Why in News?
- The Supreme Court has recently ruled that a fundamental right under Article 19/21 can be enforced even against persons other than the State or its instrumentalities.
- The court took this view while ruling that the right of free speech and expression guaranteed under the Article 19(1)(a) cannot be curbed by any additional grounds other than those already laid down in Article 19(2).
- This interpretation brings an obligation on the state to ensure that private entities also abide by Constitutional norms.
- It opens up a range of possibilities in Constitutional law, potentially allowing for the enforcement of privacy rights against a private doctor or the right to free speech against a private social media entity.
- The Court referenced the 2017 verdict in Puttaswamy, in which a nine-judge bench unanimously upheld privacy as a fundamental right.
- The government had argued that privacy is a right enforceable against other citizens and, therefore, cannot be elevated to the status of a fundamental right against the state.
- The Court also looked to foreign jurisdictions, contrasting the American approach with the European Courts.
- The US Supreme Court’s ruling in New York Times vs. Sullivan, which found that defamation law as applied by the state against The New York Times was inconsistent with the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and expression, was cited as an example of a shift in US law from a “purely vertical approach” to a “horizontal approach.
- A vertical application of rights would mean it can be enforced only against the state while a horizontal approach would mean it is enforceable against other citizens.
- For example, a horizontal application of the right to life would enable a citizen to bring a case against a private entity for causing pollution, which would be a violation of the right to a clean environment.