With the announcement of the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 in February by the Government of India, Twitter is caught in a legal tussle with the Indian government. The government gave intermediaries like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram three months to comply with the rules. Failure to abide by the authorities led to Twitter losing its tag as an intermediary. The platform is now considered a digital news platform and is now liable for misinformation spread using it.
The New IT Rules
The government announced new IT rules that now govern the social media platforms in India on February 25 2021. It gave the companies a stipulated time of three months to comply with the rules.
The rules were brought in to regulate the content on social media platforms. The end objective was to curb the spread of fake news, child pornography, paedophilia, the circulation of obscene pictures, and plagiarism.
These acts abetted and aided perpetrators to commit acts of cybercrime, violence and vitiate communal harmony.
The new rules required the social media platforms to do due diligence, which required the companies to set up a grievance redressal mechanism. The Section 79 of the Constitution under Information Technology Act, 2000 governed these regulations. It led to the creation of three new posts at the local offices of the intermediaries – a Chief Compliance Officer, a Nodal contact person and a Resident Grievance Officer.
The Chief Compliance offer is responsible for ensuring the company followed the rules and the laws. The officer is liable in proceedings related to relevant third-party information. The officer appointed should be a senior employee.
The Nodal contact person is required to stay in touch with the law enforcement agencies. He is held responsible for complying with orders and requisitions made by them.
The Resident Grievance Officer is mandated to publish compliance reports every month. The report contains details of complaints received, and due action is taken against the complaints are recorded in it. The other information contained in the notification is the number of specific links removed or disabled in compliance with the laws.
All the officers appointed to these positions must be citizens of India.
Non-Compliance of Rules by Twitter
The controversy started a few days before the new IT rules came into effect.
On May 18 2021, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Sambit Patra tweeted, “Friends look at the Congress Toolkit in extending help to the needy during the pandemic! More of a PR exercise with ‘Friendly journalists’ and ‘Influencers’ than a soulful endeavor.” He posted a set of documents that showed how Congress carried out an organized misinformation campaign.
The tweet was retweeted by BJP leader and former Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh and IT Cell head Amit Malviya. Many social media influencers associated with the political ideology did the same. Twitter tagged the tweet as manipulated media.
This led to a political controversy between the BJP and Congress. Congress filed a complaint with Delhi police as the tweet was tagged as manipulated media. During the investigation, Delhi Police officials served Twitter a notice to join the study.
The government asked Twitter to remove the manipulated tag. It said the matter was pending before a law enforcement agency. It was not proper for the social media platform to pass judgement as the issue was being investigated.
The incident brought the practices of Twitter into question. The question asked of Twitter was on what basis did it tag the tweet as manipulated.
Second Round of Confrontation
The second round of the confrontation started when Twitter failed to comply with the new rules. Twitter, in its justification for non-compliance, said it was protecting the freedom of expression. In response, the Ministry of Electronics and IT issued a strongly-worded statement.
The government stated, “Twitter representatives in India routinely claim that they have no authority and that they and the people of India need to escalate everything to the Twitter headquarters in USA. The purported commitment of Twitter, to its Indian user base, thus not only sounds hollow but completely self-serving.”
The government reminded Twitter that it is a US-based private company. In its communique, as a response, it sought ‘constructive dialogue’ and ‘collaborative approach from the government of a sovereign democratic republic‘ to safeguard the interests of the public. The government advised Twitter to clarify its grandiosity and comply with the laws of India.
Several instances were cited by the government where Twitter failed to safeguard the interests of the public.
Twitter showed the location of the Union Territory of Ladakh as a part of China. Unfortunately, it happened when the countries were negotiating a peaceful resolution to the border dispute. It took repeated reminders and several days for Twitter to correct its mistake.
- Twitter took suo-moto action against the considered perpetrators of violence at Capitol Hill in the USA. However, the social media platform refused to act on the lawful request of the Government of India to block content in the aftermath of the unlawful incident at Red Fort.
- The government questioned the commitment of Twitter to the people of India as it let the rampant proliferation of harmful content against India and Indians. Furthermore, it challenged the role of Twitter in promoting vaccine hesitancy in India.
- The government questioned the discriminatory practices followed by Twitter against Indians. It disputed the tagging of B.1.617 mutant as the ‘Indian variant’, which went against WHO guidelines.
Loss of Status as Intermediary
The series of events that led to the loss of status started on the Loni border in Uttar Pradesh when a video of a 72-year-old Abdul Samad Shafi being assaulted by a group of young men emerged on Twitter. According to the video, the youth forced him to chant the slogan ‘Jai Shri Ram’, and they forcibly cut his beard. The narrative painted an angle of communal violence.
The video supposedly shot on June 5 went viral a few days ago. Officers investigating the incident said the incident was one of ‘personal dispute’ and not communal. They said at least one of the arrested men is a Muslim.
Iraj Raja, Superintendent of Police (Rural), said Samad was beaten up by the suspects over the amulets he sold. The police also said he was not made to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ as alleged by him earlier.
As there is no element of communal violence, the Uttar Pradesh Police filed an FIR. The police filed the FIR based on the complaint of a local policeman. He alleged the video was shared with the interest to provoke communal violence.
“There is no communal angle to the incident in Loni where a man was thrashed, and his beard chopped off. The following entities – The Wire, Rana Ayyub, Mohammad Zubair, Dr Shama Mohammed, Saba Naqvi, Maskoor Usmani, Salman Nizami – without checking the fact, started giving communal colour to the incident”, the Ghaziabad police noted in the FIR.
As Twitter let the misinformation spread, the police added Twitter India and Twitter Inc to the FIR. The government declared that Twitter lost its intermediary status after the filing of the FIR.
IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad tweeted, “The simple fact of the matter is that Twitter failed to comply with the Intermediary Guidelines that came into effect from May 26.” He added that Twitter deliberately chose the path of non-compliance.
Continuing his Twitter thread, he added, “It is astounding that Twitter which portrays itself as a flag bearer of free speech, chooses the path of deliberate defiance when it comes to the Intermediary Guidelines.”
What Does It Mean For Twitter?
Twitter has lost the legal shield it enjoyed from prosecution for content posted by third parties.
With the legal shield removed, Twitter now functions like any other digital news platform in India. Any misinformation, fake news or objection spread on Twitter will see the company as an accused if a case is filed.
Currently, the company faces two cases in India. With its brazen defiance stating it follows its internal policy to the Parliament Panel of Information Technology, the feud will only get bigger. Twitter might probably follow the footsteps of TikTok if delays with compliance any longer.
Ram Mandir Opening For “Darshan” In 2023
The Ram Mandir in Ayodhya is expected to allow visitors by December 2023, with the completion of construction only in 2025.
Sources in the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra have revealed that the colossal project of building the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, will be opening for devotees towards the end of 2023. In contrast, the project’s entire construction completion is expected towards the end of 2025. The sanctum sanctorum (Garbha Griha), along with the mandir’s first floor, will be ready by December 2023. Devotees will be allowed to visit the long-awaited mandir soon after the construction is completed.
An ANI report said, “The grand Ram Mandir being constructed in Ayodhya will be opened for devotees from December 2023. Sources told ANI that Garbhagriha, all five mandaps and the first floor will be ready by December 2023 and the mandir will be opened for devotees”.
Completion of entire Ram Temple complex in Ayodhya is expected by the year 2025; A museum, digital archives and a research centre also to come up in the temple complex: Sources
— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) August 4, 2021
The sanctum sanctorum will be as high as 161 feet and built using Rajasthani marble and stones. Engineers and architects are taking all measures to ensure the longevity of this enormous project. The second stage of construction is expected to begin in December this year. Currently, the structure is at a standstill as a result of monsoons. Another reason for the delay is the coronavirus pandemic that depleted the force with which the mandir’s construction was expected to go on.
Ram Temple in Ayodhya will be ready in a year or two. Delhi government has decided to take senior citizens to Ayodhya for Ram Lalla's darshan with travel, accommodation, and food expenses to be borne by us: Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal pic.twitter.com/MDGeP0k613
— ANI (@ANI) March 14, 2021
The announcement of the mandir being opened to visitors in 2023 has brought up questions about the political agenda. It is believed that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) aims to use the mandir to catapult themselves into a position of advantage during the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Opening the mandir to devotees in December 2023 will give the BJP an easy 6-month gap to the general elections in 2024.
The opening of the long-awaited Ram Mandir in Ayodhya could be the factor that diverts the public, at least the Hindu’s in favour of BJP. Thus, securing them a vote bank based on religious sentiments upheld by the party in their previous tenure as the ruling party.
The Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir will be 360 feet long, 235 feet wide, and 20 feet high mandir will be completely ready by the end of 2025. The project will include amenities and structures like museums, archives, research centre, Sant Niwas, gau and Yagya shala, Etc. The main attraction is the Ram Mandir.
Centre to SC: Shreya Singhal Judgement- States Also Have Liability To Guarantee Individuals Not Troubled Utilizing Scrapped Section 66A
The Center has submitted to the Supreme Court that police and police requests being state subjects, the obligation to ensure the execution of the pronouncement that annuls Section 66A of the Information Technology Act belongs to the states. Further, the law requires organizations to share equivalent obligations to hold out the judgment.
On July 5, 2021, a Bench drove by Justice Rohinton F. Nariman said it was “upsetting,” “shocking” and “terrible” that individuals are as yet reserved and tried under Section 66A even six years after the apex court struck down the arrangement as unlawful and an infringement of free speech. The NGO People’s Union of Civil Liberties, represented by senior lawyer Sanjay Parikh and advocate Aparna Bhat, had made the court take notice of the contempt.
Undead segment: About Section 66A of the IT Act
In its reaction, the Centre said the police and public request were “State subjects” under the Constitution. “Counteraction, location, examination and arraignment of wrongdoings and limit the working of the police are essentially the obligation of the States,” the Centre submitted in the affidavit. It said law requirement organizations share equivalent obligation to agree with the apex court judgment. They make a move against cybercrime offenders according to the law.
The Centre said the Ministries of Information and Technology and Home Affairs gave a valiant effort to disperse information about the Supreme Court judgment in the Shreya Singhal case. Section 66A had suggested three years of imprisonment if an online media message caused “disturbance” or was found “terribly antagonistic”. Mr Parikh had welcomed the court intervention to work out a system to disperse the Shreya Singhal judgment to each police headquarters and preliminary court in the country.
“Section 66A of the IT Act has continued being utilized inside police base camp just as in cases under the attentive gaze of primer courts across India. This data was accessible on the Zombie Tracker site, created by a group of independent researchers. The discoveries of the site uncover that as of March 10, 2021, upwards of 745 cases are as yet forthcoming and dynamic under the steady gaze of region courts in 11 States, wherein the denounced are being indicted for offences of the IT Act under Section 66A.” the PUCL has acquiesced.
The accommodation has been in the rejoinder affidavit filed by PUCL in the apex court. This response was because of the Centre’s counter-affidavit in a petition filed by PUCL looking for different bearings and rules against the FIRs scraped under the struck-down Section 66A.
PUCL in, its rejoinder affidavit through Advocate Aparna Bhat, has contended that the Union of India should not have avoided its commitment by arguing that the obligation of execution lies with the States just as with the law enforcement agencies. It mentioned alluding to Union’s accommodation in its affirmation that ‘Police’ and ‘Public Order’ are state subjects. Accordingly, the obligation rests with the State.
Alluding to the Centre’s accommodation that they had mentioned Chief Secretaries, all things considered, and Administers of Union Territories to outfit information for arraignments summoning Section 66A get-togethers, PUCL has contended that the reaction to the said letters have ‘nor set on record nor unveiled.’ PUCL has been tending that looking for removal of its application mentioning the execution of the judgment downplays the enormous scope infringement of the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to fair trials of citizens.
The applicant has proposed the additional directions to be given by the Court in the matter:
Directions to High Courts:
The applicant has looked for specific bearings to every one of the High Courts through Registrar Generals. The proposed headings ought to impart to every one of the District Courts and Magistrates that forthwith there ought to be no cognizance taken under the revoked Section 66A of the IT Act. It had been expressed that the High Courts be permitted to start Suo Motu contempt procedures against those liable for enlisting a case under Section 66A or for examining it or for indicting it.
Directions to DGPs:
The applicant has recommended that bearings are given to the Director-General of Police and Union Territories to convey to all police headquarters inside their separate locales to show a notification that Section 66A of the IT Act has been scrapped. Also, no case can be enrolled under the cancelled Section 66A of the IT Act.
Directions to Respondents:
Decisions have looked to the Respondents, Union of India, to accumulate the nuances of the cases enrolled by the Police or Law Enforcement Agencies under Section 66A of IT Act since the judgment of Shreya Singhal revealed by coordination with the chief secretaries of the DGP of the States and Union territories.
As per the applicant, Respondents can coordinate to guarantee that Doordarshan and All India Radio make quarterly declarations in significant vernacular dialects advising the public that Section 66A of the IT Act is presently not in power. The applicant has looked for bearings to guarantee that all authority and business forms of the IT Act that are here in after distributed (on the web or disconnected) do exclude the total content of Section 66A and educate the per user that said arrangement stands revoked.
The Shreya Singhal judgment had delivered by the seat which, lifted Section 66A by Judge J Chelameswar and RF Nariman for a violation of Articles 14 and 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. The judgment wrote by Justice Nariman held the arrangement to be obscure, over the edge, and making an alarming impact on free discourse.
SC/ST Act Misuse: Alleged Fraudulence Of The Atrocities Act?
The Government of India, recently, claimed in an answer to the MPs of Rajya Sabha, that according to research, many states have conviction rates that are even lower than 1%.
In the year 2019, there were a total of 41,793 incidences of crime or atrocities against Dalits and 7815 cases of crime against tribal people. According to the report, only 44 out of 6540 cases of crimes or atrocities against Dalits in Bihar have been proven factual in trial courts. The STs filed a total of 97 cases under the SC-ST Act, but only two were judged to be true.
The conviction rate was 0.67 percent for men and 2.06 percent for women. It also stipulates the state with the most cases of crime against SCs is Uttar Pradesh, with 9451 cases, or 22.61 percent of all such cases in the country. Rajasthan comes in second with 6659 cases (15.9% of total cases), followed by Bihar (15.6%), and Madhya Pradesh (12.6 percent). In the last year, the number of ST cases filed in UP has increased by 600 percent.
According to the information, 705 cases were filed, however just one case was found to be true during the trials. The conviction rate in Kerala and Karnataka is slightly more than 1%. The SC-ST Act has been used in 1,733 cases in Karnataka. The conviction rate, on the other hand, was only 1.67%. In Kerala, the average conviction rate for atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis under the PoA Act remained at 1.76%. These claims sure put the concerned legislation on spot for being exploited.
The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, aimed to prohibit the atrocities committed against members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, to establish Special Courts for the trial of such offences and the relief and rehabilitation of victims of such acts, and to provide for matters connected with or incidental thereto.
The number of complaints against the misuse of the same has arisen in the last few years. The apex court has had stated in the past, that the Act has been misused to submit bogus complaints to foster caste animosity, rather than blurring caste barriers, adding that, if the Atrocities Act is not brought into line, it may even “perpetuate casteism,” and the court will have to act to prevent “false implication of innocent persons along caste lines.”
However, when seen through the lens of why the Act was necessary and how well it was administered, a different image emerges. The court’s stated goal in a 2018 ruling for the Prevention of Atrocities Act, was to safeguard officers from “arbitrary arrest” and “innocent civilians” from being falsely accused in cases. But according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) and the Ministry of Home Affairs, low conviction rates under the Act may be due to the misuse of the provision as much as the way investigations and cases are pursued in the courts.
Those who have pushed for stricter rules under the Act argue that the low conviction rate is due to the way cases are registered and prosecuted. “Dalits are frequently the victims of discriminatory treatment in the administration of justice,” according to a Human Rights Watch report.
According to a report published in the Economic & Political Weekly, approximately half of the cases brought under the Act do not get to court and are closed by the police. It had also hinted at a “caste bias among the investigating officers.” Sthabir Khora, an assistant professor, alleges that compounding, compensation inducement, and criminal intimidation are some of the practices that tend to prevail when the complainant is from the SC/ST category.
In October 2019, the top court observed the National Crime Records Bureau, where over 47,000 cases were reported in 2016 under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. “It would be against the basic human dignity to treat all of them (SC/ST members) as a liar or as a crook person and cannot look at every complaint by such complainant with a doubt,” remarked justices Arun Mishra, M R Shah and B R Gavai.
The bench stated that if a case filed under the SC/ST Act is determined to be false or baseless, many a time. It could be due to poor investigation or other factors such as human failures, regardless of caste. Therefore, all such accounts must be taken into consideration before making an informed decision to serve justice.
The bench had also added, “All humans are equal including in their failings. To treat SCs and STs as persons who are prone to lodge false reports under the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act for taking revenge or otherwise as monetary benefits made available to them in the case of their being subjected to such offence, would be against fundamental human equality.”
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