The Director-General of Military Intelligence issued an order on June 6 that implements a ban on the usage of social media by all the members of the Army and directs them to delete their social media accounts. Following that, the Army issued an updated list of 89 social media applications, including TikTok, WeChat, Facebook and Instagram, many of which were developed in China.
In the petition filed in Delhi High Court, Lieutenant Colonel P.K. Choudhary had sought the withdrawal of Army’s June 6 order on the grounds that it was ‘arbitrary executive action’.
Currently posted in Jammu and Kashmir, Lt Col P K Choudhary said in his plea that he was an active Facebook user and used it to communicate with his family and friends as most of them were settled abroad, which includes his elder daughter.
In its essence, the petition argued that the order is in violation of Article 33 of the Constitution and also Section 21 of the Army Act, 1950, provisions of which cannot be nullified by executive order. And the withdrawal of the mentioned order would ensure that the fundamental rights of the armed forces are not amended, abrogated or modified by such an arbitrary action, which “offends provisions of Army Act and Rules” and is “unconstitutional”.
The petition mentioned that the soldiers have a significant effect on their physical as well as mental health while serving in remote areas and extreme weather conditions. So, they largely depend on social media to keep in touch with their family and loved ones.
“Therefore, the act of banning usage and directing deletion of accounts of soldiers from social networking platforms that the policy intends to enforce is a clear violation of Article 14 of the Constitution of India,” the petition said.
According to ThePrint.in, a senior Army official while speaking to them said that the social media ban was put in place to restraint the honey traps that were being set up in increasing numbers for the defence personnel on social media.
Delhi HC’s response
A bench of Justices R S Endlaw and Asha Menon said that there were no reasons found to entertain the plea, and therefore, “the question of granting any interim relief does not arise”.
“Especially when the matter has the potential of concerning the safety and security of the country,” it added.
The petitioner urged the court to allow him interim relief to keep his Facebook account.
The HC, however, the bench verbally observed, “No. No. Sorry. You please delete it. You can always create a new one. It cannot work like this. You are part of an organisation. You have to abide by its mandate”. And further said, “If you are so dear to Facebook, then put in your papers… See, you have to make a choice, what do you want to do. You have other choices which are also irreversible.”
The court has asked the Centre to provide the policy document and also the reasons for taking the decision in a sealed manner for review by the bench. The matter will now be heard on July 21 by the court.
Inputs from: IndianExpress.com, ThePrint.in