16 September 2019


The litmus test for free speech.

By Aspire IAS

GS-II: The litmus test for free speech.


Freedom of speech and individual liberty are enshrined in Article 19(1)(a) and Art 21 of the Constitution. However these rights like all others are not absolute but subject to reasonable restrictions.

Freedom of speech:

Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression.

It is subject only to Article 19(2) which saves any law that imposes “reasonable restrictions” on the limited grounds of interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation etc.

Scope of Fundamental Rights expanded.

  • The jurisprudence of fundamental rights was expanded through several decisions in R C Cooper v. Union of India (1969), Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain (1975), Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978), I.R. Coelho v. State of Tamil Nadu (2007) and, in Puttaswamy v. Union of India (2017).
  • Each of these decisions establishes that fundamental rights in the Constitution are not to be read as isolated silos but are to be read as if the content of each fundamental right animates the other.
  • They tell us that the entire chapter on fundamental rights has also to be read “synoptically”.

Article 21:Says that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. This article protects the right of life and personal liberty not only from executive action but also from the legislative action.

This right extends to citizens as well as non-citizens.

This article gives way an array of several human rights which are called Implied Fundamental Rights. They are:

Right to Speedy Trial

Right to Travel Abroad Right to Dignity

Right to Privacy

Right to Clean Environment

Right to Livelihood

Right to marriage

Right against torture

Right against Bondage

Right to legal aid Right to Food.

Right to life does not include Right to Die or Right to get killed i.e. mercy killing.

Implications for free speech:

Under Section 69, the government can intercept personal information under any of the following conditions: when it is necessary in the interest of Indian sovereignty or integrity; security of the state; friendly relations with foreign states; public order; and for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence related to these. While the first four feature in Article 19(2) of the Constitution, the last, namely preventing incitement to commission of cognisable offences, is not an enumerated restriction. A restriction in the form of authorised surveillance would not be justified unless it is in order to maintain public order, a reasonable restriction under Article 19(2).