A bench comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna and M.M. Sundresh directed that the Centre should produce the original records in connection with its order on the documentary on the next date of hearing in April.
The apex court was hearing a petition filed by journalist N. Ram, advocate Prashant Bhushan and Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, and another petition filed by advocate M.L. Sharma.
Senior advocate C.U. Singh, representing N. Ram and others, submitted that it was a case where the Centre invoked the emergency powers under the IT Rules to block the documentary. The bench asked counsel, “Why should you not go to the high court first?”
Singh replied that the apex court had transferred to itself the petitions pending in the high court challenging the IT Rules and urged the bench to grant interim relief in the matter. The bench said it is not considering that aspect at the present juncture and orally observed that people have been accessing the documentary.
The apex court said it can’t pass interim directions without hearing what the government has to say. After hearing submissions, the bench issued notice in the matter.
The plea filed by Sharma contended that the BBC documentary on Gujarat riots recorded and was released for public view, however due to fear of truth the documentary has been banned from viewership in India by any means under rule 16 of IT Act 2021.
Sharma’s plea sought a direction for quashing of the January 21 order under the IT Act being illegal, mala fide and arbitrary, unconstitutional and void ab-initio and ultra vires to the Constitution of India.
The documentary titled ‘India: The Modi Question’ has been banned on social media and online channels, but some students have screened it on campuses of various universities across the country.
Sharma’s plea contended that the BBC documentary has reflected true facts with original recording of the victims of riot 2002 as well as other concerned persons involved in the scenario of riot, and it can be used for judicial justice.
A separate petition has been filed by journalist N. Ram, Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, and advocate Prashant Bhushan against taking down their tweets with links of the documentary.
“The contents of the BBC documentary and the tweets by petitioner No. 2 (Bhushan) & 3 (Moitra) 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,” said the plea by Ram and others.
The government has blocked the sharing of any clips from the documentary on social media. Students’ organisations and opposition parties have organised public screenings of the documentary to protest against the ban.
The plea by N. Ram and others argued that the apex court has categorically laid down that criticism of the government or its policies or even the judgment of the Supreme Court does not tantamount to violating the sovereignty and integrity of India.
“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 in violation of the Basic Structure of the Constitution of India,” added the plea.