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regular-article-logo Thursday, 08 June 2023

Bombay HC grants interim stay on operation of some parts of IT rules

The high court order came on petitions filed by the legal news portal, The Leaflet, and journalist Nikhil Wagle, which challenged several provisions of the new rules

PTI Mumbai Published 15.08.21, 02:29 AM
Bombay High Court.

Bombay High Court. File picture

Bombay High Court has said dissent is vital for democracy and granted an interim stay on the operation of some parts of the Information Technology Rules, 2021, which require that all online publishers follow a “code of ethics”.

Sub-clauses 1 and 3 of Clause 9 of the new rules were, on the face of it, “manifestly unreasonable”, the high court said.

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“The indeterminate and wide terms of the rules bring about a chilling effect qua (regarding) the right of freedom of speech and expression of writers/editors/publishers” as they can be hauled up for anything if the authorities so wish, the court said.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G.S. Kulkarni stayed these two sub-clauses of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, saying they seem to violate the petitioners’ constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19.

“Dissent in democracy is vital.... For proper administration of the State, it is healthy to invite criticism of all those who are in public service for the nation to have a structured growth, but with the 2021 rules in place, one would have to think twice before criticising any such personality, even if the writer/editor/publisher may have good reasons to do so,” the judges said.

If a committee proposed under the rules did not approve of criticism of a public figure, anyone who criticises such a person would invite punishment, said the court.

The high court order came on petitions filed by the legal news portal, The Leaflet, and journalist Nikhil Wagle, which challenged several provisions of the new IT rules, saying that they were vague and likely to have a “chilling effect” on a citizen’s right to free speech.

The court, however, refused to stay Clause 14 that pertains to the setting up of an inter-ministerial committee with powers to regulate online content and deal with grievances and breach of rules and Clause 16 that deals with blocking online content in case of an emergency. Such a committee is yet to be formed.

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