Bombay HC: Our Judges Are under Intolerable Pressure, Says Report
Moneylife Digital Team 08 February 2024
While urging the Union government not to notify the fact-check unit (FCU) till the third judge decides the issue of amendment in information technology (IT) rules, justice Gautam Patel from Bombay High Court (HC) remarked that "Our judges are under intolerable pressure and the working hours are beyond brutal," says a report.
 
According to a report from IndiaToday, justice Patel on Tuesday advised solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the ministry of electronics, information and technology (MeITY) to consider extending his statement as a courtesy to the third judge, who would be giving his opinion on a complicated issue with the burden of his own board and cases.
 
"If I had the misfortune to be the third judge, I would seriously be upset by the lack of courtesy given to me for enough time to come to grips with what has come to this much time for the division bench. Our judges are under the most intolerable pressure. Our chief justice has not been able to identify a judge who is available. The working hours are beyond brutal. Someone will have to set aside their work and deal with this. I would be very upset if I am put under that kind of pressure," justice Patel was quoted in the report.
 
On 31 January 2024, the division bench of justice Patel and justice Neela Gokhale delivered a split verdict on petitions challenging amended IT rules, that will empower the Union government to combat fake news on social media through FCU. 
 
Meanwhile, Bombay HC's chief justice Devendra Kumar Upadhyaya on Thursday selected justice AS Chandurkar as the third judge to decide petitions challenging the 2023 amendment to the IT Rules.
 
Stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra has filed a petition before the Bombay HC challenging the amendment. 
 
The division bench directed parties to approach the third judge with a substantive application seeking an extension of time to notify the FCU. When the bench came together, Mr Kamra sought directions to the MeitY to extend the statement of not notifying the FCU. 
 
Solicitor general Mehta, however, opposed this submission, claiming that after rendering the verdict, the division bench was not competent to decide this issue until the third judge decides on the reference, the report says. "Let the third judge take a call in the interim. Me extending the statement would not help the petitioners; it would harm the nation," Mr Mehta says.
 
Last year, as per the rules that have been notified, MeITY gave itself the power to constitute a fact-checking unit or FCU, which has sweeping powers to determine what is 'fake or false or misleading', concerning 'any business of the Union government', and with instructions to 'intermediaries', including social media intermediaries, internet service-providers (ISPs) and other service-providers, to not host such content. 
 
The amended rules now also make it obligatory for the intermediaries to not publish, share or host fake, false or misleading information in respect of any business of the Union government.
 
Deeply disturbed by the information technology (intermediary guidelines and digital media ethics code) amendment rules (IT amendment rules), which have been notified by MeitY, the Editors Guild of India (EGI) has urged the ministry to withdraw this notification and conduct consultations with media organisations and press bodies. 
 
The EGI, in a statement, urged the Union government to withdraw the notification as it does not mention any governing mechanism, judicial oversight, a right to appeal, or adherence to the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal case with respect to the taking down of content or blocking of social media handles. (Read: Editors Guild Urges Govt To Withdraw Rules That Give Fact-checking Powers to IT Ministry)
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