Censorship Issues – Censor Board, Banning films, etc

[op-ed snap] The virtual effacement of civil liberty

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Right to internet - Internet bans

Context

A study of India’s civil liberties record will desiccate its status as republican democracy.

Kashmir

  • The ongoing repression of freedom in the Kashmir Valley is extraordinary.
  • Since August 4, 2019, most residents in the region have no access to the Internet.
  • India took a unilateral decision to revoke its compact with the State of Jammu and Kashmir and a total communication and information blockade was placed on the region.
  • A complete curfew was placed on movement in the region.
  • Kashmiris were deprived even of any means of finding out what was actually transpiring.
  • Certain limited channels of communication have been opened up, access to the web remains elusive.

The import of a ruling

  • These facts form the backbone of Anuradha Bhasin and Ghulam Nabi Azad’s challenges in the Supreme Court of India.
  • A three-judge Bench will pronounce its verdict. 
  • Given the growing ubiquity of the Internet, and the state’s use of blockades on the web the judgment will have a bearing on the endurance of the constitutional promises of liberty and equality.

Deleterious effects in Kashmir

  • The blackout of the Internet impinges on the right to freedom of expression.
  • Despite the partial lifting of some restrictions, with journalists affected by the absence of the Internet, only a pruned version of the newspaper is published.
  • Internet ban also denies right to health care caused by people’s inability to access government schemes such as Ayushman Bharat, and a withdrawal of education to students at different levels due to the closure of institutions.
  • The shutdown has inflicted economic damage on the region. Even conservative estimations released by the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry show that the State economy has suffered a loss of no less than ₹15,000 crore since the dilution of Article 370.

Government’s stand

  • It claims that there is no obligation on it to disclose the orders through which the restrictions have been imposed.
  • It contends that judges must grant the state substantial leeway in matters of national security.
  • It says that if the executive believes that freedom ought to be restricted, the court must not review the validity of such measures.

Limitations of the argument

  • Its order imposing the Internet ban was made under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017.
  • This law requires the executive to provide a reasoned order when it directs the withdrawal of the Internet. 
  • Thus, access to the web cannot be shut out through the issuance of furtive instructions.

Issue of rights

  • Free speech was a promise preserved in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. 
  • This guarantee contains both an inherent and an instrumental value
  • It is inherent because it is important to respect every individual’s equal right to personal autonomy and dignity.
  • Its instrumental values lies in promoting free speech – better dialogue stimulates a more informed polity.
  • The instrumental value of speech prompted the court, in Sakal Papers (1961), to hold that no policy of the state can regulate the circulation of a newspaper, as it will directly impinge on the right to freedom of expression.
  • Human costs go even further. A report in The Hindu shows that, with jobs already hard to come by, there has been an 80% loss of employment among start-ups in Kashmir that rely on the Internet.

Need for security

  • It doesn’t mean that terrorism does not require counteractive actions.
  • Law demands that any measure taken by the state in restricting a fundamental right is necessary and proportionate to the goal that it seeks to achieve. 
  • The court needs to scrutinise whether a wide-ranging ban on the Internet on an entire populace is justifiable.
  • In the past, the state has segregated people possessed of a potential to terrorise from others.

Conclusion

  • Stifling dissent through bans on the Internet will only send us racing towards a bottomless pit.
  • As a recent report in Live Mint underscores, 67% of the documented cases of web shutdowns around the world last year took place in India.
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