DISPOSING OF a plea seeking to take down a “communally charged” video on social media, the Bombay High Court on Friday observed that there is clearly a discernible trend that in the name of the exercise of a right, the liberty of free speech is being abused in bad faith, and also said people may exercise a degree of restraint on liberty of free speech and expression during “testing times” such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
The High Court also said the state government needed to introduce “a regime of conduct with stricter norms keeping in mind the test of reasonable restrictions provided under the right to free speech and expression to deal with inflammatory posts on social media”.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Madhav Jamdar made these observations on a PIL by Mumbai resident Imran Moin Khan, seeking to take down allegedly communally charged videos, uploaded on social media by a supporter of a political party, and that preventive action be taken against the person by permanently blocking access to social media. The court refused to pass directions to police for taking any such preventive action; however, it directed the nodal officer under the IT Act to decide whether the petitioner’s complaint is worthy of being taken to its logical conclusion.
The court also asked the petitioner to file a fresh complaint before the nodal officer for relief, if he did not wish to pursue the previous complaint.
Chief Justice Datta observed, “The right cannot be exercised to sow seeds of hatred and to create disharmony among religious communities. Since inflammatory posts/messages have the potential of disturbing public peace and tranquility, strong action ought to be taken against those responsible to uphold the high values aimed at by the Constitution.”
“In a secular country like India, citizens of different religions should feel assured that they can live in peace with persons practising other religions. Regrettably, a trend is clearly discernible that in the name of exercise of a right, the liberty of free speech is being abused with bad faith,” he added.
The court said freedom of speech should be exercised “rationally and in an orderly manner for fair and constructive criticism”.
In view of this, the court noted, “However, those exercising such a right must not remain oblivious that the exercise cannot rise above national interest and interest of the society. In the guise of exercising the right, no form of insult to any group or community disrupting public order ought to ensue.”
Disposing of the PIL, Chief Justice Datta said, “It is time that the state introduces a regime of conduct with stricter norms but satisfying the test of reasonableness, in exercise of the power conferred by Article 19(2) of the Constitution, to deal with rapid rise of absolutely avoidable, uncalled for and unwarranted inflammatory posts/messages on the social media.”
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