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Freedom to express is one of the most important rights that uphold constitutional integrity by giving everyone the right to articulate in the manner one likes. In order to make the democracy alive in India, it is indispensible that people can make their views known to the people at large. It is not only a fundamental right but also a human right that entitles everyone to expression in various ways. As per Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to freedom of opinion and expression has been shielded by many important international treaties of human rights. Freedom to express provides a foundation for the overall development of individual as this right covers within its ambit many other rights like right to life, right to vote, right to remain silent, right to circulation and various other rights. But the rights given to anyone shouldn’t be absolute otherwise it will create an arbitrary ambience that debilitates the constitutional spirit of our democratic nation. A society without any limitation on the rights exercised by people is a lawless society and this is not only bad for the society at large but also it can shatter the growth of the whole civilization.

It is very evident that the basic rights guaranteed by India's Constitution are not absolute. There are certain restrictions which, according to the procedure prescribed by statute, can be imposed by the state government.The expression "reasonable" highlights deliberation and intelligent concern, which is the primary option of a path determined by reason. A number of freedoms are given to the people of India under Article 19. Article 19 provides those basic rights only to Indian residents, and not to non-citizens or aliens. These limitations should be logical and not arbitrary. Article 19(2) was amended by the First (Constitutional Amendment) Act of 1951. In addition to adding three new factors, namely public order, friendly ties with foreign countries and incitement to commit an offense, the amendment also added the word 'reasonable’ before the restriction provided for in Article 19(2). Consequently, in order to limit the freedom of the press, it is not necessary that Article 19(2) has saved that restriction, but it must also be fair. It was an attempt to strike a reasonable balance between the freedoms granted under caluse (a) of Article 19(1) and the social controls authorized under the other provisions of Article 19(1). In clauses (2) to (6), the word 'reasonable' precedes the word restriction, which not only restricted the scope of statutory abridgement, but also made reasonableness a justifiable one.

The meaning of the word 'reasonable' is without debate and is simply used by the courts to exercise the right to examine the laws limiting the freedoms granted under Article 19 of the Constitution itself. The exact extent of such a review must be determined by the courts or, in other words, it can be argued that the Constitution is silent on the question of what is and what is not a reasonable restriction? It has also been left to the courts to determine the reasonability requirement to be followed when scrutinizing the validity of any contested legislation.

The extent of reasonableness and restrictions were highlighted in the case of Dr. N.B. Khare v. State of Delhi. Under the East Punjab Public Safety Act, 1949 there was an order which prohibits the right to move throughout the country. The petitioner challenged this as being a transgression with the Article (19) (d). Most of the reasons relied on by the petitioners were directed towards the procedural element of the law at issue. On behalf of the government, it was argued that only substantive law on that issue could be reviewed by the Court and that, if the limitations on its content were considered to be fair, the petition had to be dismissed without going through the other aspects of the law. In this case the Court rejected the narrow understanding for the expression ‘reasonable’ that limited the power of the Court to interpret only the substantive part of law in this case.

Restrictions are imposed on Article 19 (2) to (6) by the Article 19 (1) (a) to (g). Such restrictions pose a general question as to how are the restrictions which has the close proximity with law restricted by them? There is an argument that delineates that it is the freedom, not the limits, that are fundamental. However, these findings neglect the fact that the rights given are not absolute but are subject to permissible limitations. Thus the freedom to speak does not mean the freedom to say whatever one likes, but freedom subject to the laws of libel, sedition, blasphemy and the like. Once again, the assembly's freedom of assembly is subject to peaceful assembly and not a violation of public peace. The privileges represent the individual's claims and the restrictions represent the claims of other persons and the state or society's claims. Therefore, to say that rights are essential and that the restrictions should not break the balance to be achieved by Article 19. The question arises as to what is the test for determining that whether a restriction is reasonable or not. The test of reasonableness given by Shastri C.J. in Madras v. V.G. Rao has been embraced as the proper test to determine that what restrictions are reasonable in nature.

The reasonability test can be supplemented by observations of Holmes J. in Lochner v. New York. He said that ‘the test to be applied is not whether a judge personally considers particular restrictions unreasonable, but whether a reasonable man would necessarily consider them unreasonable.’ The reasonableness of the restrictions must be assessed not by reference to the ground on which it may be placed, but by reference to a limited fundamental right.

Three essential features of clauses 19 (2) to (6) can be noted:

(1) The restrictions that are imposed by them can be imposed only by or under the authority of a law and no such restriction can be imposed solely by executive action without the support of a law to implement it.

(2) Each constraint or restrictions has to be reasonable.

(3) There purpose alluded in clauses 19(2) to (6) must be connected to restrictions.

There is thus a double test to adjudge the validity of a restriction.

(a) Whether it is reasonable; and

(b) Whether it is for a purpose mentioned in the clause under which the restriction is being imposed


  1. Reasonableness demands proper balancing: The reasonable restriction phrase implies that the limitation imposed on a person to enjoy a right should not be unreasonable or unlimited in nature. A law that infringes an individual's right arbitrarily cannot be considered reasonable. A restriction to be reasonable must have a clear and close relation with the object to be achieved by the legislation, and the limitation must not surpass that object, i.e. the balance between the freedoms granted under Article 19(1)(a) to (g) and the social regulation allowed by Article 19(2) to (6). It is the content of legislation that is to be taken into account when determining its validity, and not its presentation or shape. This introduces the 'proportionality' principle. This suggests that the court would decide whether the limitation imposed by Fundamental Rights law is disproportionate to the situation and is "not the least restrictive of the options." The foreseeable and actual effect of the legislation on the Fundamental Right is to be considered, not the remote effect. A fair restriction must also be in compliance with Article 14 of the Constitution, as it cannot be arbitrary or unreasonable.

  2. Reasonableness, both Substantive and Procedural: The Court may also consider, in order to assess the reasonableness of the restriction, the essence of the restriction and the process required by the Law to impose the restriction on individual freedoms. The verdict of its reasonableness also contains not only substantive, but 'procedural provisions of a statute'. Retrospectivity of a statute can also be a relevant consideration, although a law's retrospectivity does not always render it unfair. A retrospective restriction law is not prima facie unreasonable, but retrospectiveness is a factor to be taken into account in deciding whether or not the restriction is fair.

  3. Reasonableness and objective concept:- It is important to assess the reasonability of a limitation in an objective way. It should be from the general perspective of public and not from the point of view of the people on whom the limits are applied or from abstract considerations. This notion of objectivity led the Supreme Court to alert the judges that the reasonableness of the limitations would be decided by their own personal predilections

  4. Reasonableness of restriction and not of law: The Court is called upon to determine the reasonableness of the limitation and not of the statute that requires the limitation. A law may be fair, but a limitation on the exercise of freedom imposed by that law may not be fair.

  5. Reasonableness and Directive Principles of State Policy: In deciding whether or not a limitation on a fundamental right is fair, the Directive Principles of State Policy are also important. A limitation that typically follows the Directive Principle is considered to be fair. In Kasturi Lal v. State of Jammu & Kashmir, the Supreme Court observed, "Any action taken by the Government to give effect to any one or more of the Directive Principles will normally qualify as fair."

  6. It is the courts, not the Legislature that must ultimately determine whether or not a limitation is fair. In all instances, there is no precise norm or general pattern of reasonableness that can be set. Each case must be judged for its own sake. The norm differs with the nature of the infringed right, the underlying intent of the limitations imposed, the degree and urgency of the evil to be remedied, the disproportionate nature of the infringed right, the prevalent situation of the period. For any judicial verdict, these considerations must be taken into account.


A question arises that what should be the test to decide that whether a law violated a fundamental right or the Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. Legislation or government policy, although the subject matter may be different, may have a direct impact on a constitutional right. The object of the legislation or executive action is meaningless if, while its subject-matter might be different, it has violated a constitutional right. No statute or activity will specifically claim that it violates a guaranteed right. That is why fundamental rights must be secured by the courts by taking into account the nature and provisions of the act and its effect on the fundamental right. In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, and in many other cases, the 'effect' test has been applied by the Supreme Court. In the case of R.C. Cooper v. Union of India , it was observed by the Supreme Court that it is the direct operation of act on the rights which decides the real test. In the case of A.K. Gopalan v. Union of India, the subject matter test was used to uphold the validity of preventive detention act against a challenge under Article 19 (1)(a). The affect test gives fundamental rights greater protection. It can, however, be noted that it was held in Bennett Coleman v. Union of India that the effect test is a 'direct' effect on a determinative fundamental right. There may be a difference of judicial opinion as to whether the 'effect' of a clause on a constitutional right is implicit or explicit.


The restrictions which are given under Article 19 must strike a balance between the social controls mentioned under Clause 6 of Article 19 and all the freedom guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (g). The nature of the restriction must not be unreasonable and excessive which is more than what is needed for the public. In the case of Chintamanrao v. State of Madhya Pradesh, the constitutionality of an act called Madhya Pradesh Act was challenged which gave the government the power to forbid people who were settled in a particular area from manufacturing the bidis. The Court declared this act void as it was arbitrary to the object of Article 19. The legislation not only forces people who were doing agricultural work from not doing this work but it also prohibited those people who were not engaged in agricultural practices from engaging in the activity of bidi making and it also affects their livelihood to a large extent.

In the case of Dwarka Prasad Laxmi Narain v. State of Uttar Pradesh, the Section 4(3) of the Uttar Pradesh Coal Control Order, 1953 was declared ultravires and void. This was because it provided a single individual unrestricted will to cancel, withdraw and grant the licenses in the way, the person opt for. There was no order which guarantees the good execution of the power of check on the unfairness that could be caused from wrong implementation of the Act.


Any restraint that protects good order, in the sense of public harmony or protection, is in the interest of the general public but the limitations need to be reasonable. The constraints which position the guaranteed rights within the social controls allowed by clauses (2) to (6) are reasonable. The phrase 'in the interest of' used in Article 19(2) provides sufficient scope to the permissible legislation which can be passed in order to place reasonable restrictions on the rights provided by Article 19(1)(a) under one of the heads referred to in Article 19(2). The right to freedom of speech and expression shall not be limited to any basis other than that given for in Article 19(2). All law is established with the intention of reaching an aim. The law does not unilaterally invade the privileges of a person in obtaining such objective. The regulation should look at the defined object to be done by the legislation and should create a close relation with the purpose of that legislation. If the immediate proximate consequence of the statute is that it abridges the constitutional rights of people, and if such abridgement is prohibited by the restriction, the restriction is fair. On the other hand, if the limitation goes too far to relate itself to the intent of the statute, then such a limitation is irrational.

Another significant test is that if a said clause or right shows a strong sign of danger or even shows a danger of apprehension, then it is fair to limit such a statute. It is necessary that a restriction to be a reasonable one must fulfill substantive as well as procedural aspects of reasonableness. A restriction would be substantially reasonable if it put the curbs with the sole purpose of achieving the objects included under Article 19(2). Further to stand the test of reasonableness the law must define expressly or by necessary implication the powers of an authority. The procedural reasonableness requires that any opportunity provided to the party concerned must be real and effective. The concept of equality and the principle of natural justice are the essential elements of procedural reasonableness. It means that action of the authority must be based on equal treatment and equal opportunity to the parties unless there is a justification for denying the same.


Books referred

  • Shukla, V.N., Constitution of India, (Edited by M.P. Singh), Eastern Book Company, (13th ed.), 2019

  • Jain, M.P., Indian Constitutional Law, Universal Law Publishing, Lexis Nexis (6th ed. reprint), 2011.

  • Saharay, H.K., The Constitution of India: An Analytical Approach, Eastern Law House, (3rd ed.), 2002.

  • Bakshi, P.M., The Constitution of India, Universal Law Publishing Co. Delhi, (10th ed.), 2010

  • Dhamija Ashok, Constitution, Wadhwa Nagpur, (1st ed.), 2007.

  • Basu, D.D., Commentary on the Constitution of India, Vol. 2, 8th Ed., Wadhwa and Co. Law Publishers, New Delhi, 2007


  1. UN General Assembly. (1948), "Universal declaration of human rights" (Article 19), Paris, Retrieved from

  2. Gautam Bhatia, On reasonable restrictions and first amendment, Indian Constitutional Law and Philosophy,(September 21, 2020, 1:00 PM),

  3. Fayazuddin Ahmad, Restrictions on freedom of expression, (September 23, 2020, 19:00 PM),

  4. Madhavi Goria Divan, Safeguarding free speech from threats is important, Hindustan Times, (September 28, 2020, 17:00 PM),

  5. Robert Corn Revere, I will defend to the death the right to say it, American Bar Organization,(September 28, 2020, 18:00 PM),

  6. Anisha Gupta, Freedom of Speech and expression Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution, (September 27, 2020, 14:00 PM),

  7. V Karthyaeni, Test of Reasonableness under Article 19, (September 7, 2020, 18:00 PM),

  8. Ebha Khan, Right to form association and reasonable restrictions on it, Temp Paper Warehouse, (September 21, 2020, 5:00 PM),

Name- Monalisha

Year- 3rd Year

College- Chanakya National Law University

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