Delhi HC directs the Union of India to consider unblocking of Tanul Thakur’s satirical website if a disclaimer is put in place

Tanul Thakur's satirical website, was banned by MeitY without providing him a hearing or a copy of the ban order. the Delhi HC directed the Union of India to consider unblocking the website if a suitable disclaimer is put in place within 6 weeks.

21 July, 2023
3 min read

tl;dr

Tanul Thakur's satirical website, www.dowrycalculator.com, was banned by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) without providing him a hearing or a copy of the ban order. He challenged this action before the Delhi High Court. On May 11, 2022, the Delhi High Court directed MeitY to give him a copy of the ban order and a post-decisional hearing . After providing this hearing on 23.05.2022, MeitY decided to continue the ban. The Delhi High Court advised Mr. Thakur to file a fresh writ petition and include a challenge to MeitY's decision to continue the ban. Mr. Thakur filed another writ petition before the Delhi HC to challenge the ban once again. The Delhi HC was pleased to issue notice on January 23, 2023. On July 20, 2023, the Delhi HC directed the Union of India to consider unblocking the website if a suitable disclaimer is put in place within 6 weeks. The next date of hearing is October 4, 2023.

Why should you care?

Satire serves as a powerful tool to reflect society's reality and challenge authority. Its provocative nature initiates important conversations about uncomfortable social issues. The proceedings hold significant importance in the battle to promote transparency in the censorship process and establish accountability for the government. MeitY has consistently used Rule 16 of the Blocking Rules, 2009, to justify confidentiality and reject these requests. In the past, MeitY has never made its orders public or disclosed them, and creators whose content is censored have rarely, if ever, been granted a hearing.

Background

Tanul Thakur, a journalist and film critic, created the satirical website "Dowry Calculator" to mock the practice of dowry. The website was blocked in September 2018 and remains blocked to date.  Mr. Thakur was not given any notice, an opportunity to be heard, or a copy of the blocking order by the Union of India. When he tried to obtain the order through an RTI request, MeitY refused, citing the confidentiality under  Rule 16 of the Blocking Rules, 2009.

With assistance from IFF,  Mr. Thakur approached the Delhi HC requesting a copy of the blocking order in WP(C) 13037 of 2019.  Mr. Thakur argued that MeitY misinterpreted Rule 16 of the Blocking Rules, 2009 and that content originators should be given a hearing before their content is blocked, citing the Supreme Court's decision in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India.

The Delhi High Court agreed with Mr. Thakur and on May 11, 2022, directed MeitY to share a copy of the blocking order and provide a post-decisional hearing. Mr. Thakur received a redacted copy of the blocking order and defended his website before the Inter-Ministerial Committee on May 23, 2022. Despite the Delhi HC’s direction of providing  Mr. Thakur with the blocking order, MeitY chose not to do so.

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.

Recent Proceedings before the Delhi High Court

On July 20,  2023, Justice Subramonium Prasad directed the Counsel for the Union of India (Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology) to seek instructions regarding whether they would consider unblocking Mr. Takur’s website if a suitable disclaimer was put in place. Notably, during the Inter-Ministerial Committee hearing, the petitioner's suggestion to insert a suitable disclaimer—a less restrictive alternative to blocking of the website—was rejected without reasons by the Union of India, while, at the same time, commenting that the absence of a disclaimer made the website problematic.

Mr. Siddharth Aggarwal, Senior Advocate submitted a disclaimer to the  Court and the Counsel for the Union of India. Subsequently, Justice Prasad directed the Union of India to consider unblocking the website with the provided disclaimer and respond to the High Court within 6 weeks. The next date of hearing is October 4, 2023.

Mr. Thakur was represented by Senior Advocate Siddharth Aggarwal, and by IFF’s legal team - Gautam Bhatia, Vrinda Bhandari, Abhinav Sekhri, Tanmay Singh, Gayatri Malhotra and Vinayak Chitale. We thank Mr. Thakur for taking the initiative to approach the Delhi HC and providing us with the opportunity of offering him legal assistance. Mr. Thakur’s challenge is crucial in the fight to bring transparency in the censorship process and affix accountability towards the government when it bans a website, orders your tweets to be deleted, or orders your videos to be taken down.

Important Documents

  1. Writ Petition challenging the blocking of www.dowrycalculator.com. (link)
  2. Order of the Delhi High Court dated 28.11.2022 in WP 13037 of 2019. (link)
  3. Written Submission filed on behalf of Mr. Thakur (link)
  4. Written Submissions filed on behalf of the Union Of India (link)

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