On October 4, 2023, the Union of India informed the Delhi High Court that the Inter-Ministerial Committee ("IMC") had rejected the proposal to provide a suitable disclaimer and to unblock the website, Dowry Calculator. The Delhi HC has directed the Union of India to file the report of the IMC in a sealed cover. Journalist Tanul Thakur's satirical website, Dowry Calculator, was initially blocked by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) without a hearing or providing a copy of the blocking order. A challenge before the Delhi High Court led to directions being given to MeitY to provide Mr. Thakur with the blocking order as well as a post-decisional hearing. However, as after the hearing on May 23, 2022, MeitY continued to block the website, Mr. Thakur was advised to file a fresh writ petition challenging this decision, which he did. On January 23, 2023, the Delhi HC issued notice in the said petition, and on July 20, 2023, the Union of India was directed to consider unblocking the website with a suitable disclaimer within 6 weeks.
Why should you care?
Satire functions as a potent instrument for mirroring the realities of society and questioning those in authority. Its capacity to provoke discussion on uncomfortable social matters is essential. The proceedings hold significant importance in the battle to promote transparency in the censorship process and establish accountability for the government in India. MeitY has persistently invoked Rule 16 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguard for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009 ("Blocking Rules, 2009") to uphold confidentiality and decline these appeals. Historically, MeitY has refrained from publicizing or divulging its orders, and content creators affected by censorship have rarely, if ever, been afforded a copy of the order affecting their rights, let alone an opportunity for a hearing.
Journalist and film critic Tanul Thakur created the satirical website "Dowry Calculator" to mock the practice of dowry. The website was blocked in September 2018 and remains inaccessible till date. Mr. Thakur received no notice, opportunity to be heard, or a copy of the blocking order from the Union of India. When he attempted to obtain the order through an RTI request, MeitY declined the same, citing Rule 16 of the Blocking Rules, 2009.
With support from IFF, Mr. Thakur approached the Delhi HC in WP(C) 13037 of 2019, seeking a copy of the blocking order. He argued that MeitY misinterpreted Rule 16 and that content creators should be granted a hearing before their content is blocked, citing the Supreme Court's decision in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India.
The Delhi High Court concurred with Mr. Thakur, directing MeitY on May 11, 2022, to provide a copy of the blocking order and to arrange a post-decisional hearing. Mr. Thakur received a redacted order and defended his website before the Inter-Ministerial Committee on May 23, 2022. However, despite the court's order, MeitY chose not to disclose the complete blocking order.
In response, the Delhi High Court advised Mr. Thakur to withdraw WP(C) 13037 of 2019 and file a new writ petition challenging MeitY's 2022 decision to continue blocking his website. Accordingly, on January 17, 2023, Mr. Thakur filed a fresh writ petition before the Delhi High Court, contesting both the 2022 and 2018 blocking orders.
On the last date of hearing, Justice Subramonium Prasad directed the Counsel for the Union of India (Meity) to seek instructions regarding whether they would consider unblocking Mr. Takur’s website if a suitable disclaimer was put in place. Senior Advocate Mr. Siddharth Aggarwal subsequently presented a disclaimer to the Court and the Counsel for the Union of India. Following this, Justice Prasad instructed the Union of India to consider unblocking the website with the provided disclaimer and respond to the High Court within six weeks.
Mr. Siddharth Aggarwal, Senior Advocate subsequently presented a disclaimer to the Court and the Counsel for the Union of India. Following this, Justice Prasad instructed the Union of India to consider unblocking the website with the provided disclaimer and respond to the High Court within six weeks.
On October 4, 2023, the learned Counsel for the Union of India informed the Delhi HC that the Inter-Ministerial Committee had rejected the proposal to unblock the website by providing a suitable disclaimer. Accordingly, the Delhi HC directed the Union of India to file the report of the IMC in a sealed cover. The matter is now listed for January 30, 2024.
Mr. Thakur was represented by Senior Advocate Siddharth Aggarwal and Advocate Vinayak Chitale, and by IFF’s legal team - Gautam Bhatia, Vrinda Bhandari, Abhinav Sekhri, Tanmay Singh, Radhika Roy and Gayatri Malhotra. We thank Mr. Thakur for taking the initiative to approach the Delhi HC and providing us with the opportunity to offer him legal assistance. Mr. Thakur's endeavor is pivotal in the fight to enhance transparency in the censorship process and establish government accountability, particularly when it involves website bans, orders your tweets to be deleted, or orders your videos to be taken down.
- Writ Petition challenging the blocking of www.dowrycalculator.com. (link)
- Order of the Delhi High Court dated 28.11.2022 in WP 13037 of 2019. (link)
- Written Submission filed on behalf of Mr. Thakur (link)
- Written Submissions filed on behalf of the Union Of India (link)
- Link to previous blog post (link)
- Order dated October 4, 2023 (link)