[Case Brief] State of Madras v/s VG Row and Others, 1952

State of Madras v/s V.G.Row & Others is a five-judge bench decision delivered by Supreme Court of India on 31st March 1952. In the present appeal, the State of Madras has appealed against the decision of High Court of Madras. The important act/sections discussed in the present case are thus:

(1) Constitution of India- Article 19(1)(c), Article 19(4)

(2) Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1908- Section 15(2)(b), Section 16, Section 16A  

Brief Facts and Procedural History:

The state of Tamil Nadu by passing an ordinance on 10 March 1950 declared “Peoples Education Society” as unlawful. It was declared unlawful on the grounds that the society as an association interferes with the administration and maintenance of law and order and thus constitutes a danger to the public peace. V.G. Rao, the Chairman of Peoples Education Society, had claimed this action of the state government to be in violation of his fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1) (C) of the Indian Constitution. It is pertinent to note that while this matter was pending before the High Court, the State Government brought an amendment in section 15(1)(b) of Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1908, as amended by Criminal Law Madras Amendment Act 1950. By the said amendment, the clause (b) in section 15(2) was substituted. The said substituted clause read as follow:

(b) Which has been declared by the State Government by notification in the official Gazette to be unlawful on the ground (to be specified in the notification) that such association-

            (i) Constitutes a danger to the public peace, or

(ii) Has interfered or interferes with the maintenance of public order or has such interference for its object, or

(iii) Has interfered or interferes with the administration of the law, or has such interference for its object.

A three-judge bench of the High court allowed this petition under Article 132 of the Indian Constitution. Aggrieved by this, the State of Madras has brought an appeal before the Supreme Court.

Issues before the Court:

(1) Whether the action of the Tamil Nadu government was in violation of fundamental right guaranteed under section 19(1)(C) of the Constitution?

(2) Whether the amendment brought on by the state government was justifiable?

Ratio of the Court (As authored by Chief Justice Patanjali Sastri)

With regards to the first question, the answer was in negative. It is well settled that the restriction on article 19(1)(c) of the constitution is provided under article 19(4). Under section 15, if the provincial government is of opinion that any association interferes or has for its object interference with the administration of the law or with the maintenance of law and order, or that it constitutes a danger to the public peace, the provincial government may by notification in the official Gazette declare such association to be unlawful.

Under Section 16A, the Government is required to place before an Advisory Board a copy of the notification and of the representations and the Board is to consider the materials placed before it after calling for such further information as it may deem necessary from the State Government or from any office bearer or member of the association concerned or any other person, and submit its report to the government. If it is found by the Board that there is no sufficient cause for the issue of the notification in respect of the association concerned, the Government is required to cancel the notification.

With regards to the second issue heavy reliance has been placed on the case of Dr. NB Khare v/s The State of Delhi. In this case, the court has said that the law providing reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by article 19 may contain substantive provisions as well as procedural provisions. While the reasonableness of the restriction has to be considered with regard to the exercise of the right, it does not necessarily exclude from the consideration of the court the question of reasonableness of the procedural part of the law and four out of five judge bench agreed that if at the prima facie it appears that any organization is creating disturbance to maintain law and order, the government can declare it unlawful without notification. The court also stated that both the substantive and procedural aspects of the impugned restrictive law should be examined from the point of view of the reasonableness; that is to say, the court should consider not only the factors such as the duration and the extent of the restrictions but also the circumstances under which and the manner in which their imposition has been authorized.

Decision Held:

In the present case, on the basis of the information received by the deputy secretary to the government, the secretary had reasons to believe that the society has such interference with its object that it was actively helping the communist party in Madras which was declared as unlawful. Under the previous Section 16 it was expressly conferred on the provincial government power to declare association unlawful if in its opinion there existed certain specified grounds in relation to them, those grounds are now incorporated under section 15(2)(b) as amended and the reference to the “opinion” of the government is dropped.

The Court arrived at the conclusion that in agreement with the learned judges of the High Court, that, having regard to the peculiar features, Section 15(2)(b) of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1908, as amended by the Criminal Law Amendment (Madras) Act, 1950, falls outside the scope of authorised restrictions under clause (4) of Article 19 and is therefore unconstitutional and void. The appeal thus failed.

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