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No person, be a journalist or otherwise, can claim open access to the precinct of the Parliament: Delhi High Court

Aditi Singh

The Delhi High Court has stated that no person, be a journalist or otherwise, can claim an open access to the precinct of the Parliament. (Anil Chamadia vs Media Advisory Committee of the Rajya Sabha)

The order was passed by a Single Judge Bench of Justice Navin Chawla in a petition by a freelance journalist seeking the issuance of a permanent pass to cover the proceedings of the Rajya Sabha.

A freelance journalist, Anil Chamadia (Petitioner) had moved the High Court challenging the decision of the Media Advisory Committee of the Rajya Sabha (MAC) dated July 6, 2017, restricting his access through his Permanent Rajya Sabha Pass.

From 2009 till July 6, 2017, the Petitioner held the Permanent Rajya Sabha Press Gallery pass.

After the MAC decided to stop issuing an annual pass/permanent pass to journalists under the freelance category, the Petitioner's access was revoked vide a decision taken on July 6, 2017.

Before the High Court, the Petitioner argued that the MAC decision was not only violative of his Fundamental Right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India but also under Article 14 inasmuch as it failed to give any reasonable basis for treating a freelance journalist as a separate category from the accredited journalist for issuance of the Rajya Sabha Press Gallery Pass.

It was contended that MAC sought to treat freelance journalists unequally and as being inferior to those journalists who were affiliated to media houses or news agencies.

The Respondent, MAC informed the Court that till 2008, freelance journalists were not being given annual or sessional Press Gallery Passes and the Petitioner along with two others were the first ones to be recommended for annual pass under freelance category.

The Court was informed that in March 2015, the MAC adopted 'Guidelines for Accreditation of Journalists under the Freelance Category'.

In accordance with these Guidelines, the number of passes for the freelance Journalists were restricted as only sessional passes and two temporary passes not exceeding two weeks in a session were allowed to be issued.

It was added that the permanent pass of the Petitioner was suspended to do away with the discrimination due to the existence of two types of passes in freelance category i.e sessional passes under the Guidelines and the Permanent Rajya Sabha Press Gallery pass that the Petitioner was holding.

The Respondent submitted that entry into the Parliament House was in the nature of a privilege and it was open to the Secretariat of the two Houses to regulate the entry therein.

After considering the submissions made by the parties, the Court, at the outset, noted that the Petitioner had challenged only the decision dated July 6, 2017, which had merely did away with the discrimination between freelance journalists.

It added that the decision to issue only sessional passes to freelance journalists, albeit only prospectively, was not in challenge before the Court.

"In view of the above, as this petition challenges only the decision of the MAC taken on 06.07.2017, I find no merit in the same.", the Court ruled.

The Court observed that under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, although the expression “Freedom of the Press” has not been used, it has been held to be a part of freedom of speech and expression.

..freedom of expression has four broad social purposes to serve: (i) it helps an individual to attain self fulfilment, (ii) it assists in the discovery of truth, (iii) it strengthens the capacity of an individual in participating in decision – making, and (iv) it provides a mechanism by which it would be possible to establish a reasonable balance between stability and social change.
Delhi High Court

All members of society should be able to form their own beliefs and communicate them freely to others. In sum, the fundamental principle involved here is the people‟s right to know. Freedom of speech and expression should, therefore, receive general support from all those who believe in the participation of people in the administration, said the Delhi High Court

As it referred to series of judgments of the Supreme Court, the Court nonetheless added that there was an inherent limitation of resources and there was a need to use them for the benefit of all, while determining this right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a).

In view of the above, the Court noted that no person, be a journalist or otherwise, could claim an open access to the precinct of the Parliament.

No person has an unfettered right to enter the same. In fact, even in United Kingdom and the United States of America, rules have been framed governing the entry of journalists into the House of Commons and the United States Congress. We must also keep in view the ghastly attack perpetrated by the terrorists on the Indian Parliament on 13th December, 2001.
Delhi High Court

The Court recorded that Petitioner's grievance that issuance of only sessional passes to freelance journalists restricted their right to access information when the Parliament is not in session.

However, since there was no challenge to the decision of MAC to only extend sessional passes to freelancers, the Court refrained itself from proceeding further with such consideration.

It nonetheless stated,

..it would be advisable for the respondents to revisit its Rules and Guidelines for issuance of passes keeping in view the mandate of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
Delhi High Court

The Petition was dismissed.

The Petitioner was presented by Senior Advocate Salman Khurshid with Advocates Fuzail Ahmad Ayyubi, Anshu Kapoor, Ibad Mushta, Aditi Gupta.

The Respondent was represented by Advocate Tatini Basu.

Read the Order:

Anil Chamadia vs Media Advisory Committee of the Rajya Sabha.pdf
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