India had achieved independence after huge bloodshed only for the citizens of the country so that they could live happily, without any interference from outside, which is known as sovereignty. Just after three tears, on the 26th day of November 1950, India had drafted its first Constitution, with its founding fathers being Dr B.R. Ambedkar, Sir Benegal Narsing Rao, Surendra Nath Mukherjee and others. The Constitution of India has 22 parts and 395 Articles, and Part III of the Constitution is enshrined with the Fundamental Rights, ranging from Articles 12 to 35. It must be remembered that the Fundamental Rights are not absolute in nature. Article 19(1) of the Constitution of India gives the freedom of speech and expression to all the citizens of India. The Fundamental Rights are available to all, irrespective of caste, creed, gender, religion, place of birth, etc.
According to LOCKE, man is born “with a title to perfect freedom and uncontrolled enjoyment of all rights and privileges of the Law of Nature,” and he has by nature a power “to preserve his property-that is, his life, liberty, and estate, against the injuries and attempts of other men”.
Freedom of speech and expression in civil service:
The Supreme Court has ruled in the case Devendrappa (1958 SCR 1052) that reasonable restrictions may have to be imposed in the freedom of speech and expression in the interest of maintaining discipline in public services, even though it may not have been mentioned as a ground in Article 19(2). The appellant, in the instant case, was the general manager of the Karnataka Small Industries Development Corporation. In a statement made to the press, he made a direct attack on the head office organisation. In a letter to the Governor, he made attacks on several officials of the corporation. He was dismissed from service on the ground that his conduct was clearly detrimental to the proper functioning of the organisation or its internal discipline. He challenged the service rules as well as his dismissal, but the Supreme Court upheld both. He challenged his dismissal on the ground of a breach of his freedom of speech and expression, but the Court rejected his plea.
The Court justified his service rules under Article 19(2). These rules cannot be invalidated even if not justified under Article 19(2). On the question of the interrelation of several freedoms guaranteed by Article 19, the Court has observed that they “are not necessarily and in all circumstances mutually supportive, although taken together they weave a fabric of a free and equal democratic society”. The proper exercise of rights may have, implicit in them, certain restrictions. The rights must be harmoniously construed so that they are properly promoted with the minimum of such implied and necessary restrictions. Joining government services has, implicit in it, if not explicitly so laid down, the government observance of a certain code of conduct necessary for the proper discharge of functions as a government servant. This code cannot be flouted in the name of other freedoms. The Courts have to be vigilant to ensure that the code is not so widely framed as to unreasonably restrict fundamental freedoms. But a reasonable code designed to promote discipline and efficiency can be enforced by the Government organisation in the sense that those who flout can be subjected to disciplinary action.
In the instant case, the conduct of the petitioner was clearly detrimental to the proper functioning of the organisation or its internal discipline. On a proper balancing, therefore, of individual freedom of the appellant and proper functioning of the government organisation which had employed him, was this a fit case where the employer was entitled to take disciplinary action against him under the service Rules.
But the Supreme Court has refused to apply the Devendrappa (1958 SCR 1052) ruling an elected member of the corporation who criticised the house tax assessment by the council and asked the taxpayers to approach him for sorting out their grievances. He was exercising his democratic right of fair criticism, and it could not be regarded as misconduct on his part, and he could not be removed from the municipal council from that ground. He was an elected member of the municipal council and not its employee. As a representative of the people, he owed a duty not merely to the municipal council but also to the public in his constituency. He held the office in trust for them.
As an elected representative of the people, he was expected to safeguard their interests. As such, he would enjoy the freedom of speech under Article 19(1) (a), which includes fair criticism of the aw or any executive action.
The Supreme Court has observed in this connection:
“Freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed in our democratic republic both in the legislature as well as local bodies and, therefore, a legislator or a municipal councillor legitimately can express his views in regard to what he thinks to be in the public interest. A legitimate exercise of the right of speech and expression including fair criticism is not to be throttled.”
One merit that we can find from our Constitution is that neither does it restrict the citizens from enforcing their fundamental rights nor does it provide full freedom to a person in such a manner that he exploits or violates such rights for himself or against society. Speech is God’s gift to mankind. People can express his/her feelings, opinions, views only through speech. It must be remembered that ‘silence’ is also a mode of speech. Freedom of speech and expression is a natural right, which is acquired by all from birth, and so it’s a basic right. In the Preamble of the Constitution, it was clearly declared that it resolves to secure to all the citizen's liberty of thought and expression. This is reflected in Article 19(1) (a), which is one of the Articles mentioned in Part III of the Constitution.
Disclaimer: Kindly note that the views and opinions expressed are of the author(s) not Law Colloquy.
M.P. Jain, Indian Constitutional Law, (7th Edition, 2017)