The Bombay High Court on Saturday stayed two provisions of IT rules 2021- rules 9(1) and 9(3)-which lays down that digital news media and online publishers should adhere to the “Code of Ethics” prescribed by the rules. The Court said these provisions prima-facie violate freedom of speech under Article 19 of Constitution.
“We have found that prima facie it is in intrusion of petitioner’s rights and goes beyond substantive law IT Act. Therefore we have stayed clauses 9(1) and 9(3). The rule is not stayed in its entirety”, the bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni said in the court.
The petitions filed by digital news portal `The Leaflet’ and journalist Nikhil Wagle claimed that the new regulations are “vague”, “draconian”, and bound to have a “chilling effect” on the freedom of press and right to free speech guaranteed by the Constitution.
The bench, however, refused to set aside rules 14 and 16, which too the petitioners had expressed disagreement with. Rule 14 deals with the creation of an inter-departmental committee as an oversight mechanism over digital media. Rule 16 gives the Union government power to block access to published material.
The Court had 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 Court had asked the government to file a reply by August 12.
Senior counsel Darius Khambata, who appeared for The Leaflet, had argued earlier that the new rules were a brazen attempt to regulate online content. They go beyond the parameters set by the Information Technology Act and limits set under Article 19 of the Constitution, he said.
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”.