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4th January 2023 (7 Topics)

No need for extra curbs on the free speech of Ministers: SC

Context

The Supreme Court has ruled that a government cannot be held responsible for remarks made by its ministers even if the statement relates to affairs of the state.

About

More about the news:

  • Supreme Court's five judges Constitution Bench in a 4:1 majority has held that:
  • Additional restrictions, not found in Article 19(2), cannot be imposed on the exercise of the right to free speech under Article 19(1)(a) of the Minister.
  • The grounds mentioned in Article 19(2) for restricting free speech are exhaustive.

Majority verdict:

  • The Court by a 4:1 majority added that statements made by the Minister, even if traceable to any affairs of state or protecting the govt, cannot be attributed vicariously to the govt even applying the principle of collective responsibility.

Dissenting Opinion:

  • In case a Minister makes disparaging statements in his "official capacity", then such statements can be vicariously attributed to the government.
  • Only if the statements of the Ministers are stray remarks not consistent with a stand of govt then it would be treated as a personal remark.
  • It is for parliament in its wisdom to enact a law to restrain public functionaries from making disparaging remarks against fellow citizens bearing in mind 19(1)(a) and 19(2).

What is Collective Responsibility?

  • Collective responsibility refers to a constitutional convention in parliamentary systems that requires cabinet members to openly support all governmental decisions taken in Cabinet, even if they do not agree with them privately.
  • It has long been a guiding precept of India's parliamentary government.
  • Collective responsibility implies that council ministers can make decisions for their own departments.
  • It also implies that they are held accountable to the parliament in the event of any repercussions.
  • The Principle of Collective Responsibility is the cornerstone of the Parliamentary form of government.
  • Collective accountability is seen as a factor that ensures that central government ministers are held accountable for the repercussions of their actions and charges.
  • The crucial articles that guarantee ministers have individual decision-making ability are Article 75 (3) and Article 164 (3).
  • There are two basic components to collective responsibility.
    • The first is the notion that ministers should be able to conduct open and honest conversations before reaching a consensus, and that these deliberations should be kept private.
    • Second, once a cabinet position has been agreed upon, all ministers are required to follow it and vote with the government or resign from their positions

Article 19(1)(a):

  • Freedom of speech and expression, provides every citizen with the right to express one’s views, opinions, beliefs, and convictions freely by word of mouth, writing, printing, picturing, or in any other manner.

Article 19(2):

  • It confers the right on the State to impose reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the freedom of speech and expression on the grounds of:
    • Sovereignty and integrity of India,
    • Security of the state,
    • Friendly relations with foreign states,
    • Public order, decency, or morality,
    • Contempt of court, defamation, and incitement to an offense.
  • Justice Ramasubramanian Observation: In a country like ours, where there is a multi­party system and where coalition governments are often formed, it is not possible at all times for a Prime Minister/Chief Minister to take the whip whenever a statement is made by someone in the Council of Ministers.

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