SC issues notice on petitions challenging the Centre's decision to block public access to BBC's documentary

SC issues notice on petitions challenging the Centre's decision to block public access to BBC's documentary

In response to petitions contesting the Centre's decision to restrict public access to the BBC documentary "India: The Modi Question," the Division Bench of the Supreme Court, chaired by Justices Sanjiv Khanna and MM Sundresh, gave notice on the matter on January 3. 

A bench further ordered the Centre to present the original documents associated with the order at the ensuing hearing, which will take place in April 2023. 

The bench was deliberating over two petitions, one filed by attorney ML Sharma and the other by journalist N Ram, attorney Prashant Bhushan, and TMC MP Mahua Moitra.

As soon as the case was taken, Senior Advocate Chander Uday Singh argued on behalf of N Ram and others that the documentary had been blocked because the Center had used its emergency power under the IT Rules 2021. 

The bench questioned whether the blocking order was issued in accordance with the same regulations. Singh gave a positive response. Additionally, he noted that some IT Rules provisions have already been suspended by the Bombay and Madras High Courts.

The bench then made the decision to issue a notice that is due back in April 2023. The prayer for "two limited interim reliefs" was now offered by Singh. No, not now, Justice Khanna remarked. The senior counsel then went on to explain that one temporary remedy he was requesting was a directive to the Center to record all of the original documents. Universities are disciplining students for screening the documentary based on this "secret order," he continued. He argued that the emergency blocking orders must be published within 48 hours according to the IT Rules. 

The order was then added by the bench, "respondents will also produce the original records before this Court on the next date of hearing".

Singh then asked for an earlier hearing date. 

Sharma brought the issue up for an urgent listing last week before Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud. 

The Center's decision to prohibit the two-part documentary is referred to as "malafide, capricious, and unconstitutional" in Sharma's plea. The petition claims that Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution's right to information has been violated by the Center's decision and that citizens have a constitutional right to see news, facts, and reports about the 2002 Gujarat riots.

In their petition, N. Ram, Prashant Bhushan, and Mahua Moitra claim that by preventing the release of the Modi documentary, the Central Government has violated the Right To Know of the people. The petition aims to stop the Central Government from censoring the BBC documentary and to invalidate any orders that obstruct online access to it both directly and indirectly. 

According to reports, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting used its emergency powers under the IT Rules 2021 on January 21 to order the deletion of the links from Twitter and YouTube when the first segment of the documentary, which covers the Gujarat riots of 2002 and took place while Narendra Modi was the state's chief minister, was released.

Citation: WP (C) No. 116 of 2023 & WP (Crl) No. 32 of 2023

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