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Public officials are bound by an unwritten agreement not to “blab” harsh comments about other citizens: B.V. Nagarathna is a SC judge.

A five-judge Supreme Court panel is debating whether rules should be established to stop politicians, including ministers, members of parliament, members of local assemblies, and even party leaders, from uttering unpleasant remarks in public.

According to Justice B.V. Nagarathna, who was sitting on a Constitution Bench on Tuesday, there is an unwritten norm of self-restraint for public servants to refrain from “blabbering” things that are “extremely derogatory or offensive” to fellow people.
The five-judge Supreme Court bench, presided over by Justice S. Abdul Nazeer, is debating whether regulations should be put in place to curtail or even forbid government ministers, members of parliament, members of local assemblies, and even political leaders from publicly making hurtful and offensive remarks.

According to Justice Nagarathna, there is a constitutional need for those holding responsible posts to adhere to a particular code of behaviour. Regardless of the “legitimate constraint” on free expression, such self-imposed restraint is necessary.

“There is an unwritten rule for anyone holding public office or working for the government, and it is part of our constitutional culture, that we impose a self-restraint when we hold offices of responsibility and not blabber things that are very disparaging or insulting to our countrymen,” Justice Nagarathna said orally.

For petitioner Joseph Shine, attorney Kaleeswaram Raj stated that the court must “suggest a voluntary code of conduct.”

R. Venkataramani, the Union of India’s Attorney General, argued that the government should not be held vicariously accountable for the offensive remarks made by certain Ministers. If this was done, the situation would become “unmanageable.” There will be a rush of court applications filed by people alleging wrongdoing against the state.

He said that it should be up to the Parliament to decide whether to create a new legislation or amend the Indian Penal Code.

The majority of these claims, according to Mr. Raj, were discovered to have been made by MPs. So, he questioned, “Should we leave it to them or let the court fill in the holes in the law?”

He briefly considered whether hate speech could be tolerated under the pretence of practising free speech at one point.

The matter, according to Justice B.R. Gavai, who was sitting on the bench, belongs solely to the Parliament.

According to Justice V. Ramasubramanian, holding the state accountable for someone else’s words would be just as cumbersome as holding a judge accountable for statements they made.

Mr. Venkataramani stated, “Imposing a final, binding obligation on the government for an individual’s malfeasance would be a very significant matter.

According to Justice Nagarathna, civil remedies are available.

“There may not be a right against the state when an individual makes a remark, but when a public functionary makes a statement, there is always a civil remedy available if a sector of the population or an individual is impacted,” Justice Nagarathna stated.

The court reserved decision on the issue of whether “additional limits” are necessary to protect high-ranking public officials’ freedom of speech and expression.

In a previous hearing, Justice Nazeer had questioned whether the court could establish broad rules out of “thin air” without considering the specific circumstances of each case.

In response to remarks made by Kerala Minister M.M. Mani, Mr. Shine filed a lawsuit in court.

In April of 2017, two years prior, a Constitution Bench was mentioned. It was born out of a complaint made by the family of the rape victim in the Bulandshahr case against a former minister’s public claims that the rape case was connected to a plot against the administration of Akhilesh Yadav at the time. The Minister afterwards offered an unqualified apology to the Supreme Court. However, the court has made the decision to look into the issue of limiting the free speech of public officials in delicate situations.

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ZZED Reporter

Written by ZZED Reporter

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