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Provide blocking order, post-decisional hearing to satirical website owner: Delhi High Court to Centre

The website 'Dowry Calculator', as per the Centre’s reply in the case, was a “crude attempt” to glorify the menace of dowry and did not carry any disclaimer about its content being satirical.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
May 17, 2022 10:52:23 am
The satirical website was banned by the Centre in September 2018 after a complaint from then Union women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi. (File Photo)

The Delhi High Court has ordered the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) to provide a copy of the original blocking order to the owner of a satirical website which was banned by the Centre in September 2018 based on a complaint from then Union women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi.

The court has also directed the committee constituted by MeitY under the Blocking Rules, 2009, to give a post-decisional hearing to the counsel representing the owner of the website, ‘Dowry Calculator’, on May 23. The division bench of Justice Manmohan and Justice Dinesh Kumar Sharma in an order recorded the Centre’s statement that the authorities are willing to give a post-decisional hearing to the website owner Tanul Thakur and also take “corrective measures” if found necessary.

“The Committee under the Blocking Rules, 2009 shall furnish a report to this court as well as to the petitioner within four weeks thereafter,” said the court, while listing the matter for hearing on September 14.

The website, as per the Centre’s reply in the case, was a “crude attempt” to glorify the menace of dowry and did not carry any disclaimer about its content being satirical. However, Thakur’s counsel told the court that the “satirical intent of the website is quite evident from its content and design”.

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The Internet Freedom Foundation, which provided legal assistance to Thakur in the case, in a statement issued on Monday described the order as significant.

“This is the first time a MeitY censorship order, or a hearing before MeitY, will be provided to a content creator. This order is crucial in the fight to bring transparency in the censorship process and affix accountability towards the government. MeitY consistently relies on Rule 16 of the Blocking Rules, 2009 to claim confidentiality and deny these requests. MeitY has never published or disclosed its orders in the past, and has rarely, if ever, provided a hearing to the creator whose content is censored,” it said.

The Centre had earlier refused to provide a copy of the blocking order to Thakur under Right to Information (RTI) Act, citing confidentiality requirements present under Rule 16 of the Blocking Rules. Thakur in his petition filed before the court in 2019 said that he was not provided with any notice or hearing before the blocking. It was also argued that satirical speech is protected under the Constitution.

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