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SC says freedom of speech not absolute.

CLOSE on the heels on upholding freedom of expression on the Internet by scrapping section 66A of the Information Technology Act, the Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution was not " absolute", and poets and authors cannot use abusive words against anyone like Mahatma Gandhi in the name of artistic freedom.

A two- judge Bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra gave the ruling in an appeal by the publisher of a Marathi magazine challenging a criminal case filed against him and a poet by Maharashtra Police in 1994. The poet, Vasant Dattatrey Gujjar, who wrote a political satire on Gandhi, and his publisher Devidas Ramachandra Tuljapukar are facing trial on obscenity charges for use of blasphemous language. They have been charged under IPC section 292, which entails a punishment up to five years.

" Freedom of speech and expression has to be given a broad canvas, but it has to have inherent limitations which are permissible within the constitutional parameters. Freedom of speech and expression enshrined in the Constitution is not absolute," said the Bench.

" We do not intend to express any opinion that freedom of speech gives liberty to offend. As far as the use of the name of historically respected personality like Mahatma Gandhi is concerned, an attempt is being made to put the freedom of speech on the pedestal of an absolute concept. We reiterate the said right is a right of great value and with the passage of time and growth of culture it has to pave the path of ascendancy, but it cannot be put in the compartment of absoluteness," the Bench added.

The court said the use of abusive words against Gandhi was unacceptable, although a certain leniency could be shown if the personality was someone else.

" Gandhi had a unique status in the country and lampooning him by way of cartoons or satirical verses, however surreal they Says people can't abuse citing artistic freedom

might appear for artistic purposes, could not be countenanced," said the court.

The Bench upheld the Bombay High Court's decision of not quashing charge of sale/ publication of obscene books, framed against accused Devidas Ramchandra Tuljapurkar, saying freedom of speech and expression does not allow a person to cross contemporaneous community parameters on decency.

The Bench asked Tuljapurkar, the then editor of the in- house magazine of Bank of Maharashtra Employees Union, to express his points of view before the lower court during the trial.

The court, however, quashed the criminal proceedings against the printers and publishers of the magazine in which the poem penned by Marathi poet was published, saying they have already tendered an unconditional apology.

OBSERVATIONS OF SC BENCH Freedom of speech and expression has to be given a broad canvas, but it has to have inherent limitations which are permissible within the constitutional parameters.

Freedom of speech and expression enshrined in the Constitution is not absolute.

Right cannot be put in the compartment of absoluteness.

Gandhi had a unique status in the country and lampooning him by way of cartoons or satirical verses, however surreal they might appear for artistic purposes, could not be countenanced.

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:May 15, 2015
Words:540
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