Bennett Coleman & Co. & Ors vs Union Of India & Ors 1973 AIR 106

Author: Aditya Shaw, Law Student at Heritage Law College.

Edited By: Rituparna Panda, Law Student at Birla Global University.


The case Bennett Coleman & Co. Challenged the constitutionality of the Newspaper Control Policy. This policy imposed tight restrictions on importing and using newsprint (newsprint is described as white printing paper), significantly impacting the media industry. The applicant argued that these restrictions imposed by the Newspaper Policy infringe the right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed in Article 19(1)(a) and the right to equality under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. According to the Petitioners, the page limits and newsprint quotas imposed by the policy unduly restricted the freedom of publication for larger newspapers. The Supreme Court examined the claims of the petitioner and determined that the policy indeed violated the petitioner’s constitutional rights. The Court found that the policy’s provisions discriminated against the larger publications and reduced the freedom of speech and expression, thus violating Articles 19(1)(a) and 14.

Keywords: Freedom of Speech, Newsprint Policy, Article 19(1)(a), Article 14, Emergency Provisions


      i)          Judgement Cause Title / Case Name

Bennett Colemen & Co. & Ors vs Union of India & Ors

    ii)          Case Number

Original Jurisdiction Writ Petitions Nos. 334 of 1971, 175,186 and 264 of 1972

   iii)          Judgement Date

30th of October 1972

   iv)          Court

The Supreme Court of India

     v)          Quorum / Constitution of Bench

S.M. Sikri, A.N. Ray, P. Jaganmohan Reddy, Kuttyil Kurien Mathew, M. Hameedullah Beg

   vi)          Author / Name of Judges

S.M. Sikri

 vii)          Citation

1973 AIR 106, 1973 SCR (2) 757, AIR SC 106, 1972 2 SCC 788, 1973 (1) SCJ 177, 1973 2 SCR 757

viii)          Legal Provisions Involved

Articles 14, 19(1)(a), 32, 358 of the Constitution of India, Imports and Exports Control Act 1947, Essential Commodities Act 1955, Newsprint Control Order 1962


The Indian government’s new regulations and control over the distribution and use of newsprint which is a raw material for newspaper industries was the key background to the Bennett Coleman & Co. Vs Union of India lawsuit. Through a number of statutory orders and policy measures by the government, the newsprint was strictly regulated because it was deemed an essential commodity. Newsprint import, and distribution which were used by newspaper publishers and other users were restricted by the Indian Government in 1972 when it announced the Newsprint Policy for 1972- 1973. This policy was implemented in the larger framework of the Emergency declared in June 1971 by Indra Gandhi, who was the Prime Minister at the time. Article 358 (Suspension of provisions of article 19 during emergencies)[1] of the Constitution, which permitted the temporary suspension of some fundamental rights gave the government broad authority to act during the Emergency.

The petitioner, Bennett Coleman & Co. filed writ petition before the Supreme Court against this policy. The Petitioner claims that the Newsprint Policy and some sections of the Newsprint Control Order 1962 were infringed upon their fundamental rights guaranteed in Article 19(1)(a) (to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business)[2]and Article 14 (Equality before law)[3] of the Constitution, which the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to equality.

The validity of the government’s newsprint regulation laws was a topic of discussion for the Supreme Court. The majority ruling, led by Justice Ray concluded that the Newsprint Policy’s quantitative controls from 1972- 1973 amounted to inappropriate limitations on the media’s basic right to free speech. The court determined that direct or indirect intervention through policies like page limit was unjustified as they restrict the freedom of the press, even though it recognized the necessity of addressing the shortage of newsprint. On the other hand, Justice Mathew contended in his dissenting opinion that the policy did not directly regulate the content of the press but rather was required to guarantee the effective use of scarce resources.


The case started with Bennett Coleman & Co. Arguing against the constitutionality of the Newsprint Control Policy for the years 1971- 1972 and 1972- 1973 through a writ petition filed under Article 32 (Remedies for enforcement of rights conferred by this Part)[4] of the Indian Constitution. Later the challenge against the 1972- 1973 policy was added to the original petition. The petitioner claimed that by limiting the distribution and page count of their newspapers, the policy violated their fundamental rights under Articles 14 and 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

The Indian government introduced the Newsprint Control Policy to control newsprint distribution as the material of the newspaper which is newsprint was becoming scarce. According to the policy, a maximum page count for newspapers was established and newsprint quotas were distributed based on historical circulation data. Prior to 1972- 1973, newsprint was allotted based on 1961- 1962 circulation and page counts. The larger newspapers contended that the policy’s 10-page cap was insufficient and would affect their freedom of the press.

The government asserted that the newsprint policy was covered by Article 358 of the Constitution, which suspends the provision of Article 19 (Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, etc)[5] in times of emergency and thus make the petition nonmaintainable during the emergency declared in 1971. Despite the emergency, the petitioner argued that the newsprint policy could still be challenged because it was a continuation of earlier policies. The Supreme Court heard arguments from both parties, setting the way for a landmark decision on the relationship between constitutional rights and government policy.


i) Whether the petitioner companies were able to use Article 19(1)(a) and 14 of the Constitution to defend their fundamental rights.

ii) Whether the Newsprint Policy amounted to “newsprint control” or “newspaper control”.

iii) Whether the petitioners’ attempt to challenge the Newsprint Policy on the grounds of its violation of fundamental rights was prohibited by the proclamation of emergency under Article 358.

iv) Whether the terms of the Import Control Order, 1955 applied to the 1972- 1973 Newsprint policy.

v) Whether the Newsprint Control Order, 1962’s clauses 3 and 3A violated the Constitution’s Articles 19(1)(a) and 14.


i) The counsels for the petitioner argued that their fundamental rights under Article 19(1)(a) (freedom of speech and expression) and Article 14 (right to equality) were infringed by the Newsprint Control Policy of 1972- 1973. The court made several observations in the Express Newspaper case to support the petitioner companies’ right to invoke fundamental rights in aid of freedom of speech and expression enshrined in the freedom of the press. The petitioner highlighted that relief was given to editors and shareholders of newspaper companies in cases like Sakal Papers (P) Ltd. & Ors vs The Union of India[6] and Express Newspapers (Private) Ltd. & Anr vs Union of India[7]. The court in Express Newspaper (1959) held that any legislation that directly affects press freedom would be overturned if it violates Article 19(1)(a). The court recognized that press freedom is a vital part of freedom of speech. Similar to this case Sakal Papers (1962) overturned the Daily Newspapers (Price and Page) Order, 1960 and Newspaper (Price and Page) Act 1956, for violating Article 19(1)(a), pointing out how laws directly affect free speech and expression.

ii) The counsels of the petitioner also argued that the Newsprint Policy was not merely about regulating the supply of newsprint due to scarcity but effectively amounted to controlling the content and growth of newspapers. They criticized aspects of the policy, such as Remak VII(c) and Remark VIII, which allowed for a 20% increase in pages but within a cap of 10 pages. They argued that by favoring smaller publications and prohibiting larger ones from expanding their circulation, this policy discriminated against larger publications thus controlling the content of the newspaper.

iii) Counsels for the petitioner argued that Article 358 is inapplicable as it has no application to the law or executive action taken prior to the emergency. The petitioner claimed that the Newsprint Policy was an extension of the previous newsprint policy which had originated earlier and continued from year to year for a decade till the proclamation of emergency in 1971. The restrictions on newsprint policy were imposed before the proclamation of emergency.

iv) The counsels for the petitioners submit that the terms of the Import Control Order 1955, should not apply to the 1972- 1973 Newsprint Policy as the latter was implemented under different situations and with different objectives. They emphasized that the new policy imposed more stringent restrictions that specifically targeted big newspapers, thus creating an unequal and discriminatory environment in the press industry, violating Articles 14 and 19(1)(a).

v) The counsels for the petitioner contended that clauses 3 and 3A of the Newsprint Control Order 1962, infringed upon their constitutional rights under Articles 19(1)(a) and 14. The amount of newsprint that could be imported and distributed to newspaper publishers was limited by these clauses, which had an immediate impact on the freedom and reach of newspapers in publishing. They maintained that these limitations created an unfair and discriminatory environment, were not justified on the basis of reasonableness, and disproportionately affected larger newspapers. Citing precedents from Sakal Papers and Express Newspaper, they backed their claims with the emphasis that any law or policy that directly restricts the right to free speech or creates unequal conditions for citizens and entities should be declared unconstitutional.


i) The counsel for the respondent argued that the petitioner companies could not invoke Articles 19(1)(a) and 14 to defend their fundamental rights because companies are separate legal entities, do not enjoy the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) as these rights are intended for individuals, not corporations. The company and its shareholders though connected are different entities legally and constitutionally. The Newsprint Policy regulates the import and usage of newsprint, which falls under reasonable restrictions in the interest of the general public.

ii) The counsels for the respondent argued that the primary objective of the Newsprint Policy was to regulate the import and distribution of newsprint, a scarce resource, to ensure equitable distribution among various newspaper companies based on their needs and circulation. The main focus of the policy was on the physical aspect of newsprint allocation and usage, there was no motive of interference with the editorial content or freedom of expression of the newspapers.

iii) The counsel for the respondent also argued that the petitioner’s challenge is indeed barred by the proclamation of emergency under Article 358 as during the emergency Article 358 suspends the rights conferred by Article 19. Thus, any law or executive action taken during this period cannot be challenged on the grounds that it violates Article 19. Although the petitioners claim that the 1972- 1973 Newspaper Policy is a continuation of the previous policies, the enforcement and application during the emergency period fall within the ambit of Article 358, making the challenge untenable. The response have cited a precedent District Collector of Hyderabad vs M/s Ibrahim & Co[8], in this case, the court upheld that executive actions taken during an emergency are immune from challenges based on Article 19.

iv) The counsel for the respondent claims that the 1972- 1973 Newsprint Policy was directly governed by the provisions of the Import Control Order 1955. They highlighted that the Newsprint Policy was a continuation and essential component of the larger regulatory framework set by earlier orders, such as the 1955 Import Control Order. It was not intended to be an independent directive.

v) The counsels for the respondent argued that Articles 19(1)(a) and 14 of the Constitution were not violated by clauses 3 and 3A of the Newsprint Control Order 1962. These clauses were necessary to prevent monopolistic practices in the newspaper industry and to guarantee the fair distribution of newsprint, a limited resource. The respondent contended that these limitations regulated the limited newsprint in a way that benefited both the public and the press.



i) The Court ruled that the petitioner companies could use Articles 19(1)(a) and 14 of the Constitution because they were legal entities. It confirmed that corporations had the right to free speech and expression because it directly affects press freedom, which is crucial for a democratic country. Thus, this right was violated by the newsprint policy’s restriction which made it more difficult for newspapers to circulate and publish their opinion freely and without undue interference from the government.

ii) The Court decided that the petitioners were able to challenge the Newsprint Polic despite the proclamation of emergency under Article 358. The Court pointed out that while Article 358 suspends the application of Article 19 in an emergency, Article 14 fundamental right to object to executive action on the grounds of discrimination is unaffected. Therefore, the petitioner may still challenge the policy’s constitutionality.

iii) After a thorough analysis, the Court concluded that the 1972- 1973 Newsprint Policy was covered by the provisions of the Import Control Order 1955. However, the Court found that the application of these provisions must be in conformity with constitutional mandates, including the protection of fundamental rights.

iv) The Court held that Articles 19(1)(a) and 14 of the Constitution were violated by clauses 3 and 3A of the Newsprint Control Order 1962, which limited the distribution and allocation of newsprint. It was determined that these provisions were discriminatory in their application that disproportionately harmed press freedom. They were therefore declared unconstitutional and overturned.


The Bennett Coleman case marked a significant turning point in the legal analysis of press freedom and the government’s authority to regulate essential commodities. While the Court upheld the validity of the Newsprint Policy, it struck down specific provisions that were unconstitutional and violated freedom of speech and expression. Even during times of national emergency, the courts must carefully balance protecting civil liberties with the state’s regulatory powers. The case had a long-lasting effect on the evolution of Indian media law and the boundaries of governmental control over the media.


Important Cases Referred

  • Sakal Papers (P) Ltd. V. Union of India, 1962 AIR 305
  • Express Newspaper (P) Ltd. V. Union of India, 1959 AIR 578

Important Statutes Referred

  • Constitution of India, 1950
  • Imports and Exports Control Act, 1947
  • Essential Commodities Act, 1955
  • Newsprint Control Order, 1962

[1] Article 358, Constitution of India (1950).

[2] Article 19(1)(a), Constitution of India (1950).

[3] Article 14, Constitution of India (1950).

[4] Article 32, Constitution of India (1950).

[5] Article 19, Constitution of India (1950).

[6] Sakal Papers (P) Ltd. & Ors vs The Union of India AIR 1962 SC 305

[7] Express Newspapers (Private) Ltd. & Anr vs Union of India AIR 1986 SC 872

[8] District Collector of Hyderabad vs M/s Ibrahim & Co AIR 1970 SC 1275