Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Tuesday requested the Central government not to notify the Fact Check Unit (FCU) as a “courtesy” till the third judge gives an opinion on the split verdict of January 31 on pleas challenging amended Information Technology rules. The Centre amended the IT Act last year which empowered the Central government to flag “fake, false and misleading” news pertaining to the government on social media through FCU.
A division bench of Justices Gautam Patel and Neela Gokhale was hearing an interim application filed by one of the petitioners, standup comedian Kunal Kamra, seeking to extend the statement of the central government not to notify the Fact Check Unit. alternatively, he sought a stay order from the high court on notifying the FCU.
“If I had the misfortune of being the third judge, I would seriously be upset by the lack of courtesy and not giving enough time to come to grips with the matter… which took this bench so much time to decide,” Justice Patel said.
Issue Of Insufficient Strength Of Judges
He lamented over insufficient strength of judges in the high court which puts extra pressure on the existing judges.
“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 all their work and deal with this (petitions challenging amended IT Rules ). I would be very upset if I am put under that kind of pressure,” Justice Patel added.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the Centre had earlier assured the Court in April last year that the formation of FCUs would not be notified till the judgment is pronounced.
On January 31, when the bench pronounced the split verdict, Mehta said that he would continue the statement for 10 more days.
In the split verdict, Justice Patel struck down the amended rule establishing FCU while Justice Gokhale ruled against the petitioners. As per the Rules, the Chief Justice assigns the matter to a third judge, and his order will be the deciding verdict.
On Tuesday, Mehta maintained that he had instructions to oppose the interim application and not to extend the statement to not notify the Fact Check Unit.
Kamra’s counsel, Senior Advocate Navroz Seervai, submitted that the Solicitor General had earlier made a statement that the FCU would not be notified until the judgment was delivered. He emphasised that the division bench had delivered a “split opinion” and not a judgment. He argued that the judgment would be pronounced after the third judge gave his opinion.
Mehta sought time to file written statements in response to Kamra’s plea.
The HC has kept the matter for hearing on February 8.