On February 3, the Supreme Court sent notice to the Centre about petitions that questioned what the Centre did in response to the BBC documentary “India: The Modi Question.” A group of judges made up of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and M M Sundresh asked the government for all relevant records and set up a hearing for April to talk about the case.
In this case, the court is looking at two petitions: one from journalist N Ram, lawyer Prashant Bhushan, and Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, and one from lawyer M L Sharma.
Senior Advocate C U Singh, who was representing Ram, Bhushan, and Moitra, said that on January 20, 2023, the IT secretary issued an order “directing Twitter India to block 50 tweets with links to YouTube videos of the BBC Documentary…” This order was made under the same rules that the Bombay High Court put on hold in an interim order on August 14, 2021.
After this happened, he said, both Bhushan’s tweet from January 19 and Moitra’s tweet from January 22 that linked to the documentary were deleted.
Singh said that the instructions were given by the secretary in his role as an authorised officer under Rule 13(2) of The IT Rules 2021. He said that this is illegal at first glance because the instructions “are in direct contravention of” an interim order from the Bombay High Court on August 14, 2021, in Agij Promotion of Nineteenonea Media Pvt. Ltd. & Ors. v. Union of India & Anr., “which directed stay of Rule 9 (1) & (3) of the IT Rules
The petitioners said that the government hasn’t officially released any document, order, or other information to the public “that explains why it needed to use its emergency powers…rather than any other mechanism provided by the rules,” and that the ministry “has chosen expediency over necessity and proportionality in their response to the documentary.”
They said that “the contents of the BBC documentary and the tweets by Bhushan and Moitra are protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India” and that “the contents of the documentary series do not fall under any of the restrictions specified in Article 19(2) or imposed under Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000.”
They said that in the past, the Supreme Court had “clearly stated that criticising the government, its policies, or even the decision of the Supreme Court of India does not mean violating India’s sovereignty and integrity.”
When the court sent out the notice, it said, “It is also true that people have been watching those videos.”
Sharma asked that the order from January 20 be thrown out, saying that it was “illegal, dishonest, arbitrary, and against the constitution.” He also wants the court to look at the documentary and take action against people “directly and indirectly” responsible for the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Vishnu Gupta, who said he was the president of the Delhi-based Hindu Sena, filed the petition after the controversy over the BBC documentary about the riots in Gujarat after the Godhra incident in 2002.
Senior Advocate Pinky Anand, who was on the side of the petitioner, asked the court to look at what was going on at the time. The bench, on the other hand, wondered how the matter could even be argued and asked, “You want us to put complete censorship? What’s this?”
Even though the petitioner asked the court to put the case on the same list as petitions that argued against the government’s order that social media sites take down links to the documentary, the Bench said no. “Let’s stop wasting time… Writ plea is completely wrong. “It doesn’t make sense,” the bench said, putting it down.