Updated: August 14, 2021 1:38:36 am
The Bombay High Court Friday reserved its interim orders in two pleas challenging the recently notified Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, under the Information Technology (IT) Act.
The petitioners, while seeking quashing of the new rules, have demanded interim relief by staying the rules pending hearing of their pleas.
The HC also sought to know from the central government why additional rules were needed while the provisions in existing IT Act, 2009, among others, made publications, web portals and intermediaries answerable for posting any objectionable content and made them liable for penal action.
The division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni had on August 10 asked the Centre to file a short affidavit stating why interim relief cannot be granted in pleas filed by Wagle and AGIJ Promotion Of Nineteenonea Media Private Limited, the company that owns The Leaflet, challenging the new IT rules, calling them “arbitrary and illegal”, in contradiction to articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution, and against the “principle of net neutrality”.
Senior advocate Darius Khambata for The Leaflet called the new rules an “assault on democracy” and “against the right to freedom of speech” guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution.
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh for the central government urged the High Court not to pass any interim orders stating that apprehensions of the petitioners of adverse action were premature.
The central government stated that granting interim relief would lead to “spread of fake news and legally prohibited content”.
The petitioners challenged the Rules 9, 14 and 16 in new Rules pertaining to Code of Ethics, formation of an inter-departmental committee at ministry level and blocking of information in the event of an emergency, respectively.
The bench further questioned the Centre, “Can something already governed by two independent legislations including Press Council of India Act and Cable TV Act be brought under purview of these rules? Whether it has already entrenched the provisions in other legislations? Is this the regime which has been considered (by the Centre)?”
The court then said it was inclined to grant interim relief to the petitioners pertaining to Rule 9 by restraining the Centre from taking any adverse action for any alleged contravention of ‘Code of Ethics,’ without obtaining leave of the court.
The High Court will pass an interim order on Saturday, August 14.
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