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Minister’s speech can vicariously be attributed to Govt: Justice Nagarathna’s dissension

Minister’s speech can vicariously be attributed to Govt: Justice Nagarathna’s dissension

New Delhi: Making dissension in the five-judge Constitutional bench judgment over the freedom of speech of public functionaries, Justice BV Nagarathna termed hate speech as a strike at the foundational values of the Constitution, besides observing that such speech, if it is done by a minister, can vicariously be attributed to the government.

A Constitution bench of Justices SA Nazeer, BR Gavai, AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, in a separate judgement, ruled that a minister's statement cannot be attributed "vicariously" to the government.

Writing a judgement expressing dissent on this issue, Justice Nagarathna said indiscreet speech is a cause of concern in recent times as it is hurtful and insulting.

"Hate speech strikes at the foundation values of the constitution by marking society as unequal. It also violates the fraternity of citizens from diverse backgrounds. The sine qua non (essential condition) of a cohesive society is based on plurality and multi-culturalism such as in India which is 'Bharat'. Fraternity is based on the idea that citizens have reciprocal responsibilities towards one another," she said.

Public functionaries and other persons of influence including celebrities are duty-bound to be more responsible and restrained in their speech, Justice Nagarathna said.

"They are required to understand and measure their words having regard to the likely consequences on public sentiment and behaviour and also be aware of the example they are setting on the fellow citizens to follow," she said.

Justice Nagarathna said it is for the party to control the speeches made by their ministers which can be done by forming a code of conduct.

"Any citizen who feels attacked by such speeches made or hate speech by public functionary etc can approach a court for civil remedies. It is for parliament in its wisdom to enact a law to restrain public functionary from making disparaging remarks against fellow citizens bearing in mind Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(2)," she said.

The top court judge said for a country like ours which is a parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech and expression is a necessary right for ensuring a healthy democracy.

The court was hearing a plea filed by a man whose wife and daughter were allegedly gang-raped in July 2016 on a highway near Bulandshahr. He was seeking transfer of the case to Delhi and lodging of an FIR against then Uttar Pradesh minister Azam Khan for his controversial statement that the gang-rape case was a "political conspiracy".

The judgement came over the question of whether restrictions can be imposed on a public functionary's right to freedom of speech and expression.

Source: PTI

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