Dissent

Internet Rights Orgs Demand Withdrawal of Indore District Collector Ban on Demonetisation Posts

The order as it stands now will last until mid January 2017 and the penalties for violating it include a prison term of up to one month and/or a fine of up to Rs. 200.

Credit: magicatwork/Flickr CC BY 2.0

Credit: magicatwork/Flickr CC BY 2.0

New Delhi: A number of Internet rights organisations including the Free Software Movement of India and the Internet Freedom Foundation have asked the district collector of Indore to withdraw a November 14 order that restricted “misleading and objectionable” posts on social media related to demonetisation.

On November 14th, P Narhari, Indore’s district collector invoked Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and made it a criminal offence to post any objectionable and inflammatory posts on social media or mobile messaging applications (such as WhatsApp) about the Modi government’s decision to withdraw Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes.

A copy of the order can be found here,  What was Narhari’s logic? According to the order, these so-called objectionable social media posts could have the potential to harm or damage “human life and public property”. Or in other words, social media posts that complained about demonetisation could be construed as inciting public violence.

“Because of activities, the health of general public is in danger and there is a strong fear that in future these reasons may disrupt public peace. Therefore, there is an urgent need to impose restrictions on these types of antisocial activities,” the district collector’s order reads.

The order as it stands now will last until mid January 2017 and the penalties for violating the order comes with a prison term of up to one month and/or a fine of up to Rs. 200.

The Free Software Movement of India (FSMI) characterizes it as a “blanket ban on any criticism of the government on its failure to provide sufficient new notes for the old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes that it has demonetised.”  “Clearly, having failed to re-monetise the economy and putting the common man to immense hardship, the government now wants to clamp down on all criticism of its failures,” the civil society organisation has said.

Furthermore the FSMI also points out that the use of Section 144 for censorship of social media posts (which was invoked by the Indore DC) goes “far beyond what the Supreme Court has held in its various judgements”. “It shows the desperation of the Central and the Madhya Pradesh governments that having failed in the elementary task of providing money to the people for conducting their day to day lives, they are resorting to such draconian measures to stifle all legitimate criticism.”

The Internet Freedom Foudation (IFF), which found its roots in this year’s Save the Internet Movement, has sent a legal notice to Narhari, asking him to withdraw the order and terming it an “overreach of the Criminal Procedure Code”.

It is not immediately known if the Indore district collector’s order has been enforced as of yet.