R. Rajagopal v. State of T.N
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 07/10/1994
COURT: Supreme Court of India
JUDGES: B Jeevan Reddy and Sen SC
REFERENCE: 1995 AIR 264
Petitioner: R. Rajagopal
Respondent: State Of T.N
SUBJECT: The judgment came back in 1994 when right to privacy was not a fundamental right under Article 21. The judgment discusses about freedom of press and its restrictions under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution
FACTS: The judgment is infamously known as the Auto Shankar case. Auto Shankar @ Gauri Shankar was awarded death sentence by the Chengalpet sessions Court for 6 murders which was confirmed by the Madras HC and the SC. In the instant case the first petitioner is the editor, printer and publisher of a Tamil weekly magazine Nakkheeran, published from Madras. The second petitioner is the associate editor of the magazine. While the accused was in jail, he wrote his autobiography. He handed over the book to his advocate through his wife with the knowledge of the jail authorities to be published in the petitioner’s magazine named “Nakkeeran”. The petitioner’s who accepted to publish his autobiography advertised in their magazines about the same. However, several Police officials, IAS and IPS officers who were his partners in crime feared if their identity and reputation would be damaged by the publication so they threatened the petitioner’s not to publish the autobiography.
Several orders restraining the petitioner’s from publishing the autobiography was also issued. A letter was also addressed to the petitioner telling the autobiography was not an original work of Auto Shankar, it was someone else who forged his identity. It was also alleged that, while in jail Auto Shankar was treated with third degree punishment to write a letter to his advocate telling he never wrote such books. Hence the petitioners have approached the SC under Article 32 of the Constitution to issue appropriate directions to the Police officials not to restrain them from publishing the book.
The Indian Constitution:
- Article 32: Remedies for enforcement of rights conferred by Part III
- The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Part is guaranteed
- The Supreme Court shall have power to issue directions or orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari, whichever may be appropriate, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by Part III Article 21: No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.
- Whether Police officials have the authority to curb the rights of press under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution?
- Whether publishing an autobiography amount to violation of privacy?
ANALYSIS OF THE JUDGEMENT:
The petitioners contended that,
- Right to freedom of press flows from the right to freedom of speech and expression. Therefore, publishing the autobiography of a person with his consent is protected under Article 19(1)(a).
- Fear of officials that their identity and reputation in the society would be damaged
does not constitute a valid restriction
- There were several instances when Police officials destructed the office properties
and threatened the magazine authorities to not publish the autobiography
- They have also approached the Madras High Court for directions but couldn’t receive any.
The respondents contended that,
- No autobiography was written by Auto Shankar. And if a person wants to publish the works of a prisoner, he need to posses a Power of Attorney executed in the presence of prison officials but in the present case no such PoA was executed. It was just a book written by some unknown person.
- The false allegations in the book might affect the reputation of officials who hold high post in the society.
- Also publishing a book in the name of autobiography without the consent of the concerned person is violation of his privacy.
- Further the petition is not maintainable under Article 32 as it does not address the concerns raised by the petitioners.
Upon hearing the parties, the Court held that, mere fear of officials cannot restrict the freedom of press under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. If such false allegations were contained in the book let the book be published and then the officials may prove their innocence in the Court by filling a defamation case. The Court further stated that, since accused has not authorised Police officials to protect his privacy the same may not be bothered upon. Considering that, the petition was initially addressed to the Madras HC the Court converted the petition to a Special leave petition and thereby allowed the petitioners to publish the alleged autobiography. The Court concluded by saying that, publishing the
details of a person which is available in public records do not infringe privacy however, publishing the private details of a person without his consent is an infringement of individual privacy and the same is prohibited in law.