The Delhi High Court has directed the Central Government to submit in a sealed cover its policy regarding the use of social media by members of Army.The Division Bench of Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw and Justice Asha Menon noted that they will only go into the merits of the petition after carefully perusing the impugned policy.
The court said:
‘We are of the view that the counsels be heard after we have had an occasion to peruse the policy and if the document prescribing the policy does not record the reasons therefor, the document containing the reasons for the policy.’
The order has come in a plea moved by Lieutenant Colonel PK Choudhary challenging an order of the Director General of Military Intelligence, requiring all personnel in the Indian Army to delete Facebook, Instagram and 87 other social media applications.
It is contended that the ban violates various fundamental rights of the Petitioner under the Constitution, including the right to freedom of speech and expression and right to privacy, whereas the power to modify fundamental rights of members in Army rests with the Parliament alone.
“Article 33 permits the Parliament, by law, to modify fundamental rights by members of armed forces i.e, Soldiers. The Respondent No.1 is not the Parliament. Ban on use of social networking platforms and order to delete accounts vide the Policy is an attempt by the Respondent No.1 to usurp and assume powers which are vested exclusively with the Parliament in terms of Article 33,” the Petitioner argued. Reliance is placed on Union of India v. G.S. Bajwa, (2003) 9 SCC 630.
It is also submitted that the restrictions contained in the Policy, particularly relating to ban on use of social networking platforms and deletion of accounts therein are not contemplated under Section 21 (Power to modify certain fundamental rights in their application to persons subject to this Act) of the Army Act, 1950 and or the Rules framed by the Central Government in terms of the said provision.
The Petitioner has pointed out that while on one hand Soldiers are ordered to stop using all major social media platforms and to delete their user profiles, on the other hand the Respondents are formulating plans to sensitise soldiers and train them in proper and safe conduct over social networking platforms.
“Such contradictions in the Policy are a testament to the non application of mind while formulating the same,” the Petitioner remarked
He has also sought a declaration that Director General of Military Intelligence is not empowered under the constitution or under any other law to modify, amend or abrogate the fundamental rights of the members of the army.
Read the order here: