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Recent Judgement on Fundamental Rights

2023 JAN 7

Preliminary   > Constitution   >   Indian Constitution   >   Fundamental rights

Why in news?

  • Recently, the Supreme Court has ruled that a fundamental right under Article 19/21 can be enforced even against persons other than the State or its instrumentalities.
  • The court took this view while ruling that the right of free speech and expression guaranteed under the Article 19(1) (a) cannot be curbed by any additional grounds other than those already laid down in Article 19(2).


  • In India, most of the Fundamental Rights are available against the arbitrary action of the State, with a few exceptions like those against the State’s action and against the action of private individuals.
  • When the rights that are available against the State’s action only are violated by the private individuals, there are no constitutional remedies but only ordinary legal remedies.

About Article 19:

  • Article 19 of the Constitution of India guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression, and is typically invoked against the state.
  • Article 19(1) states that “all citizens shall have the right:
    • (a) to freedom of speech and expression;
    • (b) to assemble peaceably and without arms;
    • (c) to form associations or unions;
    • (d) to move freely throughout the territory of India;
    • (e) to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; and
    • (f) omitted ( right to property)
    • (g) to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.
  • Article 19(2) states that:
    • Nothing in sub clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause in the 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 or incitement to an offence.

About the recent Supreme Court's ruling:

  • Enforcing Rights against Private Entities:
    • This interpretation brings an obligation on the state to ensure that private entities also abide by Constitutional norms.
    • It opens up a range of possibilities in Constitutional law, potentially allowing for the enforcement of privacy rights against a private doctor or the right to free speech against a private social media entity.
  • Reference to Previous Court Rulings:
    • The Court referenced the 2017 verdict in Puttaswamy, in which a nine-judge bench unanimously upheld privacy as a fundamental right.
    • The government had argued that privacy is a right enforceable against other citizens and, therefore, cannot be elevated to the status of a fundamental right against the state.
  • International Perspectives:
    • The Court also looked to foreign jurisdictions, contrasting the American approach with the European Courts.
    • The US Supreme Court’s ruling in New York Times vs. Sullivan, which found that defamation law as applied by the state against The New York Times was inconsistent with the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and expression, was cited as an example of a shift in US law from a “purely vertical approach” to a “horizontal approach.
      • A vertical application of rights would mean it can be enforced only against the state while a horizontal approach would mean it is enforceable against other citizens.
      • For example, a horizontal application of the right to life would enable a citizen to bring a case against a private entity for causing pollution, which would be a violation of the right to a clean environment.


In the context of right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 of the Constitution, the State can impose reasonable restrictions on which of the following grounds? 

1. Friendly relations with foreign States

2. Public morality

3. Contempt of Court

4. Defamation

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 and 3 only

(b) 2,3 and 4 only

(c) 1,2 and 3 only

(d) 1,2,3 and 4