Case Analysis: Pandit M.S.M. Sharma v/s Shri Sri Krishna Sinha

Pandit M. S. M. Sharma v/s Shri Sri Krishna Sinha
Citation: Pandit M. S. M. Sharma V. Shri Sri Krishna Sinha and Others – Date of Judgment: 12th December, 1958 (AIR 1959 SC 395)

Bench:

  1. Das, Sudhi Ranjan (CJI)
  2. Bhagwati, Natwarlal H.
  3. Sinha, Bhuveshwar P.
  4. Subbarao, K.
  5. Wanchoo, K.N.

Introduction Of Parties
M.S.M. Sharma, the petitioner, was a renowned journalist and editor of the English newspaper ‘Searchlight’ which is published and circulated in the State of Bihar.
Mr. Krishna Sinha, the respondent was holding the post of ‘Chief Minister’ of the State and the Chairman of the Privileges Committee of the Bihar Legislative Assembly.

Factual Matrix
30th May, 1957: Maheshwar Prasad Narayan Sinha who is a member of Bihar Legislative Assembly alleged the Chief Minister of being partial in the selection process of his Ministers, transfers of public servants and involvement and in corrupt administrative practices. A reference was made in his speech to the case of a District Judge who was only ‘transferred’ contrary to the advice of the Chief Justice of Patna High Court who recommended his discharge, and this was solely due to the influence of Mahesh Prasad Sinha. Mr. Maheshwar also contended that Mr. Mahesh’s appointment as the Chairman of Bihar State Khadi Board was for th.e only purpose of letting him stay in Patna where his residential accommodation is situated.

The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly replied to the contentions of Mr. Maheshwar by stating that:

I have already ruled with reference to whatever has been said about Mahesh Babu that such words would be expunged from the proceedings. But, whatever may be said with reference to the Chairmanship of the State Khadi Board will remain in the proceedings and Honorable Member has the right to speak on the matter.”[1]

31st May, 1957: Though the statement was expunged by the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, the English daily, ‘Searchlight’, published an article reporting the entire speech of Mr. Maheshwar Prasad Narayan Sinha, including the expunged parts as well.

10th June, 1957: Mr. Nawal Kishore Sinha, who was a member of the Legislative Assembly raised objection by way of notice in the Assembly on the conjecture of Breach of Privilege. The said notice stated that:
Searchlight…published the entire speech of Mr. Maheshwar Prasad Naraya Sinha containing all the references to Mr. Mahesh Mahesh Sinha which were ordered to be expunged.
This notice was referred to the Privileges Committee.

18th August, 1958: The editor of Searchlight, herein the petitioner, was summoned by the Secretary of the Legislative Assembly to appear before the Privilege Committee and reply as to why an action against him shall not be taken for the Breach of Privilege.

Issues

  1. Whether the Constitution of India, under Article 194(3), empowers a State Legislative Assembly to restrict any publication of a proceeding that has been witnessed by its members or to prohibit the publication of the parts that has been directed to be expunged?
     
  2. Whether the said privilege under Article 194(3) have an upper hand over the Article 19(1)(a) which grants a Fundamental Right of ‘free speech and expression’ to every citizen of India?

Contentions of The Parties
Petitioner: A writ petition was filed by the Petitioner in the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution of India drawing contentions that suggests that notice served upon the Petitioner by the Privileges Committee abridges his Right to Freedom of Speech enshrined under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.

Respondent: The respondent argued that the State Legislative Assembly can exercise similar powers, privileges & immunities as the British Parliament’s House of Commons when the Constitution of India was enacted, i.e. 26th of January, 1950. Hence, the proceedings of the house cannot be treated as an ordinary course of action and the permission to publish the expunged parts can never be established.

Decision Majority: CJ Sudhi Ranjan Das

Dealing with the first issue, the court opined that there was no statute existent in the Legislature of Bihar under – Entry 39, List II, Seventh Schedule, of the Constitution of India, related to the powers, privileges and immunities of the House. Hence, all the Houses of the Legislative Assembly of Bihar reserves the said powers, privileges and immunities as that of House of Commons at the onset of the Constitution of India.

It was noted by the court that the House of Commons imposed restrictions on publication of its proceedings since 1641. A standing order in this regard was issued stating that no member shall communicate in print any speech or proceedings that took place in the House. The said Standing Order was not amended or repealed, hence it stands in force.

The court concluded that at the time of the onset of the Constitution of India i.e. 26th January, 1950, the House of Commons reserved a right to impose the said restriction. As per this observation, the court opined that the Legislative Assembly of Bihar also had the same powers as that of the House of Commons as it had not enacted any statute in this regard.

The Petitioner contended that the ‘Right to freedom of speech and expression’ is a Fundamental Right under Article 19(1)(a) and hence the publication of a bona fide report shall not be treated as illegal. Moreover, in case of a conflict between Article 19(1)(a) & Article 194(3), the former shall prevail over the latter as it is a Fundamental Right. In support of the contention, the petitioner submitted two arguments:

  1. The provision of Article 194(3) is subjected to Article 19(1)(a).
    The court rejected the argument backing up with a reasoning that as per the language of Article 194, only clause (1) is subjected to other provisions of the Constitution and clause (2) to (4) stands independent which suggests that the framers of Constitution did this on purpose.
     
  2. Article 194(3) infringes the Fundamental Right given under Article 19(1)(a).

As per Article 13 of the Constitution of India, if a legislation enacted by the Parliament or State Legislative Assembly contravenes any provision of the Constitution, such legislation shall be rendered void. The Court held that a law made by a State Legislature in pursuance of earlier part of Article 194(3) will not be a law in exercise of constituent power, but will be one made in exercise of its ordinary legislative powers. Consequently, if such a law takes away or abridges any of the fundamental rights, it will contravene the provisions of Article 13 and it will be void.

Still, in cases of conflict, both Article 19(1)(a) & Article 194(3), both stand out to have equivalent importance and one of them cannot be provided any privilege over the other. In cases of such a conflict, the principle of ‘Harmonious Construction’ shall adopted, relying upon which, Article 19(1)(a) stands general and Article 194(3) stands special.
Hence, the court deduced a conclusion that the notice by the Assembly stands valid and the petition stands dismissed.

Descision: Dessent: Justice Subbarao

The dissenting opinion of Justice Subbarao quoted Gunupati Keshavram Reddy V. Nafisul Hasan[2] and held that Article 194(3) was subject to Part III. However, in fairness, it must be conceded that the aforesaid case was not a well-considered opinion on the subject.

Comments
It is important to bear in mind that the Court made no comment whatsoever on whether Article 21 would override privileges. The Court merely held that Article 19 (1)(a) would not override privileges. It proceeded to examine the Article 21 argument on merits without clarifying the larger question as to whether Article 21 was to apply to privileges as a matter of rule, even though Fundamental Rights in general and Article 19 (1)(a) in specific, were found not to apply to and override the privileges.

End-Notes:

  1. M.S.M. Sharma V. Krishna Singh, available at https://indiankanoon.org/doc/944601/ (Last visited on April 12th, 2020).
  2. Gunupati Keshavram Reddy V. Nafisul Hasan (AIR 1954 SC 636), available at https://indiankanoon.org/doc/528695/ (Last visited on April 13th, 2020).
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Case Analysis: Pandit M.S.M. Sharma v/s Shri Sri Krishna Sinha

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