SC cites earlier judgements to publish secret documents

SC cites earlier judgements to publish secret documents

 Rafale replica at Aero India. DH photo.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the freedom of the Press to publish even secret documents, saying the right of such publication would seem to be in consonance with the constitutional guarantee.

The top court cited, among others, a landmark verdict passed on February 7, 1994 in 'Printers (Mysore) Pvt Ltd versus Asstt Commercial Tax Officer' wherein the dispute arose whether newspapers were entitled to claim benefit under the Central Sales Tax Act to get raw materials under the concessional rate of 4%. The Printers (Mysore) Pvt Ltd is publishers of newspapers 'Deccan Herald' and 'Prajavani'.

The court, by upholding the provision for grant of benefit to the newspapers, had then said the democratic credentials of a state are judged today by the extent of freedom the press enjoys in that state.

“Freedom of press has always been a cherished right in all democratic countries. The newspapers not only purvey news but also ideas, opinions and ideologies besides much else. They are supposed to guard public interest by bringing to fore the misdeeds, failings and lapses of the Government and other bodies exercising governing power. Rightly, therefore, it has been described as the Fourth Estate,” the top court had said.

On Wednesday, a three-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi rejected the Union government's objections over unauthorised leaks of secret documents, published in a newspaper and news portal. The court pointed out no law has been enacted by Parliament specifically barring or prohibiting the publication of such documents on any of the grounds mentioned in Article 19(2) (reasonable restriction on freedom of speech and expression) of the Constitution.

“There is no provision in the Official Secrets Act and no such provision in any other statute has been brought to our notice by which Parliament has vested any power in the executive arm of the government either to restrain publication of documents marked as secret or from placing such documents before a court of Law which may have been called upon to adjudicate a legal issue
concerning the parties,” a bench presided over by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said.

The court also referred to the US Supreme Court's decision declining to pass prohibitory orders on publication of the “Pentagon Papers”.