The Centre on February 3 sent a notice to Twitter for reinstating accounts and Tweets supporting the farmers’ protest despite a directive by the the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) to block them for posing a threat to public order.
The notice warns the social media platform of penal action for "non-compliance of directions issued under section 69-A of the IT Act”.
Twitter on February 1 “withheld” multiple accounts on its social media platform, including many tweets with #ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide linked with the ongoing farmers’ protest at Delhi borders against the new contentious central farm laws. The handles were reinstated within hours.
The crackdown was carried out based on orders issued by the Centre asking Twitter to withhold the hashtag and as many as 257 URLs, including nearly 100 Twitter accounts. The government order said that the hashtag and the account are spreading misinformation about farmers' protests and has the potential to lead to imminent violence affecting public order situation in the country.
The fresh notice , issued by the IT ministry says that the as per Indian law, Twitter is an “intermediary” as defined under Section 2[w] of the Information Technology Act and provides a platform wherein opinions of persons are communicated across the world and are open for all to see.
"Section 69A of the Act provides jurisdiction to the Central Government in cases wherein it considers it necessary or expedient to direct an intermediary to block for access for public and or cause to be blocked for access by the public any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource if the Government is satisfied that the same is necessary or expedient in order to prevent incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to public order,"
the notice reads.
It also says that the "impracticability or the disproportionality of the said measure cannot be decided by Twitter which is an intermediary bound by the orders of the Central Government.”
The government notice, according to sources, quotes more than half a dozen Supreme Court orders including Constitutional benches as to what is public order and what are the rights of authorities.
"It needs to be mentioned that Section 69A provides for specific penal consequences in case of non-compliance of the directions issued under section 69A of the Act," it reads.
Section 69 A(3) of the IT Act says, "the intermediary who fails to comply with the direction issued under sub-section (1) shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine."
A Twitter spokesperson told MoneyControl in an email response that the company has "no comment" to offer on the issue at this time.
Among the accounts withheld, and later reinstated, on February 1, included farmers’ collective Kisan Ekta Morcha and farmers’ union BKU Ekta Urgahan both having followers in thousands. Also, several other individuals and organisational accounts, including one of a monthly magazine, were also withheld. Among the individuals whose accounts have been withheld include that of actor Sushant Singh, Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati to name a few.
The development comes in the wake of violence in Delhi on Republic Day on January 26 during a tractor parade of farmers protesting the new farm laws which resulted in the death of one person and injuries to over a hundred people, including police personnel.
The Delhi Police is probing the Republic Day violence wherein it has lodged multiple FIRs and booked, among others, several farmer leaders leading the protests at the national capital's borders for two months now