Anup Bhambhani Recuses himself from hearing challenge to IT Act

Justice Anup Bhambhani, at Delhi High Court on Thursday recused himself in an urgent plea filed by different digital media companies like the wire, the quint, etc., seeking a stay on the rules after the statement made by the centre in respect to those who don’t comply by June 23 will be facing penalties.The Vacation Bench headed by Justice Bhambhani with Justice Jasmeet Singh, which was hearing the present matter, while passing an order stated, “The judge(s) will recusing from the present matter. We can place it on Monday next, subject to the orders of the Honourable ChiefJustice. The matter was heard on Monday,June 28, 2021.” Justice Subramonium Prasad andJustice C Hari Shankar will hear the matter.

The petitioners through Senior Advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan, had submitted this plea against the Centre’s new IT rules. The petitioners mentioned that the Information Technology(Guidelines For Intermediaries And Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 is against the notion of the Information Technology Act, 2000, which is the main act framed as well as is against the Constitution of India. The petitioners also stated that these rules do not come within the scope of the Parent Act of 2000, as it imposes government oversight and a code of ethics. Hence, these rules are ultra vires to Articles 19(1)(a), 19(1)(g), 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.In the present case, an urgent plea was filed for seeking a stay application of the IT Rules. On June 18, 2021, through a letter, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting stated that there must be compliance within five days from the date if not then face penalties for the same. These rules, made under Part III, sought to regulate publishers of news and current affairs.On March 19, 2021, a notice for stay on IT Rules, 2021 was issued to the Central Government by the court. Against such notice the center asked for more time so it can file a reply which is yet to be filed. Before seeking an urgent remedy of stay before the High Court, the petitioner stated that it had written several times to the government to not to insist on such compliance while the matter is sub judice. Therefore, due to violation of such rights of the petitioners guaranteed there is urgency to hea rthe matter. In addition, the matter was listed on August 4, 2021,after the last hearing which took place in May 2021, Delhi High Court, through its division bench consisting of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh, stated the matter to be “NOT URGENT”.The Ministry replied that as the HC had not stayed the rule,therefore the compliance is mandatory, on condition that no coercive action be taken against the petitioners. Delhi HC court made it clear an urgent hearing may be sought if such actionagainst the petitioners. The petitioners have asked for an interim relief from any coercive action against the media houses whohave not complied with the rules.

However, in reply to such a request, Justice Bhambani said “this is not possible as he could either hearthe matter or not,there is no middle way”.Therefore, the matter was put on June 28, 2021, which did not include Justice Bhambani.

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