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Stay on IT Rules Continues as SC Takes Up Centre’s Transfer Plea, Restrains HCs in Matter

"We are not touching any interim orders today...we will see on May 19, 2022," the bench said.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday, May 9, stayed further proceedings in high courts in petitions challenging the new IT Rules. The apex court bench has clarified that it is not staying the interim orders passed by the high courts at present.

A bench comprising Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and Abhay S. Oka has also issued notice in petitions filed by the Union government seeking the transfer of the petitions from high courts across the country to the Supreme Court, LiveLaw has reported.

“We are not touching any interim orders today…we will see on May 19, 2022,” Justice Khanwilkar told advocate Vrinda Bhandari, who was representing LiveLaw Media Private Ltd.

LiveLaw is one of the petitioners who have challenged the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. Among various journalists, media bodies and news agencies who have challenged the IT Rules are The Wire. The News MinuteThe Quint andPratidhvani are among other news outlets from across the country that have moved high courts in their respective states, particularly in Maharashtra, Kerala, Delhi and Tamil Nadu.

In addition, 13 media outlets under the banner of Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA) and journalist Mukund Padmanabhan had moved the Madras high court against the IT Rules. Carnatic musician, author and activist T.M. Krishna had also moved Madras high court with a plea against the IT Rules.

The same stay will also apply for petitions challenging the Cable TV Networks (Amendment) Rules, 2021.

The Union government moved the petition for the transfer of all petitions challenging the constitutionality of the IT Rules from various high courts to the Supreme Court in July last year.

In July 2021 itself, the Kerala high court directed the Union government not to take any coercive action against members of the News Broadcasters Association (NBA), which represents several news channels, over non-compliance of the new IT rules.

The Bombay high court in August 2021, stayed two provisions of the 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 in a plea filed by digital legal news portal Leaflet and journalist Nikhil Wagle.

In September 2021, the Madras high court stayed the application of the same two sub-rules of Rule 9 – (1) and (3) – of the IT rules 2021, stating that they rob the independence of media in the country,

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Union government, told the apex court on Monday, that there are different sets of petitions – some challenging the IT Rules and others seeking to regulate over-the-top or OTT platforms, Bar and Bench has reported.

“We have provided for some regulations for OTT platforms, intermediaries, online platforms and online news. Some have challenged Part 2 of the regulations and some have challenged Part 3. There are transfer petitions and also fresh writ petition praying for stay of proceedings before various high courts. Some high courts have stayed the statutory regulations – Kerala High court, Delhi high court, Bombay high court. So we have filed SLPs [special leave petitions],” the SG said.

The Supreme Court asked the SG to categorise the cases as 1) challenge to IT Rules, 2) challenge to Cable TV Rules, and 3) Article 32 petitions generally seeking directions for evolving mechanism which would be touching upon the subject matter of the IT Rules, according to LiveLaw.

The bench also said that it would deal separately with cases related to “hate crimes and hate speech.”

LiveLaw has further reported that the Union government first sought adjournment for two weeks over the SG’s unavailability but later said that it was a “mistake.” As a result, LiveLaw’s lead counsel, senior advocate Arvind Datar was absent in court on Monday.