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Indian Case Law

Ramji Lal Modi v. State of U.P, AIR 1957 SC 620

The Court held that the expression “in the interests of” occurring in Article 19(2) had a wide ambit and a law not directly designed to maintain public order would well be within its protection if the activities it penalized had a “tendency” to cause public disorder.

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Virendra v. State of Punjab, AIR 1957 SC 896

The Court held that assessment of on-ground exigencies in the context of public disorder is best made by the executive, not courts. As regards three aspects, the matter should be left entirely to the subjective satisfaction of the State: (1) seriousness of the situation, (2) time of the restrictions, and (3) extent of the restrictions. “To make the exercise of the power justiciable will defeat the very purpose for which the power is given.” 

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Ram Manohar Lohia vs State of Bihar, AIR 1966 SC 740

Hidayatullah, famously described the ideas of law and order, public order, and national security in terms of concentric circles. “[O]ne has to imagine three concentric circles. Law and order represent the largest circle within which is the next circle representing public order and the smallest circle represents the security of State. It is then easy to see that an act may affect law and order but not public order just as an act may affect public order but not the security of the State.”

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Ramesh v. Union of India, (1988) 1 SCC 668

While deciding the validity of restrictions placed upon speech, the Court held, the effect of the speech must be judged from the perspective of “reasonable, strong-minded, firm and courageous men, and not those of weak and vacillating minds, nor of those who scent danger in every hostile point of view.” The protection of the “least capable and the most depraved amongst us” should not determine “what the morally healthy cannot view or read”. The Court applied the test of whether “people are… likely to be obsessed, overwhelmed or carried away by the scenes of violence or fanaticism shown” in deciding whether a motion picture ought to be censored.

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Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 124 and Brij Bhushan v. State of Delhi, 1950 SCR 605

The Constitution Bench held that a law geared towards the maintenance of public order would not ipso facto fall within the ground of “security of the state” under Article 19(2) of the Constitution since the latter is a narrower concept than the former.

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Superintendent, Central Prison v. Ram Manohar Lohia, AIR 1960 SC 633

The Court held that the expression “public order” must be demarcated from the other grounds stated in Article 19(2) and read in an exclusive sense to mean public peace, safety and tranquillity in contradistinction to national upheavals, such as revolution, civil strife and war, affecting the security of the State.

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Madhu Limaye v. Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Monghyr, AIR 1971 SC 2486

The Court restricted the interpretation given to the phrase “public order” in Ram Manohar Lohia’s case and held that the same applied only in the context of preventive detention. In other contexts, the phrase “public order” would mean “a state of law abidingness vis-a-vis the safety of others”, such that even “small local disturbances of the even tempo of life” and “certain acts which disturb public tranquillity or are breaches of the peace” would implicate public order. 

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Jaya Mala vs Home Secretary, Government, AIR 1982 SC 1297

Explaining the concept of public order, the Court reiterated that “every minor infraction of law cannot be upgraded to the height of an activity prejudicial to the maintenance of public order”. 

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S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram, (1989) 2 SCC 574

In order to come within the fold of “public order”, the Court famously held, “the expression should be inseparably locked up with the action contemplated like the equivalent of a ‘spark in a powder keg’”. 

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Ramlila Maidan Incident, In re, (2012) 5 SCC 1

The Court held that any restriction on speech should be founded on the principle of least invasiveness i.e. the restriction should be imposed in a manner and to the extent which is unavoidable in a given situation and it should also consider whether the anticipated event would or would not be intrinsically dangerous to the public interest.

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