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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Centre’s fact-check rule has no guard rails, says Bombay high court | India News – Times of India

NEW DELHI: “Our concern here is that this rule, however well intentioned, doesn’t have necessary guard rails,” said the Bombay high court on Monday while hearing a constitutional challenge to the Information Technology Rule that calls for a government-run fact checking unit (FCU) to identify “fake or misleading” online posts about the Centre and its policies.Rejecting the Centre’s plea against the maintainability of stand-up comic Kunal Kamra’s legal challenge to the Rule, the HC said, “We are not interested in challenging his locus (right to raise a challenge).” The HC said when it comes to the fundamental right to freedom of speech, locus is immaterial, adding, “we are not going to shoot the messenger”.The bench of Justices Gautam Patel and Neela Gokhale said the Centre’s affidavit had said its FCU would not affect parody or satire, “but this is not what your rule says. There is no protection granted”.The Centre through additional solicitor general Anil Singh repeatedly questioned the urgency in hearing the matter to decide any request for a stay. Singh said the Rule is not yet operational and the FCU has not yet been set up.Navroz Seervai, senior counsel for Kamra, underscored the need for the court’s intervention, saying “the chilling effect” on free speech was already being felt. He said, “Government can never be made arbiter of truth and falsehoods. The chilling effect has already set in. People… are scared. And they should not be in this country in a democracy governed by rule of law.”Questioning the urgency to hear the plea, the ASG said it could be heard after the court vacation, on or after June 6, or whenever the committee is notified. The judges on their part asked if the Centre would make a statement confirming that the committee will not be set up till June 6.Seervai cited various SC judgments to question the Rule. “My challenge is four-fold. It is a violation of Articles 19 (1) (a) and (g) (freedoms of speech and expression and right of trade), Article 14 (right to equality) as well as the vires of the rules.” Seervai stressed the SC’s judgment in Shreya Singhal when it held section 66A of IT Act to be unconstitutional.The bench said it would hear the matter on Thursday on the issue of interim relief, while adding that the only question was whether a stay was warranted in the absence of a committee being set up by the government under the PIB. Justice Patel said the bench was unconvinced there were any constraints on staying such a rule.Justice Patel said TOI also has a fact-check unit and “today’s page 5” has busted fake news about SC legalising same-sex marriage.

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