Sakal Papers Ltd. v. Union of India

Case Name : Sakal Papers Ltd. v. Union of India

Author : Srishti

Facts of the case

A private newspaper company published newspapers, filed petitions against the state challenging the newsprint policy of the government which restricted the number of pages a newspaper was entitled to print. The publishing company challenged the constitutional validity of the Newspaper (Price and Page) act,1956, which empowered the Central Government to regulate the price of the newspaper in relation to their pages and the apportionment of space for advertising matter.   

It was also challenged by the publishing company that Daily Newspapers (Price and Page) Order, 1960, passed by the government under the Newspaper Act to put in place such regulation, violates the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution.

Arguments by the state

the counsel from the state argues that the object of the regulation was to prevent unfair competition and the rise of monopolies within the newspaper industry. Due to the economies of scale, established large newspapers were in a position to keep prices at a level which the newer and smaller newspapers were unable to compete, and therefore would be unable to enter the market and if already present, would be forced to exit by selling to one of the established newspapers.

It is also argued that, by freeing up the market, the regulations were designed to promote the freedom of speech and expression. The state tried to justify its actions by calling them to be reasonable restrictions on the business activity of the newspaper agencies in the name of public interest.

However, the Hon’ble Court rejected all these contentions and held that the Newspaper Act and Newspaper Order was unconstitutional.


Newspapers are of utmost value as they not only present facts but also interpret the same through its editorial section. Not only this, but newspapers also propagate new ideas and ideologies. They are supposed to protect the public interest by highlighting the misdeeds and lapses of the government and other governing bodies. That is why it is rightly described as the fourth pillar of democracy.

One of the rights enshrined in the freedom of press is the right to freedom of publication which means dissemination and circulation of news. Freedom of broadcasting is as important as freedom of publication.

Thus, the newspapers should have the autonomy to publish or distribute any number of pages tp any number of people. This point could be relied upon by mentioning the case of ROMESH THAPAR v. STATE OF MADRAS[1]. Here the Hon’ble Court held that freedom of speech and expression includes freedom of propagation of ideas, ensured by freedom of circulation. It was also pointed by the court that the basis of all the democratic organisations is the freedom of speech and expression, which is extremely important for its proper functioning.

Likewise, in the case of BRIJ BHUSHAN v, STATE OF DELHI[2], the Hon’ble Court held that the imposition of pre-censorship on publication, unless justified under Article 19(2) violates Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.

It positively stipulates that a newspaper can only be restrained by the state if it is made with a view to combating and preventing activities that could destabilize or overthrow it.

In the present case, the court struck down an order issued under section 7(1)© of the East Punjab Safety Act, 1950, by which it was directed that the editor and publisher of the newspaper have to submit all news related to communal matters and views about Pakistan before publication for scrutiny. It was also observed by the court that, it would be abhorrent to the right to free speech where any kind of publication on any matter in a newspaper relating to any subject is prohibited and would not fall within the restrictions as imposed by Article 19(2)[5].

In VIRENDRA v. STATE OF PUNJAB[3], Section 3 of the Punjab Special Powers (press) Act 1956 was challenged as section 3(1) of the said Act, authorised the government to prohibit the entry of newspaper, leaflet or any publication of it, which contains matters likely to affect or prejudice maintenance of communal harmony or public order. The simulated effect of this section was that it completely prohibited the entry or circulation of papers published in New Delhi into the whole Punjab. Since, it did not place any limit for the operation of any order under it, neither does it provide for representation against it, section 3 was held to be unreasonable and unconstitutional by the Hon’ble Court.

Also, another point to be considered here is in the case of EXPRESS NEWSPAPER v. UNION OF INDIA[4], where the Hon’ble Court held that the adoption of measures calculated to curtail the circulation of information would be in breach f Article 19(1)(A) of the Constitution, thus restricting the scope of information dissemination or restrict its freedom to choose the means to exercise the right to freedom of speech and encourage it to seek government assistance.

Also, it is not open to the state to curtail the freedom of speech of one for promoting the general welfare of a section of people, as enshrined in Article 19 (2) of the Constitution.


It was held by the Hon’ble Court that the Newspaper Act and Newspaper Order was unconstitutional and the plea of the petitioners was upheld by the court. After properly determining the issue at hand, a undisputed decision of the court held that the publication of newspaper not only pertained to freedom of speech and expression but also conduct a business pursuant to Article 19(1)(g), which essentially implied reasonable restrictions on the newspaper business.

An unexceptionable remark was made by Justice Mudholkar in the judgement that Article 19(1)(a) covered not only the content but the volume of the newspaper. The impact of the regulation contested would be to directly limit the circulation and volume of the newspaper and therefore, this was a clear case of the infringement of the right to freedom of speech and expression and will not be saved by the exception made un der Article 19(2).

 This is one of the landmark judgements put forth freedom of press in the jurisprudence in India, which reinforced that it is violative of Article 19(1)(a) to restrict the number of pages, prices, advertisements, newspaper circulation.

In the case of BENNETT COLEMAN & CO. v. UNION OF INDIA[5], it was reiterated by the majority that the freedom of speech and expression is not only in the volume of the circulation but also in the volume of the news. A remark was made by Justice Ray in his judgement that freedom of the press entitles the newspapers to achieve any volume of circulation and freedom of press is both qualitative and quantitative, thence freedom lies both in circulation and in content.

Therefore, as a result of this, the court struck down the News Print Policy formulated by the government in year 1972- 1973 as being violative of Article 19(1)(a) as the provisions mentioned in the policy did not fall under any of the exceptions mentioned in Article 19(2).


In a democratic working of the society, freedom of speech and expression has always been emphasised as an integral tool. Every citizen of India has the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression as envisages in Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution which also includes freedom of press. 

Therefore, in the above-mentioned cases, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has considered volume of circulation as a vital part of the right envisages under Article 196(1)(a) and freedom of press. For determining whether legislation infringes the fundamental right, the test that is followed is, to examine its effects and consequences and not just its object or subject matter.

Therefore, the court in SAKAL PAPERS LTD. upheld the contentions of the petitioners and held that the Newspaper Act and the Newspaper Order were unconstitutional and that the publication of a newspaper not only pertained to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.




[1] AIR 1950 SC 124

[2] AIR 1950 SC 129

[3] AIR 1957 SC 896

[4] AIR 1958 SC 578

[5] (AIR 1973 SC 106)