Supreme Court Asks Centre To Produce Original Records Relating To Order Blocking BBC's Documentary On Modi
The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice on petitions challenging the Centre's decision to block the public access to BBC's documentary "India : The Modi Question".
A bench comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna and MM Sundresh also directed that the Centre should produce the original records relating to the order on the next date of hearing, which will be in April 2023.
The bench was considering one petition jointly filed by journalist N Ram, Advocate Prashant Bhushan and TMC MP Mahua Moitra and another petition filed by Advocate ML Sharma.
As soon as the matter was taken, Senior Advocate Chander Uday Singh, representing N Ram and others, submitted that it was a case where the Centre invoked the emergency powers under the IT Rules 2021 to block the documentary.
"Why should you not go to the High Court first?", Justice Sanjiv Khanna asked Singh. Singh replied that the Supreme Court, at the behest of Centre, has transferred to itself the petitions pending in the High Court challenging the IT Rules. He added that the High Courts have been restrained by the Supreme Court from hearing those matters.
The bench asked whether the blocking order has been issued under the same rules. Singh replied in the affirmative. He also pointed out the Bombay and Madras High Courts have already stayed some provisions of the IT Rules.
The bench then decided to issue notice, returnable in April 2023. At this point, Singh raised the prayer for "two limited interim reliefs". "No, not at this stage", Justice Khanna said. The senior counsel then explained that one interim relief which he was seeking was a direction to the Centre to place on record all the original files. On the basis of this "secret order", universities are taking action against students for screening the documentary, he added. He contended that the IT Rules mandate the publication of the emergency blocking orders within 48 hours.
The bench then added in the order, "respondents will also produce the original records before this Court on the next date of hearing".
Singh then requested for an earlier date of hearing.
"It is also a fact that people have been accessing those videos", Justice Khanna remarked while turning down Singh's request for an earlier date.
"What is happening is University administration, they are rusticating students", Singh urged.
"That is a separate issue...we are more on the legal aspect", Justice Khanna replied.
The petition by N. Ram, Prashant Bhushan and Mahua Moitra argues that the Central Government has violated citizens' Right To Know by blocking the documentary on Modi. The petition seeks to restrain the Central Government from censoring the BBC documentary and to quash all orders which directly and indirectly block the online access to it. Ram and Bhushan also seek restoration of their tweets sharing the links of the documentary.
Sharma's petition terms the Centre's ban on the two-part documentary as “malafide, arbitrary and unconstitutional”. The petition argues that the citizens have the right to see news, facts and reports on the 2002 Gujarat riots and the Centre's decision has infringed citizens' right to information under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
On January 21, the Ministry of the Information and Broadcasting reportedly invoked its emergency powers under the IT Rules 2021 to direct the removal of the links from YouTube and Twitter, when the first part of the documentary, which deals with the Gujarat riots of 2002 which happened when Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of the State.
Case Title: N. RAM AND ORS. Versus UNION OF INDIA AND ORS. WP (C) No. 116 of 2023 & MANOHAR LAL SHARMA Versus UNION OF INDIA WP (Crl) No. 32 of 2023