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CITATION1951 AIR 128, 1951 SCR 228
DATE OF JUDGEMENT22 January, 1951
COURTSupreme court of India
APPELLANTKeshava Madhava Menon 
RESPONDENTThe State of Bombay
BENCHKania, Hiralal J. (CJ), Fazal Ali, Saiyid, Sastri, M. Patanjali, Mahajan, Mehr Chand, Das, S.R. & Aiyar, N. C. Mukherjee, B.K.

INTRODUCTION-

In this case, the appellant, who was the Secretary of People’s Publishing House, Ltd., was prosecuted under the Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act for publishing a pamphlet. The appellant argued that the pamphlet should be considered a “book” under the Press and Registration of Books Act, but the government considered it a “news sheet” under the Emergency Powers Act. The case raised questions about the impact of the new Indian Constitution, specifically Article 13(1), on existing laws, the applicability of Article 19(1) (freedom of speech and expression), and whether fundamental rights could be retrospective.

The Court’s analysis revealed that Article 13(1) did not have a retrospective effect and only affected the future operation of pre-Constitution laws that violated fundamental rights. The Court emphasized that the invalidity of laws brought about by Article 13(1) related to their future application. Therefore, the appellant couldn’t claim relief under Article 19(1) as the Constitution and fundamental rights were not in force at the time of the pamphlet’s publication and arrest. The Court also rejected the appellant’s argument that Section 6 of the General Clauses Act applied, as Article 13(1) was not analogous to a repeal and didn’t have retrospective effects. The judgment clarified that the Constitution’s spirit should be derived from its language, and Article 13(1) was not intended to be retrospective.

FACTS OF THE CASE-

  • The appellant in this case served as the Secretary of People’s Publishing House, Ltd., a company incorporated under the Indian Companies Act, with its registered office in Bombay.
  • On December 9, 1949, the appellant was arrested and faced prosecution under section 18(1) of the Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act (XXIII of 1931) in the Court of the Chief Presidency Magistrate in Bombay.
  • The prosecution was initiated due to the appellant’s publication of a pamphlet in Urdu titled “Railway Mazdoorun Ke Khilaf Nai Sazish.”
  • The appellant’s counsel argued that the pamphlet qualified as a “book” under the definition provided in section 1 of the Press and Registration of Books Act (XXV of 1867), and they had complied with the Act’s provisions.
  • However, the Bombay Government authorities considered the pamphlet a “news sheet” as defined in section 2(6) of the Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act, 1931, and believed that it had been published without the required authorization specified in section 15(1) of the same Act.
  • This led to the petitioner being charged with an offense punishable under section 18(1) of the Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act, and prosecution commenced in the Court of the Chief Presidency Magistrate in Bombay.
  • During the ongoing legal proceedings, the Constitution of India came into effect on January 26, 1950.
  • On March 3, 1950, the petitioner submitted a written statement, contending that the definitions of “news sheet” in section 2(6) and sections 15 and 18 of the Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act, 1931, were ultra vires and void. This argument was based on their interpretation of Article 19(1)(a) in conjunction with Article 13 of the Constitution.
  • The petitioner requested a stay in the hearing of the case until the High Court addressed this legal question.

ISSUES RAISED-

  • Does the existence of Article 13(1) within the Constitution render inoperative the pre-existing laws conflicting with it?
  • Can the appellant legitimately seek remedy under Article 19(1) of the Constitution?
  • Do fundamental rights possess retrospective attributes or not?

ARTICLES / STATUTES MENTIONED IN THIS CASE-

  • Indian Press Emergency Act 1931(ultimately deemed not important) Section 2(6),
  • Section 15 (1) and Section 18 (1)
  • Article 13 (1) of the Constitution (Most Important)
  • Article 19 (1) of the Constitution 
  • Section 6 of the General Clauses Act, 1897

ARGUMENTS MADE BY THE PARTIES:

By the Appellant:

  • The pamphlet was categorized as a ‘book’ under the Press and Registration of Books Act, and all necessary provisions were followed.
  • The Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act, 1931, was viewed as a repressive law established by the British government to suppress Indian freedom, particularly in the context of the press.
  • With independence and the adoption of the Constitution, Indians secured fundamental rights as democratic citizens.
  • Article 13 invalidated all laws inconsistent with these fundamental rights, including existing ones.
  • Prosecuting citizens under laws conflicting with fundamental rights goes against the Constitution’s spirit and necessitates declaring such laws void.
  • The argument was that it wasn’t obligatory to declare these laws void from the beginning or to reopen past cases, but rather, after the Constitution’s commencement, these inconsistent laws should not be applied, especially for charging or punishing free citizens.
  • Reference was made to various Articles of the Constitution (249(3), 250, 357, 358, and 369) to distinguish between the meanings of ‘void’ and ‘repeal.’
  • Since a void law cannot be further employed, pending proceedings should be discontinued.

By the Respondent:

  • The pamphlet fell under the definition of a ‘newssheet’ as outlined in section 2(6) of the Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act, 1931.
  • The pamphlet was published without the necessary authorization specified in section 15(1) of the Act.
  • Consequently, the petitioner was charged with an offense under section 18(1) of the Act.

RATIO DECIDENDI:

  • The spirit of the Constitution should be guided by its language rather than sentiments or emotions.
  • Article 372(2) empowers the President to repeal or modify a law, such as the Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act, 1931. This repeal, either in part or whole, triggers Section 6 of the General Clauses Act, which preserves existing proceedings unless expressly stated otherwise.
  • The court rejects the notion that the persecution under existing laws is against the Constitution’s spirit, as the Constitution allows for the preservation of inchoate rights and pending proceedings.
  • Under Article 13, a law is deemed void only to the extent of its inconsistency with fundamental rights. It does not automatically render the law void from the beginning or for all purposes.
  • Fundamental rights come into force with the Constitution’s commencement, and inconsistency with existing laws only arises from that point forward.
  • Existing laws are void only to the extent of their conflict with fundamental rights and do not affect past transactions or rights and liabilities accrued before the Constitution’s adoption.
  • Similar to temporary laws, no further proceedings are allowed unless saved by a statute or other saving laws.
  • Prior to the Constitution, citizens did not possess the rights granted by Article 19. Article 13 only applies when Article 19(1)(a) is in effect. As the appellant did not have freedom of speech and expression at the time of persecution, Article 13 does not apply.
  • The appellant cannot claim protection or avoid the consequences of their actions or rely on principles of statutory interpretation.
  • Article 13 lacks language providing retrospective effect to fundamental rights, so there is no need for saving clauses or supporting legislation such as the General Clauses Act or the Interpretation Act of England.

OBITER DICTA -:

  • It is against the spirit of the Constitution for individuals already convicted under a repressive law before the Constitution’s commencement to remain in jail.
  • If an offender has not been prosecuted and penalized before a temporary statute expires and lacks a saving clause, any pending prosecution cannot continue after the statute’s expiration.
  • Several articles contain explicit provisions for preserving actions taken or omitted under expiring laws, reflecting the principle outlined.
  • The authority to amend laws lies with the government or legislature, not the courts. Courts can only provide relief for existing claims’ inchoate rights and liabilities.
  • The concept of “Qua repeal” is artificial and stems from the English Parliament and Courts, not from principles of reason and justice.
  • In contrast, the General Clauses Act and Interpretation Act focus on reason, justice, and the rule of convenience.
  • The rule of justice, equity, and good conscience is now a common law principle in the country and should apply even in cases where statutes are void due to inconsistency with the Constitution.

CONCLUSION-:

In its ruling, the court held that fundamental rights operate with a forward-looking perspective, and granting them retroactive application would disrupt the functioning of pre-existing laws. Notably, the mere fact that a law was enacted before the Constitution does not automatically render it invalid. The court emphasized the importance of considering the legislative intent behind each statute and its potential impact before deeming it unconstitutional. Article 13, which bestows Constitutional courts with the power of judicial review, allows the invalidation of a law only to the extent that it conflicts with the Constitution. It was pointed out that while criminal laws may have provisions with retrospective benefits for offenders, fundamental rights were not in existence when the pre-existing law was in effect. As a result, the court found the prosecution of the appellant valid, focusing on inchoate rights, liabilities, and penalties outlined in the Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act.

REFERENCES-

This Article is written by Aastha Srivastava, a 3rd Year LL.B student of DES Shri Navalmal Firodia Law College, Pune; Intern at Legal Vidhiya.


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