The Centre agreed with the apex court that it is not acceptable for public functionaries to shoot from the hip but urged that the court should let parliament take a call on the matter. Attorney general R Venkataramani and solicitor general Tushar Mehta told the bench that the apex court has given two verdicts on petitions filed by Tehseen Poonawala and Amish Devgan on the issue and in the light of those judgments there was no need to hear the case. They said that the questions framed in the case are abstract and it would be problematic to pass order on those issues.
The attorney general said there are provisions within IPC to deal with such instances and imposing additional restrictions comes within the legislative domain and Parliament can debate and frame a law. He said public servants work under rule of conduct and they would face the consequences for breaching it.
“It is inherent that a person holding public office should maintain restraint. It is an unwritten rule and a part of Constitution culture and they should not blabber something which is disparaging and affects a section of people,” Justice BV Nagarathna, who is part of the Constitution bench, said.
“The reason why there is no legislation all this while is that there has always been a self-imposed restriction by persons holding responsible positions. Now the impression is being given that those kind of restrictions are being slowly relaxed and as a result, people are speaking in such a way which is offending other people. Nobody seems to be checking them and anybody can get away with saying something which is disparaging. That is the purpose of the case,” Justice Nagarathna observed.
Senior advocate Aparajita Singh, who is assisting the court as amicus curiae, also submitted that there was no need for a Constitution bench to adjudicate and it should be decided by a regular bench on the basis of facts of individual cases.
Senior advocate Kaleeswaram Raj insisted the court should not put additional restrictions but must distinguish hate speeches from free speech. He said that some checks had to be placed to curb hate speeches made by ministers and elected representatives that remained unchecked so far.
The court, after hearing all the parties, reserved its order. Five questions were framed to be adjudicated by the Constitution bench and one of them says, “Can a statement made by a Minister, traceable to any affairs of State or for protecting the Government, be attributed vicariously to the Government itself, especially in view of the principle of Collective Responsibility?”
Another question was, “Whether a statement by a Minister, inconsistent with the rights of a citizen under Part Three of the Constitution, constitutes a violation of such constitutional rights and is actionable as ‘Constitutional Tort’?”
The proceedings in the case began when the apex court took cognisance of a controversial statement made by then UP minister Azam Khan in 2016 on the Bulandshahr rape case, terming it part of a political conspiracy. Though he was let off after he tendered an unconditional apology before the court, it agreed to examine the larger issue of ministers and elected representatives making off-the-cuff remarks on sub judice matters.