The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed the plea of a bank employee who had challenged framing of charges against him for publishing an alleged "vulgar and obscene" poem on Mahatma Gandhi in 1994 in an in-house magazine of which he was an editor.
A bench comprising justice Dipak Misra and justice Prafulla C Pant said one cannot be allowed to use indecent language for "historically respected personalities like Mahatma Gandhi".
The bench upheld the Bombay High Court's decision of not quashing charge of sale/publication of obscene books, framed against accused Devidas Ramchandra Tuljapurkar, saying freedom of speech and expression does not allow a person to cross "contemporaneous community parameters" on decency.
"Freedom of speech has to be given a broad canvas but with limits," the apex court said.
The bench asked Tuljapurkar, the then editor of in-house magazine of Bank of Maharashtra Employees Union, to express his points of view before the lower court during the trial.
The court, however, quashed the criminal proceedings against the printers and publishers of the magazine in which the poem penned by Marathi poet Vasant Dattatraya Gurjar was published, saying they have already tendered an unconditional apology.
On April 16, the apex court had reserved its verdict on the plea of Tuljapurkar, who was made an accused in 1994 for publishing the allegedly vulgar poem on Gandhi, for quashing of his prosecution under section 292 (sale, publication of obscene books) under the IPC.
The court had said it would decide as to whether putting "indecent words" in the "mouth of Mahatma Gandhi" by the poet falls under ambit of freedom of speech and expression or not.
"The issue of linguistic freedom qua Mahatma Gandhi is bothering us. It is a question of statutory or constitutional comfort," the bench had said.
Referring to the poem 'Gandhi Mala Bhetala Hota', written by Gurjar in 1984, Tuljapurkars's lawyer had submitted that people, who know Marathi, say that the poem is "satirical".
The accused had approached the apex court against the Bombay High Court order dismissing his plea seeking quashing of his prosecution.
For a first-time offender, the penal provision prescribes maximum two years of jail term and a fine of Rs 2,000.