‘Constitutionality’ of the First Amendment Act, 1951
Polity & Governance
4th Nov, 2022
Recently, the Supreme Court (SC) has agreed to view the plea challenging the ‘Constitutionality’ of the First Amendment Act, 1951 which had put the reasonable restrictions under clause(2) of Article 19 (a) of Freedom of Speech and Expression.
Reasons behind Amendment:
- To remove certain practical difficulties created by the court's decision in several cases such as Kameshwar Singh Case, Romesh Thapar Case, etc.
- Issues involved in the cases included freedom of speech, acquisition of the Zamindari land, State monopoly of trade, etc.
The 1st Amendment Act, 1951:
- Empowered the state to make special provisions for the advancement of socially and economically backward classes.
- Provided for the saving of laws providing for the acquisition of estates, etc.
- Added Ninth Schedule to protect the land reforms and other laws included in it from judicial review. After Article 31, Articles 31A and 31B were inserted.
- Added three more grounds for restrictions on freedom of speech and expression: public order, friendly relations with foreign states, and incitement to an offense. Also, it made the restrictions ‘reasonable’ and thus, justiciable in nature.
- Provided that state trading and nationalisation of any trade or business by the state is not to be invalid on the ground of violation of the right to trade or business.
Amendments in response to issues against Freedom of Speech:
- The Amendment included Clause (2) under Article 19, dealing with reasonable restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a).
- The citizen's right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade, or business conferred by article 19(1)(g) is subject to reasonable restrictions which the laws of the State may impose "in the interests of the general public".
What are the arguments against this Amendment?
- According to the petitioners, it contains “two objectionable insertions” allowing restrictions also “in the interest of public order” and “in relation to incitement to an offense”.
- The new Clause (2) also omitted the expression “tends to overthrow the State” as appeared in the original Clause (2).
- These two insertions protect Sections 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., by words, either spoken or written or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony, 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code and hence are unconstitutional.
- The amendment also neglects national security by dropping the expression ‘tends to overthrow the State’ which raises grave concern in the context of the dangers posed to the concept of a secular democratic republic by radicalism, terrorism, and religious fundamentalism.