Journalist Nikhil Wagle filed a plea before the Bombay High Court challenging the new Information Technology Rules, 2021 and has called them unconstitutional as they violate the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution.
Mr. Wagle, through advocate Abhay Negi, filed a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, saying they are arbitrary, illegal, irrational and unreasonable and contrary to the provisions of law, including Article 14 (equality before the law), Articles 19 (1) (a) (righ to freedom of speech and expression), 19 (1) (g) (right to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business).
Referring to the Rules, the PIL stated, “The inter-departmental committee that will be formed is not an independent agency and it consists of representatives from government of India. The Rules give power to the said committee to issue orders for warning/censoring/taking down/requiring apology/editing /deleting content on the first instance.”
“The Rules under caption News and Current Affairs allows control over commentators/freelance journalists/satirists. News and current affairs will be monitored for any deviance from laws concerning defamation/national security etc. No Model Guidelines as to what constitutes above are provided in the Rules,” the PIL added.
Mr. Wagle said the creation of a grievance system is also draconian as involvement of government in intra-organisational grievance redressal is excessive and there is also a mechanism for appeal. The Rules also provide for prosecution and criminal proceedings can be initiated in cases of defamation/hurting religious sentiments.
The PIL mentioned, “As of now, large numbers of prosecutions/cases are filed under caption ‘Defamation’ as well as ‘Hurting Religious Sentiments’. The Petitioner stated that in the recent past, large number of cases are filed u/s 124 A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code. The Compliance Officer is expected to deal with such a complaint, who is not competent while exercising quasi-judicial powers to decide what is defamatory and what is hurting religious sentiments.”
The PIL sought a direction from the court to declare the Rules illegal and arbitrary.