Bombay High Court’s order upholding the State Legislature imposing tax on anything shown on electronic and print media stayed

Supreme Court: In the matter where the Indian Broadcasting Foundation had appealed against the order of the Bombay High Court which upheld the constitutionality of the amendment to the  Maharashtra Stamp Act which levied stamp duty on the execution of the document pertaining to advertisement, the bench of Dipak Misra and A.M. Khanwilkar stayed of the operation of the judgment of the High Court and said that the matter requires to be debated, especially keeping in view the sacrosanctity of the freedom of speech and expression and the involvement of electronic and print media.

The Foundation had argued that the State Legislature cannot impose tax on anything shown on electronic and print media, that is to say, on the television, radio and newspaper. It was also contended that the expression “through an electronic and print media” has to be given appropriate and adequate emphasis so that the freedom of speech and expression is sustained in a democratic body polity and no attempt should be made to scuttle their progress and smother their effective sustenance. Also, that if a huge revenue is taken away from the members of the Broadcasting Foundation, who are embedded to the cause of freedom of speech and expression that percolates the ethos pertaining to individual and collective expression, inevitably hamper the freedom of speech and expression.

The State, on the other hand, contended that the subject of levy of stamp duty comes within Lists II and III of the Constitution and the State Legislature has the authority to legislate and, therefore, the judgment rendered by the High Court is absolutely flawless. A State Legislature can legislate touching the aspects of stamp duty for the purpose of revenue generation and it cannot be called a colorable exercise of power. It was also contended that duty is to be paid by the advertising agency or persons and, thereby, neither the electronic media nor the print media is affected.

Directing the members of the Foundation to give a summary of the revenue earned through the advertisement, the Court listed the matter to be heard on 13.09.2017. [Indian Broadcasting Foundation v. State of Maharashtra, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 280, order dated 27.03.2017]

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