Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

SC admits plea challenging first amendment to Constitution


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: 1st Constitutional Amendment

Mains level: Sedition law and Free speech

The Supreme Court has agreed to examine a PIL challenging changes made to the right to freedom of speech and expression by the first amendment to the Constitution in 1951.

Why in news?

  • The fresh petition argues that the 1st Constitutional Amendment damages the basic structure doctrine.

What was the first amendment?

  • The Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951 made several changes to the Fundamental Rights provisions of the Indian constitution.
  • It provided means to:
  1. Restrict freedom of speech and expression,
  2. Validation of zamindari abolition laws, and
  3. Clarified that the right to equality does not bar the enactment of laws which provide “special consideration” for weaker sections of society
  • This Amendment set the precedent of amending the Constitution to overcome judicial judgements impeding fulfilment of the government’s perceived responsibilities.

Why in news now?

  • In his plea, the petitioner said Section 3(1) of the 1951 Amending Act substituted original Clause (2) of Article 19.
  • This clause 19(2) deals with reasonable restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a).

(a) Objectionable insertions

  • It which contained two objectionable insertions allowing restrictions also:
  1. In the interest of public order and
  2. In relation to incitement to an offence

(b) Crucial omissions

  • The new Clause (2) also omitted the expression “tends to overthrow the State” as appearing in the original Clause (2).
  • Section 3 (2) of the amending Act effected validation of certain laws even if they took away or abridged the right to freedom of speech and expression, the petitioner said.

Issues created by Clause (2) of Article 19

Ans. It protects certain arbitrary sections of IPC from constitutionality check

  • The petition contended that these two insertions protect certain IPC sections such as from the vice of unconstitutionality –
  1. Sections 124A: Sedition
  2. Section 153A: Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc. prejudicial to maintenance of harmony
  3. Section 295A: Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs and
  4. Section 505: Statements conducing to public mischief
  • The questionable expressions inserted unduly abridge the fundamental right under Article 19 (1)(a) { freedom of speech and expression}.

How it sought to trivialize national security?

  • The amendment also neglects national security by dropping the expression ‘tends to overthrow the State’.
  • The omission of this expression raises grave concern in the context of the dangers posed to the concept of secular democratic republic by radicalism, terrorism and religious fundamentalism.
  • This could either be radicalism or right-wing extremism.

How did the petition invoke basic structure doctrine here?

  • The petition argued that undue abridgement does not advance or sub serve any constitutional objectives.
  • They appear more to damages inter alia democracy and republicanism and supremacy of the Constitution.


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