Bombay high court. (File photo)

MUMBAI: Bombay high court on Friday said it was “time for state to introduce a regime” with “stricter norms” to deal with “rapid rise of absolutely avoidable, uncalled for and unwarranted inflammatory posts on the social media.”
“Regrettably, a trend is clearly discernible that in the name of exercise of a right, the liberty of free speech is being abused with bad faith,” said a bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice Madhav Jamdar while disposing a Public interest Litigation (PIL) against allegedly inflammatory videos posted by a person.
The HC added, “people may exercise some degree of restraint on their liberty of free speech and expression particularly during these testing times.The right cannot be exercised to sow seeds of hatred and to create disharmony among religious communities.”
The remedy at present to block “hate speech” online lies before a nodal officer appointed under the Information Technology Act and its rules of 2009 or by a court order, observed the HC. The law is clear that neither the state nor its police can issue a blocking order, said the HC.
The petitioner Imran Khan’s lawyer Vivek Shukla had contended that despite approaching Mumbai police against certain objectionable video clips which allegedly had the “potential of creating communal disharmony”, the police had not deleted them. He said it was also the duty of police to register an offence. Shukla said a complaint before the nodal officer was filed on July 24 while the matter was pending and the HC also gave him liberty to file a fresh complaint before such nodal officer.
The HC saw no occasion in the facts and circumstances to pass any direction as sought.
Facebook counsel Darius Khambata said his client was prepared to remove the ‘objectional posts if directed by the HC or by a designated officer as held by the Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal’s case. He said under the IT Act it was “not for the intermediary to judge whether access of public to any post ought to be blocked or not. Additional solicitor general Anil Singh for the Centre said IT Act had rules in place to block access of information while Google represented by counsel Naresh Thacker said the video was ‘already taken down for violation of community guidelines of You Tube’’
The HC passed no orders but left it “free” to social media platforms to “regulate their affairs and make exclusions as would be desirable for strong reasons of public policy of India and integrity of State.’’
“Since inflammatory posts have the potential of disturbing public peace and tranquility, strong action ought to be taken against those responsible to uphold the high values aimed at by the Constitution. In a secular country like India, the citizens of different religions should feel assured that they can live in peace with persons practicing other religions,” said the HC.
“The framers of our Constitution visualised a stable society providing sufcient scope for exercise of the right of free speech and expression. However, those exercising such a right must not remain oblivious that the exercise cannot rise above national interest and interest of the society,” said the HC and observed,“In the guise of exercising the right, no form of insult to any group or community disrupting public order ought to ensue.”



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