Supreme Court to hear plea on documentary on PM Modi; waste of court’s time, says Rijiju
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a plea challenging the government’s decision to block the BBC documentary on 2002 Gujarat riots, leading law minister Kiren Rijiju to target the petitioners — lawyer Prashant Bhushan, journalist N Ram and Trinamool MP Mahua Moitra— for “wasting the precious time of SC”.
The joint petition alleging that criticism of the government or its policies does not tantamount to violating sovereignty and integrity of the country and blocking critical views is unconstitutional.
The case was mentioned before a bench of CJI DY Chandrachud and Justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala and the court posted hearing on February 6.
The petitioners also made Twitter and Google (India) parties in the case for removing their posts sharing the BBC documentary and alleged that the Centre’s action was violative of the right to freedom of speech and expression granted by the Constitution. On students being barred from screening it on campuses, the petitioners alleged that the documentary itself has not been censored.
“This is how they waste the precious time of the Supreme Court where thousands of common citizens are waiting and seeking dates for justice,” tweeted Rijiju, tagging the video clip of the news about Ram, Moitra and Bhushan moving the SC.
Campuses where students tried to screen banned BBC documentary
“Citizens including the press have the fundamental right to view, form an informed opinion, critique, report on and lawfully circulate the contents of the documentary as right to freedom of speech and expression incorporates the right to receive and disseminate information as has been held by this court,” said the petition.
Rijiju had had earlier commented on the court taking up frivolous petitions and bail pleas instead of concentrating on issues of constitutional importance and those involving points of law. This time, however, he refrained from referring to the court agreeing to hear the petition.
The petition said those who hold important positions must have shoulders which are broad enough to accept with grace a critique of themselves as critical appraisal is the cornerstone of democracy.
“The documentary is a journalistic production by a media house regarding a part of Indian history ranging back over 20 years. It is the product of journalistic endeavour and contains the accounts, interviews and statements of various citizens of India, in addition to official documents and facts that are already part of public domain. While the content of the documentary may be seen as critical of the past conduct of various persons who are currently holding office within the central government, the contents thereof are protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution,” the petition said.
A similar petition has also been filed by advocate M L Sharma on the controversy, which would also be taken up for hearing next week.
“The order dated January 20 issued by the Secretary, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, and subsequent and consequential proceedings under Rule 16 of Rules, 2021 censoring the documentary and tweets of the petitioners are not available in the public domain. Censoring freedom of speech and expression of the petitioners by the Executive through opaque orders and proceedings is manifestly arbitrary as it frustrates the fundamental right of petitioners to effectively seek judicial review of administrative actions,” the petition said.