Freedom of Expression has Limits: Supreme Court
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed the plea of a bank employee who had challenged framing of charges against him for publishing an alleged vulgar and obscene poem on Mahatma Gandhi in 1994 in an in-house magazine of which he was an editor. The apex court said that freedom of speech and expression cannot be absolute.
A Bench comprising of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Prafulla C Pant said one cannot be allowed to use indecent language against “historically respected personalities like Mahatma Gandhi and cannot pass the contemporary community standards test meant to adjudge the obscenity of an alleged literary work”.
The Bench upheld the Bombay High Court’s decision of not quashing charge of sale/publication of obscene books, framed against accused Devidas Ramchandra Tuljapurkar, saying freedom of speech and expression does not allow a person to cross “contemporaneous community parameters” on decency.
The Bench asked Tuljapurkar, the then editor of in-house magazine of Bank of Maharashtra Employees Union, to express his points of view before the lower court during the trial.
“Freedom of speech and expression has to be given a broad canvas, but it has to have inherent limitations which are permissible within the constitutional parameters. We have already opined that freedom of speech and expression as enshrined under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution is not absolute in view of Article 19(2) of the Constitution.
“We reiterate the said right of great value and transcends and with the passage of time and growth of culture, it has to pave the path of ascendancy, but it cannot be put in the compartment of absoluteness. There is constitutional limitation attached to it…,” the Bench said.
The court, however, quashed the criminal proceedings against the publishers of the magazine, in which the poem penned by Marathi poet Vasant Dattatraya Gurjar was published, saying they have already tendered an unconditional apology.
On April 16, the apex court had reserved its verdict on the plea of Tuljapurkar, who was accused in 1994 for publishing the allegedly vulgar poem on Gandhiji, for quashing of his prosecution under section 292 (sale, publication of obscene books) under the IPC. Referring to the poem ‘Gandhi Mala Bhetala Hota’, written by Gurjar in 1984, Tuljapurkars’s lawyer had submitted that people, who know Marathi, say that the poem is “satirical”.
The accused had approached the apex court against the Bombay High Court order dismissing his plea seeking quashing of his prosecution. For a first-time offender, the penal provision prescribes maximum two years of jail term and a fine of Rs 2,000. The poem was published in the in-house magazine of the Bank of Maharashtra Employees Union in 1994.