In April last year the government had notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011 (IT Rules) under the Information Technology Act, 2000. The IT Rules are listed for discussion in Rajya Sabha today in pursuance of a motion moved by Mr. P. Rajeeve [CPI(M)]. The motion seeks to annul these Rules and recommends that Lok Sabha also concur with the motion. The IT Rules require intermediaries (internet service providers, blogging sites like Blogger and Wordpress, and cyber cafés) to take certain action. Intermediaries are required to enter into agreements with their users prohibiting publication of certain content. Content that cannot be published includes anything that is ‘harmful to minors in any way’, ‘blasphemous’, ‘encouraging money laundering’ etc. This raises three issues. Some of the categories of content prohibited for publication are ambiguous and undefined. For instance, ‘grossly harmful’ and ‘blasphemous’ content are not defined. Publication of certain content prohibited under the IT Rules, is currently not an offences under other laws. Their publication is in fact allowed in other forms of media, such as newspapers. Newspapers are bound by Press Council Norms. These Norms do not prohibit publication of all the content specified under the IT Rules. For instance, while these Norms require newspapers to show respect to all religions and their gods, they do not prohibit publication of blasphemy. However, under the IT Rules blasphemy is prohibited. This might lead to a situation, where articles that may be published in newspapers legally, may not be reproduced on the internet for example in the e-paper or on the newspaper’s website. Prohibition of publication of certain content under the IT Rules may also violate the right to freedom of speech. Under Article 19(2) of the Constitution restrictions on the right to freedom of speech may be imposed in the interest of the State’s sovereignty, integrity, security and friendly relations with other States, public order, morality, decency, contempt of court, and for protection against defamation. The content prohibited under the IT Rules may not meet the requirement of Article 19(2). This may impinge on the right to freedom of speech and expression. Further, anyone can complain against such content to the intermediary. The intermediary is required to remove content if it falls within the description specified in the IT Rules. In the event the intermediary decides not to remove the content, it may be held liable. This could lead to a situation where, in order to minimise the risk of liability, the intermediary may block more content than it is required. This may imply adverse consequences for freedom of expression on the internet. PRS’s detailed analysis of the IT Rules may be accessed here.
Discussion on the first no-confidence motion of the 17th Lok Sabha began today. No-confidence motions and confidence motions are trust votes, used to test or demonstrate the support of Lok Sabha for the government in power. Article 75(3) of the Constitution states that the government is collectively responsible to Lok Sabha. This means that the government must always enjoy the support of a majority of the members of Lok Sabha. Trust votes are used to examine this support. The government resigns if a majority of members support a no-confidence motion, or reject a confidence motion.
So far, 28 no-confidence motions (including the one being discussed today) and 11 confidence motions have been discussed. Over the years, the number of such motions has reduced. The mid-1960s and mid-1970s saw more no-confidence motions, whereas the 1990s saw more confidence motions.
Figure 1: Trust votes in Parliament
Note: *Term shorter than 5 years; **6-year term.
Source: Statistical Handbook 2021, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs; PRS.
The no-confidence motion being discussed today was moved on July 26, 2023. A motion of no-confidence is moved with the support of at least 50 members. The Speaker has the discretion to allot time for discussion of the motion. The Rules of Procedure state that the motion must be discussed within 10 days of being introduced. This year, the no-confidence motion was discussed 13 calendar days after introduction. Since the introduction of the no-confidence motion on July 26, 12 Bills have been introduced and 18 Bills have been passed by Lok Sabha. In the past, on four occasions, the discussion on no-confidence motions began seven days after their introduction. On these occasions, Bills and other important issues were debated before the discussion on the no-confidence motion began.
Figure 2: Members rise in support of the motion of no-confidence in Lok Sabha