The new IT Rules gives the government “unfettered power” in absence of any “guidelines and guardrails”, the Bombay High Court observed on Tuesday, while hearing petitions challenging the amendments, NDTV .
The division bench of Justices Gautam Patel and Neela Gokhale also questioned the government over the need for the amendment and the provision for a separate fact check unit despite the establishment of the Press Information Bureau fact check.
“You have a PIB which has its presence on social media. Why then was this amendment required and (the need) for an FCU to be set up? I think this amendment wants to do something more,” asked Justice Patel. Pointing out that the government was the “sole arbiter without any checks and balances”, he emphasised the need to set up guidelines.
Meanwhile, representing the government, solicitor general Tushar Mehta said the PIB’s fact check unit was “teethless”.
“The IT Rules are not related to curbing free speech at all. The government is not trying to proscribe and prohibit any expression of opinion, criticism, or comparative analysis...in fact we welcome them, encourage them and learn from them,” he said, adding that the rules have “nothing to do with humour or satire…as far as the content does not cross the line”.
Solicitor general Mehta concluded his arguments for the central government on Wednesday.
The petitions have been filed by stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra, the Editors Guild of India and the Association of Indian Magazines, terming the rules as arbitrary and unconstitutional. The hearing will continue on Wednesday.
The amendment, originally notified on April 6, said social media companies and other intermediaries must take down content deemed fake by a government fact-check unit. It was by press groups, opposition leaders and journalists. Kamra’s plea, filed a few days later, said the rules “have a chilling effect and are enough to chill people”.