New Delhi, Jan 30 (PTI) The Supreme Court will hear next Monday pleas challenging the Centre's decision to block a controversial BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the 2002 Gujarat riots even as Law Minister Kiren attacked the petitioners for "wasting precious time" of the top court.
Taking note of the submissions of lawyer M L Sharma and senior advocate C U Singh, appearing for veteran journalist N Ram, TMC MP Mahua Moitra and activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan, seeking urgent listing of the petitions against the Centre's ban on the two-episode BBC series using its emergency powers, a bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud said it will hear the matter on February 6.
One of the petitioners also alleged that the ban on the documentary 'India: The Modi question' was "malafide, arbitrary and unconstitutional".
Reacting strongly, Rijiju tweeted "this is how they waste the precious time of Hon'ble Supreme Court where thousands of common citizens are waiting and seeking dates for justice".
At the outset of the proceedings, lawyer Sharma, who has filed a PIL in his personal capacity, mentioned the plea and sought an urgent hearing.
"It will be listed on Monday," said the bench, also comprising Justices P S Narasimha and J B Pardiwala.
"People were being arrested. Please list it urgently", Sharma submitted.
"You can speak to social media from elsewhere. It will be listed on Monday", the bench said.
Minutes later, senior advocate Singh mentioned the separate plea on the issue filed by Ram and Bhushan. He mentioned that Ram, Moitra and Bhushan's tweets were allegedly deleted by using emergency powers. He also said students in Ajmer were rusticated for streaming the BBC documentary.
"We will list," the CJI said.
Ram and others, in their pleas, have sought a direction to restrain the Centre from curbing their right to "receive and disseminate information" on the documentary.
"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 the right to freedom of speech and expression incorporates the right to receive and disseminate information...,the plea said and referred to several apex court orders on freedom of speech and expression.
The plea has also sought quashing of "all orders directly or indirectly censoring" the information including those shared on social media.
"Issue a writ of Mandamus or any other appropriate writ, order, or direction to the respondents restraining them from giving effect to orders curtailing freedom of speech and expression without first putting them in the public domain on a centralized database," the plea said.
The plea, which has made Twitter Communications India Private Ltd and Google India parties, has also sought a direction for the restoration of the tweets of the petitioners.
"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," it said.
The contents of the BBC documentary are protected under Article 19(1)(a) (freedom of speech and expression) of the Constitution, it said, adding that the contents of the series do not fall under any of the restrictions specified in Article 19(2).
"On January 17, 2023, BBC released the first in a two-part documentary series titled, 'India: The Modi Question' which critically appraises the role of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was the then Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002 when riots broke out in which thousands of people lost their lives," the plea said.
The plea challenged the decision of the Secretary, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, to ban it.
The impugned directions were issued under Rule 16 of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 to Twitter India to block 50 tweets with links to YouTube videos of the BBC documentary.
Consequently, the tweet of Bhushan and the link to the URL shared by Moitra were removed.
"The Secretary, Information & Broadcasting Ministry issued the impugned directions in his capacity as Authorized Officer under Rule 13(2) of The IT Rules 2021. The directions are prima facie illegal as they are in direct contravention of the interim order ...passed by the Bombay High Court ...," it said.
The first episode of the documentary was aired on January 17, it said, adding that the second one was aired on January 24.
Sharma's PIL also urged the apex court to call and examine the BBC documentary - both parts I and II - and sought action against persons who were responsible and involved directly and indirectly with the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Sharma has raised a constitutional question in his PIL and the top court has to decide whether citizens have the right under Article 19 (1) (2) to see news, facts and reports on the 2002 Gujarat riots. He has sought a direction to quash the government order.
The plea claimed the BBC documentary has "recorded facts" which are also "evidence" and can be used to further the cause of justice for the victims.
On January 21, the Centre issued directions for blocking multiple YouTube videos and Twitter posts sharing links to the controversial documentary. PTI SJK NAB PYK PYK