Bombay HC reserves order on Kunal Kamra’s challenge to FCU’s notification | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Bombay HC reserves order on Kunal Kamra’s challenge to Fact Check Unit’s notification

BySahyaja MS
Mar 01, 2024 04:28 AM IST

During the hearing, senior advocate Navroz Seervai, representing Kamra, argued for postponing the FCUs notification until the final verdict.

Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Thursday reserved its decision on an interim plea filed by comedian Kunal Kamra, seeking a stay on setting up of Fact Check Units (FCUs) under the Information Technology Amendment Rules, 2023 until the third judge decides the legality of the new rule empowering the government to identify false online content linked to its operations.

Comedian Kunal Kamra.(File)
Comedian Kunal Kamra.(File)

Following a split verdict by a two-judge bench on January 31, the case was handed over to Justice A.S Chandurkar.

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During the hearing, senior advocate Navroz Seervai, representing Kamra, argued for postponing the FCUs notification until the final verdict. Seervai highlighted the customary practice of maintaining the status quo when judges disagree, emphasising the Central government’s pledge to withhold FCUs notification until the conclusion of this case. He stressed that the final judgement, determined by the third judge’s opinion, would reveal the majority stance due to the split verdict.

Also Read | Amended IT rules offer remedy to victims of fake news: Centre to HC

Seervai underscored the importance of the current status quo, given the starkly differing opinions of two judges on the rule’s constitutionality and legality. He also noted the absence of any instances where the existence of a statement staying FCUs threatened national interests, citing an unwritten convention to grant interim relief in cases of differing judicial opinions.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Ministry, offered a contrasting view. Mehta argued that the internet, being unique, lacks geographical restrictions and enables swift dissemination of anonymous statements to millions. He portrayed FCUs as the country’s minimalist approach to addressing this issue.

Also Read | How can FCU decide what is fake, false, misleading, HC asks Centre

Mehta assured the court that criticising the government and its policies lies beyond the challenged provision’s scope. He contended that since the FCUs notification does not impact intermediaries and involves only a few individuals, Kamra’s application should be dismissed.

Moreover, Mehta addressed the chilling effect argument, suggesting that aggrieved parties could seek legal recourse without immediate punishment, as the court would hear the matter. He emphasised the provision’s alignment with public interest and expressed concerns about potentially depriving the public of truth, especially when intermediaries are not involved.

Previously, on January 31, a division bench of the Bombay High Court had delivered a split verdict on a batch of petitions challenging the amended IT Rules. While Justice Gautam S Patel supported the petitioners’ contentions and struck down the amendment, Justice Neela K Gokhale upheld the government’s position. The judgement is expected to be pronounced in due course.

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