of national security and the interest of society. It is important to put restrictions on freedom so that people don’t misuse their rights and coexist with others peacefully.
Author: Naveen Talawar,
Student at Karnataka state law university's law school.