The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that a minister’s hate speech or disparaging remarks against a person or community cannot be vicariously attributed to the government run by the council of ministers headed by the PM or a CM by invoking “collective responsibility” principle and said such remarks does not become actionable as a constitutional tort.
This ruling was given by four of the five judges in the Constitution bench – Justices S Abdul Nazeer, B R Gavai, A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian. The other judge on the bench, Justice B V Nagarathna, differed and said a minister’s statement could be vicariously attributed to the government if it represented the views of the government.
The Justice Ramasubramanian-authored majority verdict also said, “A mere statement made by a minister, inconsistent with the rights of a citizen under Part-III of the Constitution (fundamental rights), may not constitute a violation of constitutional rights and become actionable as a constitutional tort”.
He, however, clarified that “if as a consequence of such a statement (by a minister), any act of omission or commission is done by the officers resulting in harm or loss to a person, then the same may be actionable as a constitutional tort.” A constitutional tort arises when a person/government is found guilty of violating the rights guaranteed to citizens under the Constitution and in such cases (mostly raised in PILs), the constitutional courts, including the SC, have awarded compensation to the aggrieved.
The majority added a caveat: “We are not suggesting for a moment that any public official including a minister can make a statement which is irresponsible or in bad taste or bordering on hate speech and get away with it. We are only on the question of collective responsibility and the vicarious liability of the government.” Justice Ramasubramanian dismissed as fanciful a petitioner’s argument that the PM or CM should take appropriate action against a minister making disparaging statements.