Fundamental rights are those rights that are conferred upon a citizen and guaranteed to them by the Constitution of India. But, these rights are not absolute. As they say, “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Hence, such rights are subject to certain limitations. These limitations are known as “reasonable restrictions,” and they are outlined in Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, clauses 2 to 6. These restrictions are based on the simple principle that one cannot use their right to take away someone else’s basic rights. To save society from disorder and to make it function systematically, it is important to impose reasonable restrictions on fundamental rights.
Meaning of Reasonable Restrictions
The term “Reasonable Restrictions” is used in Article 19, which is essentially identical to the American phraseology “innate tendency” or “reasonable tendency.” The same was held in the case of Haridas v Usha Rani Banik AIR 2007 S.C. 2688.
In this article, we will try to understand what reasonable restrictions are according to the provisions given in the constitution with the help of some case laws.
Statutory Provisions Related to Reasonable Restrictions on fundamental rights under the Constitution are –
1. Article 19(2) – According to this article, the government may impose reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech and expression in the interests of the state’s sovereignty and integrity, friendly relations with other countries, public order, decency or morality, or contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to commit a crime, or in the case of contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to commit a crime.
2. Article 19(3) – This article empowers the state to put reasonable limits on the right to peacefully gather without arms unless and until it affects State’s sovereignty and integrity or disrupts the public order.
3. Article 19(4) – This article stipulates that the government may place reasonable restrictions on the right to form organizations and unions if it is against the sovereignty and integrity of State or public order and morality.
4. Article 19(5) – It gives the government the ability to put reasonable restrictions on the freedom to move freely throughout India’s territory and the freedom to dwell or settle in any part of State’s territory, in the general public’s interest or to preserve the interests of any Scheduled Tribe.
5. Article 19(6) – The government may impose restrictions on the freedom to practice any profession in the public interest, as well as make laws relating to professional or technical qualifications for practicing any profession.
Why Reasonable Restrictions On Fundamental Rights Are Necessary?
Article 19’s six freedoms are to promote not only intellectual self-expression and social interaction among citizens, but also to preserve the spirit of unity by encouraging free movement throughout India, as well as the development of personality and the pursuit of gainful activity to boost national productivity.
What are the Grounds for imposing Reasonable Restrictions on Fundamental Rights?
Under Article 19, clause (5), the state may impose reasonable restrictions on freedom of movement for two reasons:
(1) in the public interest; and
(2) to preserve the interests of Scheduled Tribes.
Citizens have fundamental rights under Article 19. Any individual who is not and cannot be an Indian citizen does not have access to or can claim the rights provided by Article 19 (1). A statutory right conferred on individuals or citizens, as opposed to a fundamental right, can be revoked or taken away by legislation. Any legislation cannot take away a person’s fundamental rights; it can only put reasonable restrictions on their exercise. (Dharam Dutt v. Union of India AIR 2004 S.C. 1294: (2004) 1 SCC 712).
In the case of James Martin v. State of Kerala (2004) 2 SCC 2003, it was held that no one has the right to cause inconvenience to others in the name of a hartal, bandh, or strike, or to threaten or apprehension of risk to any citizen’s life, liberty, or property, or to destroy life and property, least of all to any government or public property.
What Amendments pertaining to Reasonable Restrictions are made by legislation?
Article 19 has been amended thrice. The Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951, added three more heads of restriction, namely.
1. Friendly relations with foreign states – In the interest of cordial relations with foreign states, the state can place reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech because unrestricted hostile propaganda against a friendly foreign state may jeopardize the country’s ability to maintain good relations with that country.
2. Public order – Another ground for restricting freedom of speech and expression is to maintain public order. “Public order” and “public peace, safety, and calm” are two phrases that can be used interchangeably. It denotes the absence of disorder involving localized breaches, as opposed to national upheavals such as revolution, civil strife, or war, which threaten the state’s security.
3. Incitement to an offense in Article 19(2) (freedom of speech and expression) – The right to free speech and expression cannot be used to incite someone to commit a crime. If someone uses this right to stir any kind of violence that can disturb public tranquility then that person can be convicted under IPC and CrPC.
This amendment followed Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras, 1950, SCR 594, in which the term “security of the state” was narrowly defined to exclude public order. Mr. Romesh Thapar, a well-known journalist, and communist; wrote a few articles expressing his skepticism of then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s foreign policies. A petition was made on behalf of a communist movement that was gaining traction in sections of Madras, and the authorities believed that the petitioner’s writings would not be useful in curbing the movement’s zeal. The Government of Madras eventually issued a restriction on the magazine circulation in certain districts. Mr. Thapar filed a petition with the Supreme Court, claiming that the contested order violated his fundamental right to free speech and expression. The Court decided that the Madras High Court’s order was in violation of Article 19(1)(a) unless Section 9(1-A) is preserved by the reservation in Article 19(1)(a) (2). According to the Court, the petitioner was free to go to the Supreme Court to have his fundamental rights enforced.
Another amendment was made in Article 19 (2) in 1951 by the First Amendment to add the requirement of “reasonable” as regards the restrictions to be imposed on the freedom of speech and expression.
These amendments were given retrospective effect.
Madhu Limaye v. S.D.M. AIR 1971 S.C. 2486.– Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) is frequently invoked to prohibit meetings of four or more persons, as well as to compel mobile phone companies to prevent voice, SMS, and Internet communications in one or more geographic areas. The legality of Section 144 was maintained by a seven-judge court led by former Chief Justice of India M. Hidayatullah.
- The court stated that the fact that “law may be abused” is insufficient justification to overturn it.
- It went on to say that the restrictions imposed by Section 144 could not be considered a violation of the right to freedom of speech and expression.
- The imposition of Section 144 falls under Article 19(2) of the Constitution’s “reasonable restrictions” clause.
By the same amendment, in Article 19(6), a provision was added to the effect that the carrying on of a trade, business, industry, or service by the State or by the Corporation owned or controlled by the State, whether to the exclusion of citizens or otherwise, shall not be subject to Article 19 (1) (g).
Right to know and Reasonable Restrictions
As part of his right to know, every citizen has the right to impart and receive information. The state has a responsibility to not only recognize this citizen’s right, but also to provide conditions in which this right can be meaningfully and effectively exercised by all citizens. A democratic government cannot exist without the right to know. This right includes the ability to obtain and transmit information. Self-expression, which is a fundamental way of free conscience and self-fulfillment, requires the right to information. It gives everyone the opportunity to contribute to social and moral issues. The right can only be limited by reasonable restrictions on fundamental rights imposed by law for the purposes stated in our constitution’s Article 19(2).
Shreya Singhal v. Union of India AIR 2015 SC 1523: (2015) 5 SCC 1.– Two women were arrested for posting comments on Facebook about shutting down the city of Mumbai after a political leader’s death. They were arrested under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act of 2000 (ITA). The women filed a petition challenging the constitutional validity of such an arrest. Supreme Court declared that Section 66-A, Information Technology Act, 2000, affects right of people to know, hence violates Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India beyond the extent permissible under Article 19 (2), hence Section 66 – A, Information Technology Act, 2000 struck down in its entirety.
The legal system of any democratic country places a high value on freedom of speech and expression. Freedom of speech and expression is critical for our country’s growth and progress, and its absence would negate democracy’s genuine meaning. But, it is also true that absolute freedoms will always be damaging to society’s smooth functioning because every individuals’ personal interests would be emphasized. This would result in the state withering away, resulting in anarchy. A balance between rights and restrictions is thus quintessential. The government should have the authority to place constraints on freedom as the maker and executor of the law. The reasonableness of the restriction determines the balance.
However, the extent of balancing and how far we can go with these restrictions is also a matter of concern. Only reasonable limits are protected under the constitution, and courts have established guidelines for determining whether or not a restriction is reasonable. We can only be safe if we can create a safer society. Reasonable limits are needed somewhere to maintain public order and decency. The term “reasonable restrictions” implies that the limitations placed on a person’s ability to exercise a right should not be arbitrary or unreasonable. A law that arbitrarily infringes on a person’s right cannot be considered reasonable. As a result, a balance between rights and restrictions is required.
The Court should also consider the nature of the restriction and the process specified by the Statute for imposing the restriction on individual freedom when determining the reasonableness of the restriction. ‘Procedural provisions of a statute also enter into the verdict of its reasonableness,’ according to the court. The retrospective effect of law may also be a relevant issue, albeit retrospectively does not inherently imply that it is wrong. Although a statute imposing a restriction having a retroactive effect is not inherently unreasonable. Retrospective is a factor to examine when considering whether or not the restriction is reasonable. The courts, not the legislature, are ultimately responsible for determining whether or not a restriction is justified.
In all circumstances, there is no exact criterion or general pattern of reasonableness that can be established. Every case must be assessed on its own merits. The threshold differs depending on the nature of the right infringed, the underlying purpose of the constraints imposed, the scope and urgency of the evil intended to be corrected, the imposition’s disproportion, and the current state of affairs. For any judicial decision, these criteria must be taken into account.
- The constitution of India
- Haridas v. Usha Rani Banik A.I.R. 2007 S.C. 2688.
- Dharam Dutt v. Union of India AIR 2004 S.C. 1294: (2004) 1 S.C.C 712
- Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras, 1950, S.C.R. 594
- Madhu Limaye v. S.D.M. AIR 1971 S.C. 2486.
- Shreya Singhal v. Union of India A.I.R. 2015 S.C. 1523: (2015) 5 S.C.C. 1
- Jain, M.P. Indian Constitutional Law. Lexis Nexis. (6th ed. reprint). 2011.
- Pandey, J.N. The Constitutional Law of India. Central Law Agency. (48th ed.) 2011.
- Bakshi, P. M. The Constitution of India. Universal Law Publishing Co. Delhi. (10th ed.). 2010.
- Saharay, H.K. The Constitution of India: An Analytical Approach. Eastern Law House. (3rd ed.). 2002.
- Tripathi, N.M. (1987). Reasonable Restrictions under Article 19.
- Karthyaeni V.K.(2009). Test of Reasonableness available under Article 19.
This article on the topic “Reasonable Restrictions on Fundamental Rights” has been written by Yogita Tripathi, 3rd Year LL.B Student at G.J. Advani Law College.
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