A plea challenging the policy of the Indian Army which requires all members of the armed forces to delete their social media accounts was rejected by the Delhi High Court on Wednesday.
The Division Bench of Justice Rajiv SahaiEndlaw and Justice Asha Menon on merits dismissed the petition.
Plea on access to army personnel for using Social Media
In a plea,the 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, was challenged by Lieutenant Colonel PK Choudhary of Indian Army who is a serving lieutenant colonel as in the absence of access to social media he was finding it difficult to connect with his family which resides outside India.
Submission by the petitioner for the use of Social Media
Submissions were made that the petitioner has never shared any classified or sensitive information pertaining to his role and duties as an Indian Army officer over Facebook or any other social networking platform and the usage of Facebook account was in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Indian Army from time to time responsibly.
“Indian Army Soldiers rely on social networking platforms like Facebook to address various issues arising in their families while posted in remote locations and often use the virtual connect to compensate for the physical distance existing between themselves and their families.”
Contentions by the petitioner for the use of Social Media
Contention was raised that various fundamental rights of the Petitioner under the Constitution, including the right to freedom of speech and expression and right to privacy,have been violated through the ban and that the Parliament alone has the power to modify fundamental rights of members of armed forces.
Arguments regarding Article 33 were also mentioned by the Petitioner that“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 restrictions contained in the Policy were questioned by the petitioner, particularly relating to ban on use of social networking platforms and deletion of accounts as they are not a part of procedure 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 also points out that while Indian Army Soldiers are ordered to stop using all major social media platforms and to delete their user profiles on one handand at the same time the Respondents are formulating plans to sensitise soldiers and train them in proper and safe conduct over social networking platforms on the other hand.
The Petitioner remarked,”Such contradictions in the Policy are a testament to the non-application of mind while formulating the same.”
It was also contended that the policy is violation of Article 14 of the Constitution as there are several members of the civil administration and political class who possess information of a much higher level of sensitivity than a regular soldier andno restrictions on use of social media apply to them.
Prayer for the usage of social Media
Therefore prayer by the petitioner has been madeto the High Court to direct the Respondent for withdrawing their“draconian” Policy which includes the army personnel from using social media or requires them to delete their accounts.
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 armed forces was also sought by the petitioner.
Advocates ShivankPratap Singh and SanandikaPratap Singh have filed the Petition.