The government directed internet services providers on Tuesday to restore access to those among 857 banned porn and humour websites that did not feature child pornographic content, without clarifying the basis for selection in the first place.
Days after its blanket ban order drew severe criticism on social media and other forums, the department of telecom said in an order: "The intermediaries (ISPs) are hereby directed that they are free not to disable any of the 857 URLs... which do not have child pornographic content."
Although millions of pornographic websites can be accessed from the worldwide web, top officials said two criteria were examined to impose the selective ban: sites that were tracked by Cert-in, the government's nodal agency on cyber security, and those that showed child pornography.
A top official said: "The government is directing internet service providers (ISPs) as an interim measure to disable porn sites featuring child pornography. Other considerations will be looked into after court hearing."
Sources in the ministry said the possibility of setting up an ombudsman to deal with the issue was still open.
While the government was responsible for matters of national importance, on issues such as pornography, the courts already hearing cases could examine the possibility of setting up an ombudsman-like institution, a ministry official said.
The telecommunications department, in a discreet order last Friday, had asked ISPs to block access to 857 websites, including humour sites 9GAG and CollegeHumor.
The DoT, in its order, asked for "disablement" of URLs of 857 websites under the provision of section 79(3)(b) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 "as the content hosted on these websites related to morality, decency as given in Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India. It asked contents of the letter to be kept confidential.
The order was criticised as censorship and sparked a raging debate. In a damage control mode, telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad held a high-level review meeting on Tuesday, which was attended by IT secretary RS Sharma and additional solicitor general Pinky Anand, among others.
After the meeting, Prasad said it was decided that ISPs would be immediately asked not to block those sites which do not contain any child pornographic material.
"The instant action is basically in obedience to the observation of the Supreme Court where the court asked the department to take action on the list of alleged porn sites provided by the petitioner," he said, explaining the rationale behind the original directive.
The minister said that the government was committed for freedom of communication on the internet.
"The government compliments the dissemination of idea on the social media. We have launched the mygov platform seeking views of people of India on developmental agenda and lakhs of people are participating on this platform," he said.
Government officials said the ban was a temporary measure till the final orders are pronounced by the top court.
Information technology secretary RS Sharma said that the ministry "followed court directives," a reference to an ongoing case in the Supreme Court against adult websites.
Reacting to the outrage against the move, Prasad had said on Monday that the NDA government was committed towards freedom on social media and internet.
"I reject with contempt the charge that it is a Talibani government, as being said by some of the critics. Our government supports free media, respect communication on social media and has respected freedom of communication always," he had said.
According to data from Pornhub, one of the world’s biggest porn sites, India ranks in fifth place for the most daily visitors to the website. The website saw a total of 78.9 billion video views globally in 2014.
(With agency inputs)