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Authorities are directed to publish all orders in force and any future orders under Section 144, Cr.







ANURADHA BHASIN vs. UNION OF INDIA AND ORS., WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 1031 OF 2019 and GHULAM NABI AZAD vs. UNION OF INDIA AND ANR., WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 1164 OF 2019 – 10 January 2020

The bench comprising of Justice N.V.Ramana, Justice R. SUBHASH REDDY, Justice B.R.Gavani held that An order suspending internet services   indefinitely is impermissible under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Service) Rules, 2017.

The issues in this matter were: I. Whether   the   Government can claim exemption from producing all the orders passed under Section 144, Cr.P.C. and other orders under the Suspension Rules? II. Whether   the   freedom of speech and   expression and freedom to  practise any   profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business over the Internet is a part of the fundamental rights under Part III of the Constitution? III. Whether the Government’s action of prohibiting internet access is valid? IV. Whether the imposition of restrictions under Section 144, Cr.P.C. were valid? V. Whether the freedom of press was violated due to the restrictions?

While discussing the the above issues the court observed: “we need to note that the law should imbibe the technological development and accordingly mould its rules so as to cater to the needs of society. Non recognition of technology within the sphere of law is only a disservice to the inevitable. In this light, the importance of internet cannot be underestimated, as from morning to night we are encapsulated within the cyberspace and our most basic activities are enabled by the use of internet.”

We need to distinguish between the internet as a tool and the freedom of expression through the internet. There is no dispute that freedom of speech and expression includes the right to disseminate information to as wide a section of the population as is possible. The wider range of circulation of information or its greater impact cannot restrict the content of the right nor can it justify its denial. [refer to Secretary, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting Government of India v. Cricket Association of Bengal, (1995) 2 SCC 161; Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, (2015) 5 SCC 1.

Court further observed the suspension rules under the telegraph Act: “Keeping in mind the wordings of the section, and the above two pronouncements of this Court, what emerges is that the prerequisite for an order to be passed under this sub­section, and therefore the Suspension Rules, is the occurrence of a “public emergency” or for it to be “in the interest of public safety”. Although the phrase “public emergency” has not been defined under the Telegraph Act, it has been clarified that the meaning of the phrase can be inferred from its usage in conjunction with the phrase “in the interest of public safety” following it.”

After hearing both the side arguments court issued the following directions: “a. The Respondent State/competent authorities are directed to publish all orders in force and any future orders under Section 144, Cr.P.C and for suspension of telecom services, including internet, to enable the affected persons to challenge it before the High Court or appropriate forum.

b. We declare that the freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to practice any profession or carry on any trade, business or occupation over the medium of internet enjoys constitutional protection under Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19(1)(g). The restriction upon such fundamental rights should be in consonance with the mandate under Article 19 (2) and (6) of the Constitution, inclusive of the test of proportionality.

c. An order suspending internet services indefinitely is impermissible under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Service) Rules, 2017. Suspension can be utilized for temporary duration only.

d. Any order suspending internet issued under the Suspension Rules, must adhere to the principle of proportionality and must not extend beyond necessary duration.

e. Any order suspending internet under the Suspension Rules is subject to judicial review based on the parameters set out herein.

f. The existing Suspension Rules neither provide for a periodic review nor a time limitation for an order issued under the Suspension Rules. Till this gap is filled, we direct that the Review Committee constituted under Rule 2(5) of the Suspension Rules must conduct a periodic review within seven working days of the previous review, in terms of the requirements under Rule 2(6).

g. We direct the respondent State/competent authorities to review all orders suspending internet services forthwith.

h. Orders not in accordance with the law laid down above, must be revoked. Further, in future, if there is a necessity to pass fresh orders, the law laid down herein must be followed.

i. In any case, the State/concerned authorities are directed to consider forthwith allowing government websites, localized/limited e­-banking facilities, hospitals services and other essential services, in those regions, wherein the internet services are not likely to be restored immediately.

j. The power under Section 144, Cr.P.C., being remedial as well as preventive, is exercisable not only where there exists present danger, but also when there is an apprehension of danger. However, the danger contemplated should be in the nature of an “emergency” and for the purpose of preventing obstruction and annoyance or injury to any person lawfully employed.

k. The power under Section 144, Cr.P.C cannot be used to suppress legitimate expression of opinion or grievance or exercise of any democratic rights.

l. An order passed under Section 144, Cr.P.C. should state the material facts to enable judicial review of the same. The power should be exercised in a bona fide and reasonable manner, and the same should be passed by relying on the material facts, indicative of application of mind. This will enable judicial scrutiny of the aforesaid order.

m.While exercising the power under Section 144, Cr.P.C., the Magistrate is duty bound to balance the rights and restrictions based on the principles of proportionality and thereafter, apply the least intrusive measure.

n. Repetitive orders under Section 144, Cr.P.C. would be an abuse of power.

o. The Respondent State/competent authorities are directed to review forthwith the need for continuance of any existing orders passed under Section 144, Cr.P.C in accordance with law laid down above.”

–  Barathan B



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