Advocate Prashant Bhushan, Trinamool Congress Member of Parliament (MP) Mahua Moitra and journalist N Ram have approached the Supreme Court challenging Central government orders to block the BBC Documentary titled, ‘India: The Modi Question’ relating to the 2002 Gujarat Riots.
The plea filed by advocate Prateek K Chadha and drawn by advocates Rahul Gupta, Suroor Mandar, Cheryl D’souza and Varun Thomas Mathews stated that the documentary, as well as tweets on the same by Moitra and Bhushan, are protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
“The contents of the documentary series do not fall under any of the restrictions specified in Article 19(2) or B restrictions imposed under Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000,” it was submitted.
The petition further highlighted that, as per the top Court’s judgments, criticism of the government or its policies and even Supreme Court judgments do not tantamount to violating the sovereignty and integrity of India.
“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 as right to freedom of speech and expression incorporates the right to receive and disseminate information,” the petitioners contended.
Additionally, it was argued that the Indian government has not officially placed any document, order, or any other information in the public domain to explain the need for exercising emergency powers under Rule 16 of the Information Technology (IT) Act.
Therefore, it was contended that the government has chosen expediency over necessity and proportionality in its response to the documentary.
“Censoring the freedom of speech and expression of the petitioners by the Executive through opaque orders and proceedings is manifestly arbitrary as it frustrates the fundamental right of petitioners to effectively seek judicial review of administrative actions under Article 226 and Article 32 of the constitution of India,” the petition further stated.
The plea also contended that as per Section 69A(1) of the IT Act, an order restricting freedom of speech and expression has to be in writing and must record reasons.
“In the present case, neither the order nor the reasons are in the public domain. Freedom of speech and expression cannot be curtailed in such manifestly arbitrary manner,” the petitioners highlighted.
Therefore, the apex court has been urged to issue an order restraining the Centre from curbing the petitioners’ right to receive and disseminate information contained in the documentary.
Further, it has been prayed that all orders directly or indirectly censoring the documentary be quashed.
The plea has also called upon the Court to prevent the respondent-authorities from giving effect to orders curtailing freedom of speech and expression without first putting them in the public domain on a centralised database.
The Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud agreed to hear the case on February 6 after it was mentioned before the Court this morning for urgent listing.
A similar petition has been filed by advocate ML Sharma claiming that the ban on the documentary was arbitrary and unconstitutional. Sharma has also called for an investigation into those responsible for failing to contain the riots.
Sharma’s plea will also be heard on February 6