Centre defends new IT rules in 2 HC affidavits

There are a total of 19 writ petitions pending across high courts in the country and each emanate out of a unique set of circumstances, the MEITY submitted.
The Madras high court had disapproved of the Centre’s repeated delay in filing the counter.
The Madras high court had disapproved of the Centre’s repeated delay in filing the counter.
Updated on Sep 04, 2021 03:28 AM IST
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ByHT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, Chennai

The Union government have filed two counter-affidavits before the Madras High Court, defending the constitutional validity of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 or IT Rules, and said that “common users are protected”.

The government was responding to two different petitions challenging the IT Rules, 2021 and pending in the Madras HC --one filed by Carnatic vocalist and Ramon Magsaysay awardee TM Krishna and the other by the Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA) comprising 13 media outlets and journalist Mukund Padmanabhan.

The Madras high court had disapproved of the Centre’s repeated delay in filing the counter. On August 25, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) filed the counter stating that the delay was because they wanted to ensure ‘consistent defence’ as there are various challenges before different High Courts across the country which had challenged different parts of the new IT Rules.

There are a total of 19 writ petitions pending across high courts in the country and each emanate out of a unique set of circumstances, the MEITY submitted. But all cases commonly seek to declare the IT Rules 2021 ultra vires the Constitution and the IT Act, 2000, the ministry noted.

MeitY defended the new rules while the Ministry for Information and Broadcasting (MIB) filed a separate 115-page counter-affidavit on August 26 supporting the stance of the former ministry seeking to dismiss the petitions.

MeitY said that there is no chilling effect on speech and expression as it does not impose any penalties on users who post content in contravention of the IT Rules. The 23 page affidavit also said that the right to privacy is not absolute and when an “important countervailing interest is shown to be superior, the right to privacy can be intruded upon.”

The only ramification is the removal of such content or the termination of user’s access by the intermediary, which may be challenged by the user under the grievance redressal mechanism specifically set out in the IT Rules or by way of judicial review, the affidavit read.

The affidavit added that content can be removed only if it is unlawful and after a court order and after being notified by the authorised agency. “No other executive other than the appropriate government or its agency is empowered to issue an order for removal of content,” it assured.

The affidavit said that the IT Rules 2021 were in consonance with the Constitution of India and the notion “welfare of the people is the supreme law” has been taken into prime consideration while framing the rules. “Businesses must be legally complaint to the law of the land,” the affidavit said, asking the court to dismiss the petitions.

Expanding on this, the MIB in its affidavit submitted that it’s well within the scope of the Information Technology Act (IT Act), 2000 and the Constitution.

The Madras HC’s first bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice PD Audikesavalu posted the next hearing in the case for September 14.

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Monday, November 29, 2021