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SC seeks AG's help on freedom of speech of public functionary

The Supreme Court on Monday asked the attorney general of India to assist it on legal issues including whether a minister or a public functionary could claim freedom of speech while airing views in matters of official business of the State such as criminal investigation.
A bench of justices Dipak Misra and A M Khanwilkar sought the assistance of Attorney General K K Venugopal, the topmost law officer of the central government, on questions framed by it and amicus curiae F S Nariman and Harish Salve, assisting the court, on the issue related to contours of the Freedom of Speech and Expression of public functionaries.
Venugopal, at the outset, referred to the statement of former Uttar Pradesh minister Azam Khan terming the Bulandshahr gangrape incident as an outcome of a political controversy.
He said it was not acceptable from a public functionary.
Khan had on December 15 last year tendered an "unconditional apology" for the remark, which the apex court had accepted. Senior advocate Harish Salve said that such persons should be banned from public life as statements line the one by Khan, had become an "endemic" in India.
Nariman said that the attorney general could be asked to "prepare a civil rights act" to protect individuals from violation of the fundamental rights by other private individuals and entities other than the State.
"In India, our Constitution guarantees protection of the fundamental rights against the State and what if the private parties violates the these rights and there is no remedy," he said.
"This is a much wide question," Nariman said, adding that in the US, the fundamental rights of individuals were protected even if they were violated by private individuals.
The court, which had earlier framed some questions on the rights and limitations of the freedom of speech of public functionary, fixed the mater for hearing on October 5 and asked Venugopal to peruse the issues and revert back.
Earlier, the apex court had proposed to refer to a Constitution bench the issue whether a minister could claim refuge under the right to free speech while expressing views in matters of official business.
The need for authoritative pronouncement on the issue arose as there were arguments that a minister could not take a personal view and his statement has to be coherent with the government policy.
The court was hearing a plea filed by a man whose wife and daughter were allegedly gangraped in July last year on a highway near Bulandshahr, seeking transfer of the case to Delhi and lodging of an FIR against Khan for his controversial statement.
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