Indian Express Newspaper v. Union of India

In the Supreme Court of India
Citation(1985) 2 S.C.R. 287
Year of the Case1985
RespondentUnion of India
Act InvolvedCustoms Act, Constitution of India
Important SectionArticle 19(2), section 25 of the custom act, Article 19(1)(a) and (g), article 13(3) and article 14


The Supreme Court of India guided the central government to reconsider its tax assessment strategy by assessing whether it established an inordinate weight on papers. The solicitors, including news organizations and workers, contended that an import obligation prompted an expanded expense of papers and a drop available for use, consequently antagonistically influencing the right to speak freely of discourse and articulation. The Court contemplated that an administration can impose charges on the distribution of papers, anyway inside sensible cut-off points to not endless supply of articulation. However, the Court saw that neither the candidates nor respondents demonstrated the inordinate idea of taxation rates, along these lines calling upon the administration to rethink its tax collection strategy with respect to the papers.


In the case of Express Newspaper v. Union of India, a statutory wage board had established a minimum wage that newspapers must pay to all the working journalists compulsorily. Thus, the regulations of the wage board violated Article 19(1)(a).

Background of The Case

These petitions on behalf of certain newspaper establishments challenged the constitutional validity of the Working journalists (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955, and the legality of the decision of the Wage Board, constituted thereunder, purporting to act under s. 9 of the Act. The impugned Act, which was passed in order to implement the recommendations of the Press Commission and had for its object the regulation of the conditions of service of working journalists and other persons employed in newspaper establishments, provided, inter alia, for the payment of gratuity to a working journalist who had been in continuous service, whether before or after the commencement of the Act, for not less than three years, even when he voluntarily resigned from service, regulated hours of work and leave, provided for the payment of retrenchment compensation with retrospective effect in certain cases and by s. 9(1) laid down the principles that the Wage Board was to follow in fixing the rates of wages of working journalists. Under those principles the Wage Board was to have regard to the cost of living, the prevalent rates of wages for comparable employments, the circumstances relating to the newspaper industry in different regions of the country and to any other circumstances which it might consider relevant.

The petitioners contended on various grounds that the provisions of the impugned Act violated their fundamental rights under Arts. 19(1)(a), 19(1)(g), 14 and 32 Of the Constitution and that the decision of the Wage Board fixing the rates and scales of wages, which was arrived at without any consideration whatsoever as to the capacity of the newspaper industry to pay the same, imposed too heavy a financial burden on the industry and spelled its total ruin, was vitiated by a wrong approach and non-application of the proper criteria and transgressed the principles of natural justice and was, therefore, illegal and void:

Held, that the constitutional validity of the impugned Act, with the sole exception of s. 5(1)(a)(iii) of the Act which infringed Art. 19(1)(g) of the Constitution, was beyond question and as that section, severable as it was from the rest of the Act, must alone be declared ultra vires. Section 9(1) of the Act, properly construed, made it income-bent on the Wage Board to take into consideration the capacity of the newspaper industry to pay the rates and scales of wages recommended by it and as there was nothing to indicate that it bad done so, its decision was void and inoperative.


The Petitioners, in this case were companies, employees and the shareholders thereof just as trusts occupied with the distribution of papers. They challenged the import obligation on newsprint under the Custom Tariff Act 1975 and the auxiliary duty under the Finance Act 1981, as altered by the notices under the Custom Act 1962 with impact from March 1, 1981. Preceding this notice, newsprint had delighted in exemption from customs duty.

The petitioners fought that the burden of this duty adversely affect the cost and circulation and, in this manner, crippling effect on freedom of expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution and the freedom of practice any trade and occupation under Article 19(1)(g). they further justified that no public interest supported such an obstruction with these fundamental rights in light of the fact that the foreign exchange position of India was aggregable at that point. At last, they submitted that the order of newspaper into small, medium, and large newspapers disregarded the rule of non-arbitrariness under Article 14 of the Constitution (Equality before law).

The government contended that the burden of cost borne by the newspapers and the position of foreign exchange reserves were unessential considerations. The public interest associated with tax collection was to expand the revenue of the government, a burden that is borne by all the residents of the nation. It stated that the exclusion granted to newsprint was not justified and, therefore, could be expelled by the government.


  1. Whether in the name of public interest, reasonable interference is justified.
  2. Whether Article 14, classification of newspaper for imposing customs duty is discriminatory.
  3. Whether government should be more cautious about the people’s right to know the imposition of the tax.
  4. Whether a sole guide help in understanding the principles of freedom of speech and expression.
  5. Is freedom of press restrictions is included under article 19(2)
  6. Tax on knowledge, persons right to know the imposition of the tax government to be more cautious.

Related Provision

The provision involved in this particular case were as follows:

  • Article 19(2) states that “Nothing in sub clause (a) of clause ( 1 ) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence”
  • Article 19(1)(a) states that “freedom of speech and expression”
  • Article 19(1) (g) states that “practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business”
  • article 13(3) states that “In this article, unless the context otherwise requires law includes any Ordinance, order, bye law, rule, regulation, notification, custom or usages having in the territory of India the force of law; laws in force includes laws passed or made by Legislature or other competent authority in the territory of India before the commencement of this Constitution and not previously repealed, notwithstanding that any such law or any part thereof may not be then in operation either at all or in particular areas”
  •  article 14 states that “Equality before law The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth”
  • section 25 of the custom act talks about the power to grant exemption from their duty.

Related Case Laws

The cases cited and relied by both the parties in this case were as follows:

  • Sakal Papers Pvt. Ltd.& Ors v. The Union of India
  • Attorney General v. rimes Newspapers
  • A.K.  Gopalan v. The State of Madras
  • Ch. Tika Ramjidas v. State of U. P.
  • The State of Madras v. V. G. Row
  • The State of West Bengal v. Subodh Gopal Bose
  • Virendra v. State of Punjab
  • Dr.  N. B. Khare v. State of Delhi
  • Ourbachan v. State of Punjab


The SC of India observed that the government was in reality enabled to exact charges influencing the distribution of newspapers in light of the fact that such distribution could be characterized as an industry and must be dependent upon the same levies as other industries. It also permitted that the characterization into small, medium, and large based on financial distribution had a normal nexus with the goal of tax assessment and could not be viewed as arbitrary. In any case, where the power of tax collection infringes upon the freedom of expression under Article 19(1)(a), the limitation on the freedom must be within reasonable limits.

Reasonable limits have been illustrated in the Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution, wherein “Public Interest” is a ground that might be taken to restrict freedom of expression. The court inferred that two fundamental principles must be borne in mind: firstly, newspapers appreciate the advantage of taxpayer government services like every single other industry and should contribute a sensible portion of government income through tax collection; and secondly, the weight of taxation must not be extreme.

Yet, the court observed that neither the respondents nor petitioners demonstrated the excessive nature of tax burdens, in this way calling upon the government to rethink its taxation policy regarding the newspaper.

Concepts Highlighted

This case takes note of that the media’s job as the fourth home is important to majority rule government and, along these lines, must be shielded from official obstruction. It noticed that an unreasonable weight of tax collection could not be put on the media. This standard extends the opportunity of the press to measurements past direct guideline of substance to financial control. The weight of tax collection on papers must be with the end goal that they can be plausibly released. This standard shield the press from demands that would injure the business and controls the capacity of the legislature to influence flexibly of papers inside the nation. It is concluded that the two principles must be put in mind that:

  1. Newspaper appreciate the advantage of taxpayer government services like every single other industry and should contribute a sensible portion of govt. income through tax collection.
  2. The burden of taxation must not be extreme.

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