By:- Sweety Kumari
In the Supreme Court of India
|NAME OF THE CASE
|Tata Press Limited. v. Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited.
|1995 AIR 2438, 1995 SCC (5) 139
|DATE OF THE CASE
|August 3, 1995
|Tata Press Ltd.
|Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. & Ors.
|Kuldip Singh, B.L. Hansaria S.B. Majumdar,
|Constitution of India
|Constitution of India —- Article 19(1)(A), Article 19(2)
In the present case an appeal was filed in the Supreme Court by Tata Press Limited .Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited and the Union of India filed a civil suit against the Tata Press Limited contending that they solely has the right to print and publish the list of telephone subscribers under the Indian Telegraph Act and thus Tata Press Limited has no such right to print and publish the same and wanted permanent restrain on publication of “yellow pages” by Tata Press Limited. The City Civil court had dismissed the suit and the High Court had allowed the appeal. The appeal was dismissed by the Division Bench of the High Court of Bombay also and so Tata Press Limited went to the Supreme Court . The Court held the publication by Tata Press Ltd. and MTNL application was rejected by the Court.
Article 19 is one of the most important rights provided to the citizens by the Constitution of India . It deals with the concept of personal liberty, a basic right in its one form or the other. Article 19 guarantees to the citizens with six fundamental rights like freedom of speech and expression, freedom of assembly, freedom to form Associations or Unions or Co-operative Societies, freedom of movement, freedom to reside and to settle and freedom of profession, occupation, trade or business. In the case of Tata Press Ltd. v Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited the right to freedom of speech and expression is extensively taken into account .
Earlier advertisement was regarded only as a way to draw the attention of the customers so that they are persuaded to buy certain products and services . It only had a role to play in business and trade and was not regarded as a form of speech and expression. But today its role has significantly changed .It has become a way to spread information regarding the product that is aimed to be advertised. Public become aware and benefitted through the information that the advertisements carry with themselves. Through advertisements the people are also made aware of their economic needs and sometimes social needs too.
In the present case the Court held that commercial advertisement also comes under the ambit of freedom of speech and expression Article 19(1)(a) which can be restricted by Article 19(2) .
FACTS OF THE CASE
Mahanagar Telephone Nigam is a government company which is under the control of Government of India. It had a license under the Indian Telegraph Act to establish, maintain and control the telecommunication service within the territorial jurisdiction of the Union Territory of Delhi and the Municipal Corporations of Bombay, New Bombay and Thane. MTNL used to publish and distribute the telephone directory consisting of white pages .It did the task itself till the year 1987. From the year 1987 it hired contractors to publish the directory. It allowed the contractors to earn revenue for themselves by the way of advertisements and publish the advertisements as “yellow pages” . Thus, the telephone directory published by MTNL contained “white pages” which had the list of telephone subscribers and “yellow pages” which had advertisements obtained by the contractors to meet the expenditures and to earn revenue.
“Tata Press Yellow Pages” were published and distributed by Tata Press Ltd which contained paid advertisements procured from businessmen, professionals and traders.
So, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited and the Union of India filed a civil suit against the Tata Press Limited contending that they solely has the right to print and publish the list of telephone subscribers under the Indian Telegraph Act and thus Tata Press Limited has no such right to print and publish the same.
ISSUE RAISED BEFORE THE COURT
- Whether commercial advertising comes within the scope of “Freedom of speech and expression” under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution?
- Whether Tata Press Ltd. can be permanently injuncted from printing and publishing the “yellow pages”?
ARGUMENTS FROM THE APPELANT SIDE
- Learned counsel for the appellant argued that Tata Press Ltd. has all the rights to publish and circulate the “yellow pages”.
- He argued that the “yellow pages” is not a directory but is a consumer guide as herein the advertisements are paid and procured from businessmen, traders and professional.
- He also raised the contention that “Commercial Advertisement” comes within the scope of Article 19(1)(a) Freedom of Speech and Expression .
ARGUMENTS FROM THE RESPONDENT SIDE
- Learned counsel for the respondent argued that MTNL is a licensee under the Indian Telegraph Act and had a sole right to print, publish and distribute the subscriber list. Without the permission from MTNL Tata cannot print, publish and distribute the list of subscribers
- He also argued that commercial advertising does not come beneath the scope of Freedom of speech and expression .
Constitution of India
Article 19(1)(A) :-
(1) All citizens shall have the right —-
(a) to freedom of speech and expression
(2) 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.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court held that advertisement which comes under commercial speech forms a part of the freedom of speech and expression which is given under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India and it is subject to the reasonable restrictions mentioned in clause (2) of Article 19. Article 19(2) mentions that in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of the nation, its security, its friendly relations with other states, for maintaining public order, decency, morality, defamation, incitement of offence Article 19 of the citizens can be restrained.
The Government is empowered to regulate and check the commercial advertisements that are deceptive, unfair, untruthful and misleading so that advertisements which have the power to spread information and awareness doesn’t disturb public order and peace.
The Apex Court held that the Government of India and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited does not have the right to constrain the Tata Press Limited from publishing and distributing “Yellow Pages”. It held that through the advertisements and with that the information contained in it the public is getting benefitted.
The Court stated that since our country has a democratic economy so there should be compulsorily free flow of commercial information so that our citizens can make an informed and rational decisions while choosing any product or services. But to take such informed and economical decisions the public should be educated by the information that is being disseminated through the advertisements. Also seeing the changes in the economy, the public at large now has the right to receive the “Commercial Speech”. Without there being freedom of “Commercial Speech” the economic system that suitably works in a democracy will collapse and become paralysed.
The Court also held that through Article 19(1)(a) the Indian Constitution does not only guarantees its citizens the freedom of speech and expression but also gives them the right to listen, read and receive the said speech. The protection of Article 19(1)(a) cannot be denied to all the commercial advertisements merely on the basis that it has been issued by the businessmen. This view was also made in Hamdard Dawakhana v. Union of India and the Indian Express Newspaper v. Union of India Case. The right that is guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) cannot be made forbidden for anybody only because of the fact that by doing so there would be monopoly created in the favour of the Government. This right can only be restricted on the basis of the grounds that are given under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India.
Through this case the court ruled out that Tata Press Ltd has the right to publish the “yellow pages”. Through the judgement the most important thing stated by the court was that the “commercial speech” or we can say that advertisements are also a part of freedom of speech and expression, a fundamental right guaranteed to the citizens by our constitution. Therefore, Tata Press Ltd, a private company also has a right to bring yellow pages which contains advertisements.
In my opinion the judgment stated the scope of Article 19(1)(a) with respect to commercial speech. Now right to advertisements are equal to fundamental rights and this can only be restricted on the grounds that are mentioned in Article 19(2) and government companies can’t restrict private players in the market field unless the commercial speech comes within the grounds mentioned in Article 19(2).
 The Constitution of India, 1950, Article 19(1)(a)
 The Constitution of India, 1950, Article 19(2)
 AIR 1960 SC 554
 1986 AIR 515, 1985 SCR (2) 287