Rajgopal v. State of Tamil Nadu, AIR 1995 SC 264: CASE COMMENT

Aditya Gupta

The case is related to right to press vis a vis right to privacy of citizens of India  . This case raises the question on the right of the press to criticize or comment on the acts and conduct of public officials. The statutes referred in the present case are The Constitution of India and The Indian Penal Code 1860. And Judge in this case was Justice B Jeevan Reddy  

The Supreme court of India has ruled that publishers of magazines have their right to publish any autobiography written by a prisoner even without his permission or consent. The prison officials and several police officers was aiming to prevent the publication of the autobiography written by prisoner by forcing him to request the publisher for not publishing the same. The Supreme Court said that there should not be any restrain on the publication of any material and there should be a balance between right to privacy and right to freedom of press.

The facts of the case are that one prisoner Auto Shankar has written  his autobiography in 300 pages in jail. He was accused of and tried for 6 murders and was given death sentence by the session judge. Madras High Court has dismissed his appeal and his mercy petition was pending before the president. With knowledge of all jail authorites and his advocate, Auto Shankar has given autobiography to his wife for publishing the same in the petitioner’s magazine NAKKHEERAN. The autobiography was written in relation between prisoner with several officials like I.A.S, I.P.S officers who accompanied him in many crimes. The presence of such officers are proved by the video recording. Before the publication announcement was made about the same which lead to alertness among all the persons who are linked with Auto Shankar. All those people who are linked with the same, used 3rd degree methods to compelled the prisoner to write a letter to the publishers who are petitioner in the same case and to the Inspector General of Prison,  to not to publish the autobiography since all the facts mentioned in the book were untrue.

The petitioner argued in writ petition that they have a right to publish an autobiography in their magazine as it was desired by a prisoner himself. The petitioner published  the part of the book in three issues but stopped further publication due to the fear of threat which was viewed in the letter. They were having the reason to believe that police officials may attack their printing press, destroy property and seize the issues of magazine, in order to threaten them. There were several occasions when printing press were raided besides damaging of properties. They were fearful that police authorities may again resort to this act because the authority was afraid of it’s connection with condemned prisoner being exposed if the said autobiography gets published. The petitioner stated that the freedom of press guaranteed under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution which according to them, gives right to them to publish the autobiography. It is also said the prisoner also has the right to get his life story published.

The respondent argued that the writ petition filed by the petitioners in the High Court was dismissed by the single judge who stated that the question of whether the autobiography was written by the said prisoner and he authorised the petitioners to publish the autobiography is the disputed question of fact. This was held because of the failure of the counsel for the petitioners to produce the alleged letters written by the prisoner to his counsel, or to the petitioners, authorising them to publish his autobiography. It said that  the accusation on the IAS, IPS officers that they patronized the prisoner in his illegal activities are baseless. The respondent said that because pf such situation coupled with the fact that the petitioner may in the guise of a prisoner wrote the autobiography to defame the image of officers holding the respectable positions in public institutions. The respondents also refused that thety have subjected the prisoner to the third degree methods to force him to write the letter refusing the autorisation  to petitioner to publish his life story.

The issues raised in the present case is whether one person can stop another from writing his autobiography or biography? Does this infringe right to privacy? And Whether the officials of prison can stop the publication of life story of a prisoner on ground that prisoner is confined and thus he is not in a position to adopt legal remedies to protect his rights.

The Judgement was given that, petitioner can publish the autobiography even without the prisoner’s consent. The state and officials can’t deny them to publish the autobiography. The Judgement considered the right to privacy as a part of right to life and liberty under article 21 and it was made available to all regardless of their status.

We can conclude that the case is of much significane even at present. Recently Allahabad High Court ordered the U.P Administration to remove the hoardings and posters publishing the names, photographs and addresses of those persons who were accused of causing violence and destroying properties during anti CAA protest. High Court cited that it was unwarranted interference in privacy. This issue has gone to the Supreme Court, the judges asked the solicitor general about the law which supported the erection of the hoardings, The solicitor general was not able to cite any statutory provision instead it referred the 9 judge bench decision in K.S Puttaswamy v. Union of India case[2]. Supreme court issued the notice against the High Court Judgement citing the R Rajgopal v. State of Tamil Nadu which held that convicted prisoner cannot ask for right to privacy to stop publication of book on his criminal acts. Also  In 2017, the right to privacy was made an exclusive Fundamental Right under Article 21 in K.S Puttaswamy v. Union of India.

[1] AIR 1995 SC 264

[2] (2017) 10 SCC 1