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HC to go ahead with hearing of cases against new IT Rules

The Madras High Court on Wednesday decided to go ahead with the hearing of writ petitions filed by acclaimed Carnatic vocalist T.M. Krishna, Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA) and former Editor of The Hindu Mukund Padmanabhan against the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 since the Supreme Court was yet to take a call on transferring those cases.

When the cases were listed before Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy, the judges were told that several cases had been filed before various High Courts in the country challenging the IT Rules, 2021. Hence, the Centre had recently moved an application before the Supreme Court to get all those cases transferred to it so that they could be clubbed and heard together directly by the top court.

However, pointing out that the Supreme Court had not stayed the proceedings before the High Courts so far, the first Bench led by the Chief Justice said that it could not stop hearing the cases merely because the Centre had moved transfer applications. It insisted that the Centre should file its counter affidavit to the cases within a fortnight and said that it would be better if the Supreme Court had the benefit of the opinion of the High Court.

The new IT Rules require social media intermediaries to identify originator of “unlawful” messages at the instance of appropriate government agencies and take down such messages within a specific time frame. The Rules also require the intermediaries to set up grievance redressal mechanisms and assist government agencies in investigation. In his affidavit, Mr. Krishna had claimed that the rules, in their present form, were against the constitutional rights to free speech and privacy.

As an artist and cultural and political commentator, he said that he cherished the rights to free expression and privacy. Similarly, the DNPA and Mr. Padmanabhan, in their joint affidavit, had urged the court to declare the IT Rules as ultra vires, void and violative of Articles 14 (right to equality before law and equal protection of laws), 19(1)(a) (freedom of speech and expression) and 19(1)(g) (right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business) of the Constitution. TheHindu

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