Harish Salve explains SC powers on contempt

DHANANJAY MAHAPATRA IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

NEW DELHI: If a person is found guilty of committing contempt of Supreme Court, will the apex court’s constitutional power to punish him be circumscribed by the Contempt of Court Act (CCA) provisions?

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing in the application filed by Vodafone complaining about misreporting during the hearing of its case, said CCA only provided the guiding principles and would in no way limit the apex court’s power on quantum of punishment, which in appropriate cases could exceed what is provided in the statute. The response came to a query from a five-judge bench comprising Chief Justice S H Kapadia and Justices D K Jain, S S Nijjar, Ranjana P Desai and J S Khehar whether Article 129 of the Constitution, which provides that “the Supreme Court shall be a court of record and shall have all powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself”, meant it was bridled by the CCA.

After hearing Salve’s view, the CJI said though the bench had not taken any final view, it was of the opinion that provisions of a statute could not limit the Constitution-vested powers of the apex court. In the midst of long deliberation on the necessity of framing media reporting guidelines to protect right of an accused to reputation and dignity as well as preserve sanctity of fair trial, the bench asked for Salve’s view on restricting press freedom derived from right to free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and whether it could only be done through parameters specified under Article 19(2).

The senior advocate said, “The Supreme Court need not deal with the restrictions specified under Article 19(2) because it is only engaged in an exercise to define the contours of press freedom in reporting pending investigation or trial of a case and balancing it with the right of the accused to dignity and reputation.”

Salve said these days it was common to find TV channels standing outside a house being raided by investigating agencies and telecasting minute by minute details of the search operation. “This surely besmirches someone’s reputation. What happens if the agency does not find any incriminating material or does not press any charge at the end of the investigations? Can he not move the constitutional courts seeking relief on the ground that such reporting was destroying his reputation,” he asked.

“The media should be beyond government regulations except acceptable censorship. But to argue that media is beyond all regulation is the limit,” he said. Salve also objected to media using unnecessary hyperboles to describe intense questioning by a bench in serious issues.

He said, “Judges ask sharp questions to get the best out of lawyers. There is no pulling up, tearing into or lambasting involved in the oral argument-based judicial scrutiny system in India. There is a talk of restraining judges from making comments on institutions. If anyone has to exercise restraint, it is the reporters who cover the courts, not the judges nor the lawyers who must not be inhibited in any manner from free and frank exchange of views.”

Counsel Nitya Ramakrishnan said the investigating agencies had been regularly leaking information to media to prejudice an accused branding him as a terrorist though ultimately he might get acquitted in a trial. Appearing for Rajasthan government, counsel Manish Singhvi said a state producing clear and cogent evidence of consistent media misreporting could seek temporary deferment of publication for a limited period.

“However, the order for postponement of publication must be direct, proximate with investigation and must be least intrusive to the freedom of press/electronic media. Thus, the press has a right to report even criminal sub-judice matters as long as they do not impair or destroy fair investigation,” he said. Singhvi said subordinate courts had sovereign power to dispense justice and hence, they had inherent powers to pass appropriate orders to secure the ends of justice.

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From Chief Minister to Chief Censor

From Chief Minister to Chief Censor

From Chief Minister to Chief Censor

A G NOORANI IN THE HINDU

Mamata Banerjee‘s edict on selection of newspapers is a violation of the citizens’ right to know and is an insult to libraries.

Around 1967, Warren Unna of The Washington Post asked Shiv Sena boss Bal Thackeray whether he read any books. He received a stunning reply: “I don’t want to mix my thinking with that of others”. The same arrogance, bred by insecurity, explains the order of March 14 made by the West Bengal government headed by Mamata Banerjee: “In public interest the government will not buy newspapers published or purported to be published by any political party, either national or regional, as a measure to develop free thinking among the readers”. The affinities between the two leaders are striking — populism and intolerance of dissent.

However, Mr. Thackeray’s preference concerned him alone. Mamata’s affects 2,463 government-aided libraries, 12 government libraries, 7 government sponsored ones and the State Central Library. All English language dailies were barred. Initially, a mere eight survived — Sangbad Pratidin, Sakalbela, Dainik Statesman, Ekdin, and Khabar 365 Din in Bengali; Sanmarg (Hindi) and Akhbar-e-Mashriq and Azad Hind (Urdu).

Two of the Bengali dailies are headed by two Trinamool Congress MPs of the Rajya Sabha. The Hindi and an Urdu daily are headed by Rajya Sabha MPs of the same party. Sangbad Pratidin, for example, is owned by Srinjoy Bose, a party MP. Its associate editor Kunal Ghosh was elected recently to the Rajya Sabha on the Trinamool ticket to give the owner company. After an uproar, five more papers were added on March 28; namely, Himalaya Darpan (Nepali), Sarsagar (Santhali periodical), The Times of India, and two others.

‘First instance’

There is another aspect, besides. The right to select papers belongs to the management of each library depending on the demand among the readers in that particular area. A central edict is an insult to them. Ms Banerjee’s order also flagrantly violates the citizens’ right to know. It is not for any Minister to prescribe a select bibliography to the Indian citizen. An official acknowledged on March 28: “This is the first instance of such a circular. The management boards of libraries have so far been the final authority on deciding which newspapers and periodicals to offer, on the basis of readers’ demands”. Now the readers are asked to read what Kolkata deems fit for their minds; “in public interest”, of course.

Arbitrary orders are invariably defended by absurd and contradictory explanations. On March 29, Mamata Banerjee and her Sancho Panza, Abdul Karim, Mass Education and Library Services Minister, explained: “We will promote local and small newspapers”. Some dailies on her approved list will not be flattered by this decision apart from the impropriety of State funding of the press.

There is a judicial ruling directly on point by a judge of eminence, Lord Justice Watkins, in the Queen’s Bench Division on November 5, 1986 (R. vs. Ealing Borough Council, ex. p. Times Newspapers Ltd. (1987) 85 L.G.R. 316). He quashed decisions by some borough councils in the U.K. to ban from public libraries within their areas newspapers and periodicals published by Times Newspapers and News Group Newspapers for the duration of an industrial dispute between them and their employees. This was done as a gesture of support to the employees. The court ruled that the authorities had taken into account an irrelevant factor and abused their powers as library authorities under the Public Libraries and Museums Act, 1964. In India, the Constitution itself will render such an act invalid as being an abuse of state power.

The petitioners, represented by Anthony Lester, Q.C., relied on Section 7 of the Public Libraries and Museums Act, 1964, which reads thus: “(1) It shall be the duty of every library authority to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof; (2) In fulfilling its duty under the preceding subsection, a library authority shall in particular have regard to the desirability — (a) of securing … that facilities are available for the borrowing of, of reference to, books and other printed materials, sufficient in number, range and quality to meet the general requirements and any special requirements of both adults and children …”

The abuse of power was blatant. The councils had but one purpose, namely to punish Rupert Murdoch for his stand in the industrial dispute. The ban was clearly for a purpose ulterior to Section 7. The violation of Section 7 was deliberate and wilful.

India’s written Constitution repairs the omission of any such statute. As H.M. Seervai pointed out in his work Constitutional Law of India, Article 294 vests the assets and properties in the Union or the State Governments, respectively, for the purpose of the Union or the State, in short, for a public purpose.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1884 that “the United States does not and cannot hold property, as a monarch may, for private or personal purposes. All the property and revenues of the United States must be held and applied, as all taxes, duties, imposts and excises must be laid and collected, to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States” (Van Brocklin vs Anderson; (1884-85 U.S. 117 U*S.151 at 158). Arbitrary expenditure unrelated to public purpose also violates the fundamental right to equality (Art. 14).

Landmark ruling

The Supreme Court of India’s landmark ruling in the International Airport Authorities Case in 1979 opened another avenue of challenge. Justice P.N. Bhagwati held: “The Government cannot be permitted to say that it will give jobs or enter into contracts or issue quotas or licences only in favour of those having grey hair or belonging to a particular political party or professing a particular religious faith. The Government is still the Government when it acts in the matter of granting largesse and it cannot act arbitrarily. It does not stand in the same position as a private individual…

“It must, therefore, be taken to be the law that where the Government is dealing with the public, whether by way of giving jobs or entering into contracts or issuing quotas or licences or granting other forms of largesse, the Government cannot act arbitrarily at its sweet will and, like a private individual, deal with any person it pleases, but its action must be in conformity with standard or norms which are not arbitrary, irrational or irrelevant.”

These tests render the order of March 14 a nullity on the very face of it. The Courts can strike it down suo moto or on the petition of any citizen.

They will render high service if they did so. For, it will provide a speedy and effective cure to a mindset which is completely out of sync with constitutional values and curbs. Ads have been stopped to “small” papers which depended on them for sheer survival. On Fools’ Day, it was disclosed that the list of Banga Bibhushan awardees, who received Rs. 2 lakh each, included artistes, poets and writers who had campaigned for the Trinamool. Didi looks after her own, albeit at public expense. An Urdu saying casts her in a different light — “Halvai ki dukan par nanaji ki fateha (Prayers for the soul of grandpa at the sweet maker’s shop, at his cost).

From Chief Minister to Chief Censor

Press Council for court guidelines, The Hindu opposes idea

Don’t embark on a futile exercise, Shanti Bhushan tells Supreme Court Constitution Bench

The Press Council of India (PCI) on Tuesday suggested that the Supreme Court frame guidelines for the media as these would be in the interest of not only administration of justice and rights of the litigant public but also the media themselves.

“The media, both print and electronic, have been playing an important role in shaping and sustaining Indian democracy,” senior counsel P.P. Rao, appearing for the PCI, told a five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia. “The scheme of the Press Council Act itself shows that the intention of Parliament is to allow self-regulation by the media as far as possible. While the print media is within the purview of the Press Council Act, the electronic media is not. Therefore, it is desirable to lay down guidelines for both the print and electronic media to follow in reporting court proceedings, rather than making statutory rules.”

Mr. Rao told the Bench, which included Justices D.K. Jain, S.S. Nijjar, Ranjana Desai and J.S. Khehar, that the court, while framing the guidelines, might take into consideration the relevant norms of journalistic conduct laid down by the PCI. Explaining the powers of the PCI, counsel said: “Section 14(1) of the Press Council Act confers on the Council power to warn, admonish or censure the newspaper, news agency, the editor and the journalist or disapprove [of] the conduct of the editor or the journalist, as the case may be, after holding an enquiry into the complaints. The Council, which is presided over by a retired judge of this court and in which editors, working journalists and managements of big, medium and small newspapers are represented, has laid down Norms of Journalistic Conduct. Self-regulation is always better than statutory regulation. However, when any TV channel, newspaper or news agency fails to adhere to the guidelines laid down by this court, appropriate orders may be passed in the facts and circumstances of each case.”

“Dissolve Bench”

The former Law Minister, Shanti Bhushan, appearing for some journalists, asked the CJI to dissolve the Constitution Bench hearing the present case, saying it would be a futile exercise. He cited an instance of the former CJI, Justice A.N. Ray, dissolving a 13-judge Bench after he found no support for his case. Mr. Bhushan was referring to a move by Justice Ray, who set up the 13-judge Bench to reconsider the Kesavananda Bharti judgment in which the court had held that Parliament had no right to amend the basic structure of the Constitution.

Mr. Bhushan asked the Bench not to embark on a futile exercise which would be detrimental to the rights of the press and destroy democracy in this country. “No purpose will be solved by going through this exercise.”

Taking the Anna Hazare argument, he argued that people were sovereign in India. “That is the reason why even the right to freedom of press was not absolute in this country. It was instead left to Parliament to lay down reasonable restrictions on this freedom. All institutions in our democracy are people’s institutions. Even the judiciary is accountable to the people. People have a right to know what is happening.”

“Abridge freedom”

Senior counsel Anil Divan, appearing for the Editor of The Hindu, Siddharth Varadarajan, commenced his arguments, pointing out the anomaly of the court deciding to lay down guidelines which in this case would “abridge” the freedoms of individuals instead of “protecting” them or “disciplining” officials. Mr. Divan cited the ‘Visakha judgment,’ saying that in that case the court was only seeking to protect fundamental rights of citizens. But in this case the Bench was embarking on a quasi-legislative exercise as once the court framed guidelines they would become immune from judicial review. “I will have no remedy. But tomorrow, if Parliament were to adopt these guidelines, the person aggrieved will have a remedy. I can challenge them before you.”

Mr. Divan said the exercise undertaken by the court was not prudent in view of globalisation of information dissemination technology. “If the guidelines will be coercive or binding in nature, then it is covered by the legislative process.”

The CJI intervened, and said: “The deliberations on the guidelines were not a result of adversarial litigation. We are only trying to regulate the media to the extent that the rights of person in criminal cases are protected under Article 21 [Right to life and liberty] of the Constitution.”

The CJI asked Mr. Divan to address the question whether the rights of the press could be balanced to ensure administration of justice and protect the rights of the accused to ensure a free trial in a criminal case.

Arguments will continue on Wednesday.

Cannot ban news as it is perishable, Supreme Court told

NEW DELHI: As Supreme Court Wednesday explored the option of postponing the publication of court proceedings in sensitive matters, including criminal cases, it was told that news was a perishable commodity which lost its value, if banned.

“We are not banning but are invoking the doctrine of postponement. It is a question of the timing” of the reporting of court proceedings, Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia told counsel Anup Bhambhani who appeared for News Broadcasters Association ( NBA).

While evaluating the option of postponing the publication of the court proceedings, the court indicated that it may frame guidelines as had been done in some specific cases. The postponement of the publication of the ongoing court proceedings in a case would amount to ban for a certain period thereby rendering it useless, Bhambhani told the apex court‘s constitutional bench of Chief Justice Kapadia, Justice D.K. Jain, Justice S.S. Nijjar, Justice R.P. Desai and Justice J.S. Khehar.

“News is a perishable commodity. If its publication is banned then it would lose its news value,” Bhambhani told the court adding that the “practical effect of what the court is contemplating would be something it had not even thought of”.

The court asked “can media analyse the evidence even before the court had done and prejudice the case of the accused facing trial”. The judges said this on an application by the Sahara India Real Estate Corp agitating its grievance over a news channel reporting its proposal made to the Securities and Exchange Board of India on securing the money it had mopped up from the market.

On an application by Sahara, the court said it would frame guidelines for reporting of sub-judice matters. Bhambhani said an accused facing trial in the 2G case could in future approach the court saying the media should be restrained from reporting the court proceedings in his case as it was affecting his business interest. “It (postponement) will open a Pandora’s box.”

He favoured putting in place guidelines as the broadcasters had already done for themselves under the stewardship of former chief justice J.S. Verma. Senior counsel Fali Nariman, appearing for Sahara, told the court that under Article 19 of the constitution people had a right to know and the right to be informed.

He said that live telecast of parliament proceedings were the satisfaction of the right to know and the right to be informed. Every citizen has a right to know what their elected representatives were doing in parliament even if they were staging a walkout, Nariman told the court, suggesting that the court proceedings could not be shielded from the people.

Addressing the court’s option of postponement of publication of court proceedings, Nariman said that there could not be any preventive relief.

He said that courts were not empowered to make such guidelines nor was there any statutory empowerment for then to do so. The court asked Nariman if he could suggest how to balance the freedom of press with the right of an accused facing trial. The court said that in Canada they do have some law and Ireland has guidelines that restrain one-sided reporting that causes prejudice to the accused.

Choking off free speech on the web

Choking off free speech on the web

Choking off free speech on the web

G ANANTHAKRISHNAN IN THE HINDU

What makes SOPA and PIPA especially toxic is the threat they pose to all dimensions of a website’s existence – physical presence, findability and revenue stream.

With 4.5 million signatures on a Google petition and one million messages sent to the United States Congress via the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in a single day, January 18, advocates of a free Internet have mounted a determined bid to stall new legislation that can chill free speech. The global chorus against two Bills that are winding their way through the American legal system is growing.

The two draft laws in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, now known around the world by the acronyms SOPA and PIPA (for Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act), have raised a storm on the Internet. They are seen as updated versions of the “Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act” (COICA) which could not make progress in the Senate earlier. In a small victory for opponents, key movers of the Bills have backtracked a little, as Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, Mozilla, Ebay, Zynga, Linkedin and AOL, among others, provide heft to the protests. Wikipedia went dark for 24 hours to make the point and when it was back, it said “millions of people have spoken in defence of a free and open Internet.”

Vague definitions

What makes the two laws obviously detrimental for free speech worldwide is their focus on poorly defined “rogue” websites that are not based in the United States. The definitions in the draft legislation are vague in the assessment of not just free speech advocates, but most major technology companies. The legal tools to punish “infringing” websites as originally drafted in SOPA included a provision for Domain Name System blocking, and denying them the ability to exist as an address on the Internet. The firestorm of protest from U.S. voters that virtually “melted the servers” of Congress has forced the sponsors of the two laws to announce that the DNS blocking provision is now off the table.

Yet, the two Bills are far from dead and there is still plenty to worry about. The attempt to introduce strong-arm measures must be viewed against the backdrop of a persistent effort in the U.S. to use judicial processes to access personal data about individuals abroad using services such as Twitter, in the wake of the WikiLeaks expose. It makes matters more difficult that the U.S. court order prohibits the disclosure of its contents. Are there more technology companies that were covered, that have not come to light, for instance?

Moreover, the new Bills aim to create a procedure to blacklist inconvenient websites and censor them. They have many other weapons to kill websites. These include ordering search engines to remove them from results, prohibiting distribution of advertising, and, quite akin to the WikiLeaks experience, stopping companies such as PayPal or Visa from processing their financial transactions.

It is natural that the prevailing sentiment among international users of the Internet, who have either themselves experienced or have closely observed its power to bring communities together in the Middle East, North Africa and the Occupy movement cities, is “We are all Americans now.” They have no Congressman or Senator to call and petition, but they have made known their opposition to the two Bills widely online. There is a legitimate fear that if the new legal provisions go into force, technology companies coming under U.S. legal jurisdiction could be compelled, or perhaps even be willing, to disclose information on them. Some may simply react to domestic political imperatives and purge foreign websites with an inconvenient point of view. It is important to remember that unlike the existing scheme of filtering — where individual pages and search links are removed — the omnibus penal provisions in SOPA can erase the presence of entire websites.

Ironically, strong fears haunt U.S. companies as well. Some of them dread a new, high-cost technology landscape emerging in America, driving innovation, online traffic, and thus jobs and commerce to other countries that guarantee freedom. In this balkanised future, a social networking website may prefer, say, Iceland, where activists hosted early initiatives of WikiLeaks.

The “group of nine” technology companies including Google and Yahoo! that wrote the joint petition to Congress pointed to a McKinsey study that shows 3.4 per cent of GDP in 13 countries is accounted for by the Internet. In the U.S., the contribution is even larger. The Internet has increased the productivity of small and medium-sized businesses by as much as ten per cent. Trying to put in new conditions at the behest of traditional media companies including those trying to save old models of distribution and profits (for which they massively funded a lobbying campaign during 2011), can crimp growth and the new ventures.

That message is not lost on the White House, and a statement released by the Obama administration says it “will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.” Whether through a veto or through legislative defeat, halting the progress of SOPA and PIPA will be crucial to online communities that fear direct, creeping censorship of the Internet.

Not new

Censoring of Internet content is not new. All search engines remove content and filter search results based on directions and orders issued in different countries to meet the requirements of domestic laws. The toxic potential of SOPA and PIPA lies in their capacity to comprehensively throttle free speech, at least until a new competitive set of alternatives emerges on the Internet. All dimensions of a website’s existence — physical presence, findability and revenue stream are under threat.

In the democratic scheme of things, governments that guarantee free speech through statute should baulk at making domestic copies of the controversial American model to suppress their own citizens. Yet, in the Indian context, there will obviously be keen interest in the two U.S. Bills for their possible replication.

Even now, the Indian Information Technology Act, 2000 contains provisions that would not meet the accepted definition of judicial due process. Orders are issued to technology companies hosting content on websites to remove allegedly offensive or infringing material by officials of the government, circumventing a legal process that involves the courts, as is necessary in the case of traditional media.

There is also a marked preference among some leading politicians, such as Communications and Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal, for a purge of websites and social media platforms such as Facebook, of content that is deemed “offensive”, instead of ignoring criticism from the fringe. Google has been asked to remove several items on the ground that they criticise the government or individual politicians. That there are ample provisions in existing law to handle the more egregious cases is conveniently ignored. Protections earlier available to Internet Service Providers against liability for third party content are sought to be weakened systematically. There may be a specific case to remove material that is obviously inflammatory and capable of doing harm, but the policy compass clearly points to a lurking desire for censorship. If SOPA and PIPA were to succeed in America, the move towards copycat laws in India can only be a step away.

(anant@thehindu.co.in)

SOURCE: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article2814959.ece

SUNIL ABRAHAM IN THE INDIAN EXPRESS

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) bills, at the US House of Representatives and Senate, respectively, appear to enforce property rights, but are, in fact, trade bills. In developed countries like the US, intellectual property (IP) plays a dominant role in the economy, unlike in economies like India. Countries that have significant IP are keen to increase global and national enforcement activities, while countries with little domestic IP are keen to reduce outgoing royalties in the balance of payments and therefore, keen to expand alternatives, limitations and exceptions like copyleft licensing, compulsory/statutory licensing and fair dealing.

The loss of generic medicines, hardware based on open standards, public domain content, free and open source software, open access journal articles, etc will equally impoverish consumers in the US and in India. SOPA and PIPA, therefore, do not represent the will of the average American but rather the interests of the IP sector, which has tremendous influence in the Hill. There is one more layer of complication for policy-makers to consider as they work towards a compromise of interests in Internet governance — the tension between the old and the new. The incumbents — corporations with business models that have been rendered obsolete by technological developments — versus emerging actors who provide competing products and services, often with greater technological sophistication, higher quality, at a lower cost.

The US, in terms of policy and infrastructure, still controls the global Domain Name System (DNS) and consequently, post-SOPA/PIPA, can take unilateral trade action without worrying about national variations enabled by international law. These bills directly undermine the business models of many Indian companies — generic drug manufacturers like Ranbaxy, software service providers like Infosys, electronics manufacturers like Spice and players in many other sectors dominated by IP rights. So it is baffling that they have not added their voices to the global outcry.

SOPA and PIPA, if passed, will enable the US administration to take three-pronged action against IP infringers — seizure of domain names and DNS filtering, blocking of transactions by financial intermediaries and revocation of hosting by ISPs. While circumvention may still be possible, it will get increasingly laborious — something like the Great Firewall of China, but worse. Unfortunately, the implementation of these blunt policy instruments will require more and more public-funded surveillance and censorship.

The censorship potential of efforts like SOPA and PIPA may appeal to others, as autocratic and democratic regimes across the world have been keen to try technology-mediated social engineering — these efforts have been multiplied in the post-Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street world. Organised religion, social conservatives and those who have been at the receiving end of free speech would all want to shut down platforms like WikiLeaks and political movements like Anonymous and the Pirate Party.

These are equally dismal times for Internet governance in India. Google, Facebook and 20-odd other intermediaries are trying to avoid jail time at the hands of a Delhi court. However, ever since the IT Act amendments were put in place three years back, digital activists have been requesting intermediaries to register their protests early and often, regarding draconian provisions in the statute and in the associated rules. Their silence is going to be very expensive for all of us. We cannot depend on the private sector alone to defend our constitutional rights. As yet unpublished research from CIS demonstrates that private intermediaries only bother with defending freedom of expression when it undermines their business interests. Working with an independent researcher, we conducted a policy sting operation — faulty take-down notices were served to seven intermediaries asking for legitimate content to be taken down. In six of those cases, the intermediaries over-complied, in one case deleting all comments on a news article instead of just those comments identified in the notice. The only take-down that was resisted was one claiming that sale of diapers was “harmful to minors” under the Indian IT Act (because they caused nappy rash). It is clear that the IT Act and its associated rules have already had a chilling effect on online participation by Indians.

Fortunately for us, during the previous parliamentary session — Jayant Chaudhary, Lok Sabha MP from the Rashtriya Lok Dal, asked for the revision of rules concerning intermediaries, cyber-cafes and reasonable security practices. The next Parliament session is the last opportunity for the House to reject these rules and intervene for a free Internet.

 The writer is executive director of the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/sense-and-censorship/901686/0

Round Table on Citizen Engagement and use of Social Media

Sh. Kapil Sibal – the Union Minister of Communications and Information Technology chaired a Round Table on Citizen Engagement and Use of Social Media here today. The Round Table was attended by about 100 stakeholders including social media organizations, civil society organizations, industry associations, members of legal fraternity, representatives of government departments and agencies and others. The discussion in the Round Table focused on:

Ways of improving citizen engagement in policy formulation and implementation of its projects and programmes

  1. Requirement of capacity building within government for use of social media
  2. Contextualising social media to Indian realities including Indian language content
  3. Development of Mechanisms to protect privacy and identity of individuals
  4. Mechanism to address security concerns about data including personal data

All stakeholders were in favour of increased use of social media as it was felt to be an important instrument in initiating dialogue with citizens in a participatory democracy. Sh. Sibal agreed with their views and felt that such close interactions not only build healthy democratic practices but also contribute to transparent and accountable governance. Sh Sachin Pilot, MoS for Communications and Information Technology, stressed on the need of creating enabling mechanisms which would help people from all parts of our country to participate in their own language and in the form of their choice i.e. text based, voice based or even sign based. The proposal received support from all present and it was stressed that technologies should enable participation of differently abled individuals also. The need for convergence of different channels of communication e.g. print, electronics, social media etc. and need for synergies between these channels was also expressed. It was agreed that appropriate mechanisms need to be created within government structures to enable faster response as required by social media based interactions.