- Any move to curb social media freedom may invite litigation: KK Venugopal
- Top court does not react to criticism unless lines are crossed, he said
- Mr Venugopal took over as Attorney General in 2017
Freedom of speech on social media should not be curbed and any move to do so may invite litigation, the government's top law officer has said, adding that it is unbecoming of a "healthy democracy". The Supreme Court does initiate contempt cases but only in the rarest of rare cases, Attorney General KK Venugopal told NDTV.
"For a healthy democracy, open discussions on social media should not be curbed. The Supreme Court normally does not react to criticism unless lines are crossed," Mr Venugopal said in an interview amid instances of states charging individuals for social media posts and the top court's decisions being questioned or criticised on Twitter.
"To curtail this would be unnecessary and the government should not bring any move to curtail this freedom. We need open democracy and open discussions," he added.
If something was pointed out, the Supreme Court would "be happy" to deal with it, said the Attorney General.
"The Supreme Court would not go out of its way unless contempt is committed. The Supreme Court initiates contempt only in rarest of rare cases," he said.
Mr Venugopal has recently received several requests asking for consent to file contempt cases over tweets targeting the Supreme Court. He allowed around 11 people to proceed against stand-up comic Kunal Kamra, who shot off multiple tweets questioning the top court's decision to grant a reprieve to Republic TV anchor Arnab Goswami after he was jailed in a suicide abetment case in Mumbai.
Last weekend, after a go-ahead from the Attorney General, a law student initiated a contempt case against comic artist Rachita Taneja for her alleged objectionable tweets against the Supreme Court.
Ms Taneja was accused of posting three tweets with images which were allegedly "outrageous, contemptuous, carried insinuations and deliberately attributed motives to judges of Supreme Court and their judgments".
Recently, the Supreme Court found lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt for posting two tweets and had fined him Re 1. But Mr Venugopal has, at the same time, repeatedly declined consent for more contempt cases against Mr Bhushan.
"I am getting series of requests for giving my consent. I do not know why. I am very much restrained in giving consent. Hope such requests will die out soon," said the top law officer.
The consent of either the Attorney General or the Solicitor General is necessary for initiating contempt proceedings against a person.
Mr Venugopal, 89, took over as Attorney General in 2017. He was given a year's extension and his tenure ends on June 30, 2021. "I am 89 now. By the time I finish my time I will be 90. Nowhere in the world is any Attorney General functioning at the age of 90," he remarked.
"This is a very hard job - seven days a week. After 90 I do not think I should work."