SC issues notice to Centre on PILs against BBC documentary on Gujarat riots

It also issued a notice on the plea filed by lawyer M L Sharma. The apex court also directed the Centre to produce original records relating to take down order.

Published: 03rd February 2023 01:04 PM  |   Last Updated: 03rd February 2023 06:57 PM   |  A+A-

Supreme court

A view of the Supreme Court. (Photo | EPS)

Express News Service

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday issued notices to Centre, Twitter, and Google on pleas challenging its decision to block a BBC documentary titled 'India the Modi Question' on the 2002 Gujarat riots. 

A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and MM Sundresh asked the centre to produce original records relating to blocking the documentary but however refused to temporarily stay the same.

On students being rusticated for screening the documentary, the court said, “That’s a separate issue. We are more on the legal aspect. How can we allow the writ petition and pass interim order without a hearing? If they (Centre) don’t do it (produce original files), we’ll see what can be done on the next date of the hearing."

Appearing for Senior Journalist N Ram, Advocate Prashant Bhushan & TMC MP Mahua Moitra, Senior Advocate CU Singh told the bench that the documentary was taken down by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting by invocation of emergency powers but have not shown similar alacrity in sharing the reasons for passing these emergency orders and placing the orders in the public domain. He also urged the bench to stay January 20 order and all subsequent and consequential proceedings arising therefrom. 

Aggrieved by the centre’s action of taking down their (TMC MP Mahua Moitra and Advocate Prashant Bhushan) tweets, the petitioners in the plea have stated that all citizens including the press have the fundamental right to view, form an informed opinion, critique, report on, & lawfully circulate the contents of the documentary. It was also stated that citizens have the right to receive and disseminate information under the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. 

Seeking to quash the order dated January 20, 2023, of the Secretary, Ministry of the Information and Broadcasting for directly or indirectly censoring the documentary, the plea also stated that the Government of India has not officially placed any document/ order or any other information in the public domain which explains the reasons for the need to exercise its emergency powers under Rule 16 of The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021. 

“The power of the executive under Section 69 A to lay down directions for ‘blocking public access’ is limited to “sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above”. As there is no Order in the public domain, the reason for restrictions as defined under Section 69A(1) cannot be ascertained,” the plea stated. 

The plea also states that freedom of speech and expression cannot be curtailed in such a manifestly arbitrary manner.

Levelling allegations that the ban was “malafide, arbitrary and unconstitutional”, ML Sharma in his plea has also sought for examining the documentary. He has also sought for taking action against persons involved directly or indirectly in the Gujarat riots. Sharma has also claimed that the documentary has recorded facts that as evidence can be used further to cause justice to victims. 

The matter is listed for the next hearing in April.


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