Pandit M. S. M. Sharma v/s Shri Sri Krishna Sinha
Pandit M. S. M. Sharma V. Shri Sri Krishna Sinha and Others -
Date of Judgment:
12th December, 1958
(AIR 1959 SC 395)
Introduction Of Parties
- Das, Sudhi Ranjan (CJI)
- Bhagwati, Natwarlal H.
- Sinha, Bhuveshwar P.
- Subbarao, K.
- Wanchoo, K.N.
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
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
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
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."
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:
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.
Contentions of The Parties
- 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?
- 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?
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
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:
- 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.
- Article 194(3) infringes the Fundamental Right given under Article
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 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.
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.
- M.S.M. Sharma V. Krishna Singh, available at https://indiankanoon.org/doc/944601/ (Last
visited on April 12th, 2020).
- Gunupati Keshavram Reddy V. Nafisul Hasan (AIR 1954 SC 636), available
at https://indiankanoon.org/doc/528695/ (Last visited on April 13th, 2020).