Global Freedom of Expression

Español العربية

People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) v. Union of India

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Public Documents
  • Date of Decision
    March 13, 2003
  • Outcome
    Access to Information Granted
  • Case Number
    (2003) 2 S.C.R. 1136
  • Region & Country
    India, Asia and Asia Pacific
  • Judicial Body
    Supreme (court of final appeal)
  • Type of Law
    Civil Law, Constitutional Law
  • Themes
    Access to Public Information
  • Tags
    Data Protection and Retention, Elections

Content Attribution Policy

Global Freedom of Expression is an academic initiative and therefore, we encourage you to share and republish excerpts of our content so long as they are not used for commercial purposes and you respect the following policy:

  • Attribute Columbia Global Freedom of Expression as the source.
  • Link to the original URL of the specific case analysis, publication, update, blog or landing page of the down loadable content you are referencing.

Attribution, copyright, and license information for media used by Global Freedom of Expression is available on our Credits page.

Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Supreme Court of India held that Indian voters have a right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution to obtain information about political candidates. The People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) challenged the validity of a 1951 law, which stated that political candidates were not bound to disclose any information not required under the law. The Court reasoned that the availability of basic information about the candidates enables voters to make an informed decision and also paves the way for public debates on the merits and demerits of candidates.


Facts

The People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) challenged the validity of Section 33B of the Representation of People Act, 1951. Section 33B provided that, notwithstanding a judgment or order of the court or Election Commission, an electoral candidate is not bound to disclose any information apart from that required under the Act. In Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms, (2002) 3 S.C.R. 294, the Supreme Court of India recognized that the right to know about electoral candidates falls within the right to information available under the right to freedom of speech and expression described in Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. It further indicated that information about the criminal background of candidates, assets and liabilities of candidates and their family members, and educational qualifications of candidates should be available to the voters as part of their right.

The Election Commission issued directives to effect this judgment. However, Section 33B made ineffective the judgment in that case and other directives. Thus, the PUCL challenged Section 33B as violative of Article 19(1)(a).


Decision Overview

P. Venkatarma Reddi, J., delivered the opinion of the Court. The Supreme Court of India reiterated that Article 19(1)(a) includes the right of voters to have basic information about electoral candidates. In a democracy, the will of the people is expressed in periodic elections. Availability of basic information about the candidates enables voters to make an informed decision and also paves the way for public debates on merits and demerits of candidates. This in turn goes a long way in promoting freedom of speech and expression, and also ensures the integrity of the electoral process in a democracy. Further, freedom of expression is not limited to oral or written expression, but also includes voting as a form of expression. Even though the right to vote itself may not be a fundamental right, the expression of opinion through the final act of casting a vote is part of the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a).

A liberal approach to the disclosure of information about an electoral candidate is desirable. However, compelling a person to disclose personal information affects the person’s privacy. There is a need to draw a line between the voters’ right and candidates’ privacy. The legislature must apply its mind and lay down the criteria on which information must be disclosed. In the absence of such a law, in the case of Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms, (2002) 3 S.C.R. 294, the Court gave certain broad indicators for disclosure in order to give effect to the right under Article 19(1)(a). The Election Commission directives based on this judgment were meant to operate only until the time legislature enacted an appropriate law. While these points of disclosure serve as broad indicators for enacting a law, the legislature must give them due weight.

The Court concluded that Section 33B of the Representation of People Act, 1951, was unconstitutional. Firstly, it froze and stagnated the right to information by nullifying the effect of any order or judgment requiring disclosure of information. Instead, the right to information is a dynamic right that should be allowed to grow. Secondly, the Act inadequately required disclosure of information with respect to criminal background of the candidates, and assets and liabilities of candidates and their spouse and children. However, the Court held that by not providing for disclosure of educational qualifications, it cannot be said that Article 19(1)(a) has been violated.

The Court directed the Election Commission to issue revised instructions in accordance with the law laid down in this judgment.


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

The Court expanded the scope of the right of voters with respect to information about electoral candidates.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • India, Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms, (2002) 3 S.C.R. 294
  • India, State of Uttar Pradesh v. Narain, (1975) 3 S.C.R. 333
  • India, Gupta v. Union of India, (1982) 2 S.C.R. 365
  • India, Trivedi, M.P. v. Union of India, (1997) 3 S.C.R. 93
  • India, Secretary, Ministry of I&B v. Cricket Association of Bengal, (1995) A.I.R. 1236
  • India, Jamuna Prasad v. Lachhi Ram, (1955) S.C.R. 608
  • India, Gobind v. State of Madhya Pradesh, (1975) 3 S.C.R. 946

Other national standards, law or jurisprudence

  • U.S., Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1925)

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Indian Supreme Court decisions are binding on all courts throughout the territory of India.

The decision was cited in:

Official Case Documents

Official Case Documents:


Reports, Analysis, and News Articles:


Have comments?

Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.

Send Feedback