Freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right that is granted to citizens through the Constitution of India. Now, sharing private messages on WhatsApp that raise safety concerns is a necessary matter. The Kerala High Court interfered and recognized the right to safety as a fundamental right. Let’s delve into details to examine the judgment passed by the High Court of Kerala.

Case Name: Sujith T V v Fertilisers and Chemicals Travancore Ltd

Brief Facts of the Case

The petitioner in the case was an employee at the company of the respondent. On July 31, 2019. He was being suspended because there were some inquiries that were pending against him. There was harm caused by the petitioner to the company’s reputation by spreading false information on the WhatsApp group titled “Technician Official.” As per the facts of the case, the messages were intended to promote the idea the idea that there is an unsafe environment being offered by the company. Another charge that was framed against the petitioner was entry into a restricted area that was violative of the right to safety.   In response, the petitioner argues that:

  • The application of punishment is improper under the law since it was applied without holding an inquiry.
    No disparaging remarks were made in the messages, which were posted in a private WhatsApp group. According to Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution, the accusation infringes the fundamental right to free speech.
  • The sentence is tainted because it was administered without a hearing.

The respondents’ knowledgeable attorney argued that the punishment was applied on August 16, 2019, and the order of suspension was issued on July 31, 2019. The writ petition

was submitted on July 5, 2021, a mere two years later. The petitioner had consented to the penalty. For the reason of delay, the challenge is not eligible to be considered. Additionally, the writ petition is not eligible for consideration due to the availability of an appeal remedy before the relevant body. Regarding the petitioner’s claim that a disciplinary investigation was not conducted, it was deemed unnecessary as the petitioner had acknowledged the allegations and his or her culpability. Regarding the hearing on the suggested punishment, it was argued that there is no legislation mandating this kind of hearing and that, in addition, the punishment is the lowest possible, amounting to only a “WARNING.” It is therefore maintained that the writ petition should simply be rejected.

The Legal provision applied in the Case

Under this case, Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India was in question if it was violated by the respondents of the case. Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India clearly mentions that a citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression.

Reference of the Precedent in the Case

The reference was given to the judgement of (Managing Director, ECIL Hyderabad & Ors. v. B. Karunakar & Ors. 1993 (4) SCC 727), the proposed punishment in some of the cases as per the employment laws is not at all mandatory. This means that employers might not be required to hold a second hearing just to discuss the punishment in some disciplinary cases, particularly if the punishment is very light or fits into one of many predetermined categories.

The Final Judgement of the Court

The Kerala High Court was of the opinion that there is a right to freedom of speech and expression that is granted by the Constitution to every citizen of India. Sharing personal opinions is not a threat to safety. Furthermore, the opinion that the Kerala High Court provided was based on the opinion that entry into the restricted area is a threat to safety. Hence, the Court said that there is nothing wrong with imposing punishment on the second charge imposed on the petitioner.

Conclusion of the Case

The ruling provided by the Kerala High Court was perfectly in the interests of justice for the petitioner of the case, and it is valid as per the arguments cited by the respondent of the case. One gets a perfect example of when it can be said there was a violation of the right to freedom of speech and expression as per Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. Additionally, the right of an employee to freedom of speech and expression was also given importance in this case. An employee has the right to freedom of speech and expression if it’s being shared with a private group, which raises the concern that an employee can have in an organization.

Contributed by: Abhiraj Singh

Sushant University (2021-26)

2 Replies to “The Kerala High Court judgement on safety in Private WhatsApp group”

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