Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad on Wednesday asserted that the government is not using the amended provisions of the Information Technology Act as a tool to gag free speech or curtail freedom of expression online.
Speaking at the Express Adda in Mumbai, Prasad said, “We, who are in public life, should learn to enjoy humour, cartoon and fun. It is part of public life. But having said that, I must reiterate that on the issue of terrorism, extremism and communal violence, authorities need to intervene to avoid very serious situations.”
Prasad also defended Minister of State Sanjeev Balyan, who has demanded a probe to find out who all consumed the cow meat that was allegedly found outside the house of Mohammad Akhlaq, who was lynched over suspicion of cow slaughter and beef consumption eight months ago in Dadri’s Bisara village.
“I don’t think he (Balyan) has joined the clamour (for a case against Akhlaq’s family for alleged cow slaughter). He is a local MP of the adjoining part, may be he would have made some comment…he has not joined any protest there per se,” said Prasad.
Balyan had made the demand after a forensic test confirmed that the meat sample recovered from outside Akhlaq’s house belonged to “cow or its progeny”.
“Right from the Prime Minister to everyone, we have condemned what happened in Dadri and we stand very firmly. But the issue had to be handled as a law and order (one) by the state government. The failure of the state government of Mulayam Singh and Akhilesh cannot be passed on to us,” said Prasad.
On setting up payments bank by the Department of Posts, Prasad said at least fifty 50 national and international consortiums have shown interest in partnering with the postal department. The government is planning to launch 650 branches of payments bank of the post by September 2017, which, according to the minister, will help in financial inclusion of those without bank accounts.
“It will be a great platform for financial inclusion in the rural hinterland. We just got the approval and Barclays of London, Deutsche Bank of Germany, Citibank, World Bank, all are keen to partner with us,” said Prasad.
Interestingly, three out of 11 applicants who were given in-principle approval to set up payments banks by the RBI in August 2015 have pulled out of the race.
Prasad said the ambitious BharatNet project of the government may be delayed even as the government has laid 1.20 lakh km of optical fibres in the country in the last two years.
The BharatNet project, earlier known as the National Optical Fibre Network, was initiated in 2011 and has already missed several deadlines.
The project was to provide broadband connectivity to over 2 lakh gram panchayats. It aims to leverage the existing fibre optical network of Central utilities — BSNL, RailTel and Power Grid — and lay incremental fibre wherever necessary to bridge the connectivity gap between panchayats and blocks. Bharat Broadband Network Ltd, a special purpose vehicle, was created under the Companies Act of 1956 for execution of the project.