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Supreme Court to hear pleas challenging IT, Cable TV Rules 2021 today

The Supreme Court Wednesday said it will hear petitions challenging the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 and the Cable TV Networks (Amendment) Rules 2021 today.

On Wednesday, a bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar orally observed that the writ petitions were filed before the IT Rules were introduced, and the petitioners have not challenged the validity of the rules.

The bench also disposed of a batch of writ petitions which sought directions for special laws for regulating social media content, noting that the IT Rules have already been framed.

“The Solicitor General submits that the IT Rules have already been framed. In the circumstances, nothing further requires to be said about other reliefs, leaving liberty to writ petitioner to take recourse to an appropriate remedy with reference to these rules,” the bench said.

“We have proper rules now. Have you challenged that? If not, then make a representation to the appropriate authority. Your writ was filed in 2020, the rules came in 2021. You can withdraw this and file a separate petition. You can make a representation, if it’s a good suggestion, they will act upon it. You either challenge rules or make representation,” Justice Khanwilkar said, addressing one of the petitioners appearing in person.

The bench will, in the next hearing, consider the following matters: a)Petition challenging validity of the IT Rules 2021 and Cable TV Rules 2021, and, b)Union of India’s petitions challenging interim orders passed by some High Courts staying some provisions of the IT Act and seeking transfer of those petitions to Supreme Court.

In May 2022, the top court stayed further proceedings in the High Courts with regard to challenge to IT Rules and Cable TV Rules 2021.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Union of India on Wednesday, told the court that the rules were made balancing equities while maintaining freedom under Article 21 and the users are also protected.

Senior Advocate AM Singhvi submitted that the Union can approach the high court and get the matters decided, instead of clogging the Supreme Court and duplicating the hearing. He further said that the matters may be transferred, but it needs to be heard finally with a compilation being filed by the parties.

With regard to the request for transfer of cases to the Supreme Court, Senior Advocate Arvind Datar submitted that the court may also consider transferring all pending matters to one high court while giving the example of the Agniveer matters being transferred to Delhi High Court.

It may be noted that petitions challenging IT Rules 2021 have been filed before different high courts, including the High Courts of Bombay, Kerala, Madras and Delhi.

The Bombay High Court in August last year stayed the operation of sub-rules (1) and (3) of Rule 9 of the IT Rules, which provide the “Code of Ethics” to be followed by digital media.

The Madras High Court had in September last year passed an interim order observing that there is a substance in the petitioners’ grievance that an oversight mechanism to control the media by the government may rob the media of its independence and the fourth pillar, so to say, of democracy may not at all be there.

The court had observed that the Bombay High court order staying operation of the rules should have a pan-India effect.

The Court also directed that any action taken in terms of Rules 3 and 7 of the IT Rules 2021 would be subject to the outcome of the petitions. It may be noted that Rule 3 deals with the obligation to exercise due diligence by intermediaries and Rule 7 deals with coercive action against intermediaries for breach of the provisions of the Rules.

The Kerala High Court, while hearing petitions challenging the rules, had also passed interim orders directing no coercive action to be taken against the petitioners. India Today

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