The Supreme Court on Friday sought response from the Centre on two petitions challenging the Centre’s decision to “ban” a BBC documentary titled ‘India: The Modi Question’, which shows Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alleged role in 2002 Gujarat riots, Live Law reported.
A bench of justices Sanjiv Khanna and Justice M M Sundresh issued the notices to the union government and others. The apex court also directed the Centre to produce original records relating to take down order.
The matter is listed for next hearing in April.
One petition has been filed by veteran journalist N Ram, Trinamool Congress leader Mahua Moitra and lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan, the second plea was filed by advocate M L Sharma in the top court. When the petition was filed union Law minister Kiren Rijiju had tweeted, “This is how they waste the precious time of Hon’ble Supreme Court where thousands of common citizens are waiting and seeking dates for Justice.”
A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and MM Sundresh will hear the matter today.
Earlier, on January 30, the apex court had agreed to hear to list the case on February 6.
The first episode of the BBC’s two-part documentary was released on January 17, and the second part was released on January 24. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on January 20 used emergency powers under the IT Rules, 2021, and ordered YouTube and Twitter to take down links sharing the documentary.
Centre alleged that the documentary undermined the “sovereignty and integrity of India” and has “the potential to adversely impact” the country’s “friendly relations with foreign states” and “public order within the country”.
Sharma’s PIL alleged that blocking the documentary was “mala fide, arbitrary and unconstitutional”. It wanted the top court to examine the documentary and act against persons who were directly or indirectly responsible for the 2002 riots.
The petition pointed out that Bhushan and Moitra had tweeted about the documentary on January 19 and 22 respectively, sharing on their Twitter handles links to the URLs where the documentary could be watched. However, following the Centre’s order, they were removed.
The petitioners contended that “contents of the BBC Documentary and the tweets by” Bhushan and Moitra are protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and expression. “…the contents of the documentary series do not fall under any of the restrictions specified in Article 19(2) or restrictions imposed under Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000”, it said.
While the documentary is not available for screening in India, pirated version of it is widely shared on online platforms.