When Parliament's budget session re-opens on April 24, the Rajya Sabha will vote on an annulment motion against the IT Rules promulgated in April 2011 that provide for "intermediaries" to remove the online content they are asked to by anyone. The motion has been moved by P Rajeeve, Rajya Sabha member from the Communist Party of India-Marxist.
Speaking on the phone from Thrissur, Rajeeve said, "The IT Rules go against the Fundamental Rights of the Constitution and against the principles of natural justice which are the foundation of our criminal justice system. The rules ask intermediaries to remove content without giving the content owner an opportunity to defend it. They will cause private censorship."
The Left parties have decided to back the motion and efforts are on to mobilise members of Parliament across party lines. If the motion is accepted by the Rajya Sabha, it will be sent to the Lok Sabha, probably in the monsoon session.
The Bharatiya Janata Party is yet to take an official position on the annulment motion. The BJP's Arvind Gupta, who heads its national IT cell, has in the past said his party believes in freedom of speech and is opposed to any move that will "infringe upon the right to freedom of expression through the back door and any move that curtails innovation."
Also supporting the motion is independent MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar who has been vocal on the issue. Back in December, he had raised it in the Rajya Sabha, saying, "I urge the government to exercise utmost caution about imposing any such restrictions on online publishing. The government must call for a transparent public consultation / public opinion thereon and involve the blogging community before finalising and implementing these rules for publication and implementing them."
Kumar Deepak Das of the Asom Gana Parishad and Mahendra Mohan of the Samajwadi Party also opposed internet censorship in the Rajya Sabha in December.
The IT Rules provide for a mechanism whereby anyone can send any "intermediary" (website, server, domain registrar, blog owner, etc) a notice to remove any content within 36 hours, failing which the complainant can file a first information report. A test of these rules by the Bengaluru-based Centre for Internet and Society showed that website owners big and small chose to remove content rather than face legal action.
In December, it was using these rules that the Maharashtra police got a domain registrar to delete the domain name www.cartoonsagainstcorruption.com, owned by Aseem Trivedi, a cartoonist who had put up that website in support of the Anna Hazare-led Lokpal movement.
Industry is not too happy about the IT Rules either. The Internet and Mobile Association of India has written to Communications Minister Kapil Sibal on the need to reconsider the rules. Says Subho Ray of IMAI, "We have asked them to clarify what exactly we are expected to do in 36 hours of receiving a take-down notice and also, who can send such a notice. Everybody can't be an affected party."
Software body NASSCOM is also believed to have written to the government expressing its apprehension that these rules will cause large-scale censorship in the Indian internet space and prohibit online innovation and content creation from India.Mishi Choudhary of SFLC.in, a Delhi-based internet rights advocacy organisation that has been lobbying with the government to reconsider the rules, says, "The government needs to come back to the drawing table, speak to all stakeholders and make a fresh set of transparent and workable rules."