Case Analysis- Indian Express Newspaper v Union of India
Authored by Neha Bisht
Keywords: Freedom of Expression, Art 19(1)(a), Constitution of India, Taxes, Newspaper.
This paper deals with the case of Indian Express Newspaper v Union of India. It talks about the freedom of expression given under Art 19(1)(a) and along with it the restrictions given under Art 19(2) of the Constitution of India.
Name of the case: Indian Express Newspaper v Union of India
Citation: 1986 AIR 515, 1985 SCR (2) 287
Date of Judgement: 6 December 1984
Bench: Hon’ble Mr. Justice V.C. Daga and Hon’ble Mr. Justice J.P. Devadhar
Concerned Provisions of Law: Art 19(1)(a), Art 19 (g), Art 19 (2), Art 14, Customs Act 1962, Customs Tariff Act 1975 and Finance Act 1981.
In this case the petitioners were companies, employees and, shareholders as well as trusts engaged in the publication of newspapers. Initially, the newsprint enjoyed the benefit of not coming under the custom duty but, after the notifications under the Customs Act,1962 with effect from March 1, 1981, the petitioners questioned the imposed duty applied on it under the Customs Tariff Act 1975 and the auxiliary duty under the Finance Act 1981.
It was argued that imposing such a duty on the newsprint would affect the price and circulation and eventually severally interfere with both the freedom of expression and the freedom to practice any trade or occupation under Art 19(1)(a) and, Art 19(1)(g) respectively. It was contended that dividing the newspaper into small, medium and large newspapers would be ultra vires the rule of non-arbitrariness under Art 14 of the Constitution of India which is equality before the law.
It was argued by the government that the cost borne by the newspapers and the position of foreign exchange reserves were not relevant considerations. The public interest involved in taxation was to increase the revenue of the government, a burden that is borne by all citizens of the country. It asserted that the exemption granted to newsprint was not justified and, therefore, could be removed by the government.
The issues raised in this case were:
1. Whether it comes under the ambit of restrictions provided in Art 19(2).
2. Whether Art 14 was discriminatory in the classification of newspapers for levying customs duty.
3. Whether the Fundamental Rights given under Art 19(1) and (g) are different from that of the rights given by the first amendment to the American constitution.
4. Whether to strike down the notification under Section 25 of the Customs Act, 1962 as it is in conflicts with the Fundamental Rights.
5. Whether the reasonable interference was justified under Art 19(2) in the name of serving the public interest.
6. Whether it was the duty of the State to encourage education of masses through the press under Art 41.
7. Whether tax on knowledge, people’s right to know the imposition of tax government to be more cautious.
The Supreme Court said that the government is free to impose taxes which affect the publication of newspapers as it must be treated as an industry and be subject to taxes, the same way other businesses are. The division of newspapers into small, medium and large can be permitted only if it is majorly based on the economic considerations having a reasoned nexus with respect to the objective of the taxation and free from any kind of arbitrariness. The power of taxing must not contravene with the freedom of expression conferred under Art 19(1)(a) and the limitation on flexibility should also be covered within the reasonable limits.
Art 19(2) of the Indian Constitution talks about the reasonable restrictions and public interest is one of the grounds of restrictions. The Supreme Court outlined two basic rules:
[i] Newspapers have as much right to be benefited from the government services as the other industries given that they also contribute a reasonable amount of money to the government through taxes.
[ii] The tax burden should not be excessive.
In this case, the Supreme Court observed that neither the petitioners were able to prove the excessive tax burden nor the respondents were able to counter it appropriately. It said that a “strict burden of proof’” need not be discharged, considering the possibility of interference with fundamental rights. The Court instructed the government to re-examine the taxation policy by evaluating whether it constituted an excessive burden on the newspapers. The government’s stance that such a consideration was irrelevant was incorrect and therefore, the notification had to be revised by taking this factor into consideration.
This case talked about art 19(1)(a) which is the freedom of expression and the reasonable restrictions covered under art 19(2) of the Constitution of India. The Supreme Court asked the Central Government to review its taxation policy to decide if it’s overburdening the newspapers. It was argued by the petitioners that because of the import duty, the price of the newspaper was bound to get increased and a fall in the circulation of the same.
The Supreme Court was of the opinion that the government can impose taxes on the publication but within the reasonable restrictions mentioned in art 19(2) so, it does not violate their freedom of expression. The Court also said that as the petitioner and the respondent both failed in proving the excessive nature of tax then it now becomes the duty of the government to review the taxation policy.
The press is said to be the third pillar of a nation and, it is extremely important that the citizens always have access to it. By imposing taxes on the newspapers, the supply of newspapers around was severely affected. The press holds the power to change opinions and mold minds, but when we impose a heavy tax on it then we are narrowing down the possibility of it reaching to more and more people. The press cannot be denied of their right to freedom of expression by overburdening it with taxes. This would simply be the death of democracy.