Bombay HC Stays Two Provisions of IT Rules, Says They Prima Facie Violate Freedom of Speech

This interim relief, however, is limited to petitioners before the Bombay high court – The Leaflet and Nikhil Wagle.

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New Delhi: The Bombay high court on Saturday stayed two provisions of the new IT Rules – rules 9(1) and 9(3) – which say that digital news media and publishers should adhere to the ‘Code of Ethics’ laid out in the rules.

The court was hearing petitions filed by The Leaflet and Nikhil Wagle against the new rules.The bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G.S. Kulkarni, however, pointed out that the relief was only applicable to the two petitioners in question, Bar and Bench reported.

The rules being stayed, the high court noted, prima facie violate the right to freedom of speech under Article 19 of the constitution and also went against the IT Act, under which the new rules were formed.

“In so far as Rule 9 is concerned, we have found it prima facie to be an intrusion of the petitioners rights under Article 19(1)(a). We have also held that it goes beyond the substantive law. Therefore we have stayed clauses 9(1) and 9(3). The rule is not stayed in its entirety,” the bench said in court, according to LiveLaw. The full order is not yet available.

The bench, however, refused to stay 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. Since no such committee has been constituted yet, the high court said there is no “immediate urgency” to deal with the matter.

Rule 16 gives the Union government power to block access to published material. The bench said similar provisions also exist in the 2009 Intermediary Rules, and the petitioners had not challenged those.

On Friday, the bench had reserved its order in the matter, but questioned the government on the need to introduce new rules in the first place.

The pleas, filed by digital legal news portal Leaflet and journalist Nikhil Wagle, raised objections to several provisions in the new Rules and said these were likely to have a “chilling effect” on a citizen’s right to free speech as guaranteed by the constitution.

The petitions filed by The Leaflet and Wagle are among a slew of petitions filed by numerous media organisations in high courts across the country, alleging that the new IT rules violate both the constitution and the IT Act, which they were framed under. The first such plea was filed by The Wire, its founding editor M.K. Venu and The News Minute editor Dhanya Rajendran.

The petitioners also claimed the Rules went beyond the scope of the parent IT Act as well as the reasonable restrictions imposed on speech and expression by Article 19 (2) of the constitution.