EC says election canvassing on social media can’t be restricted

Chennai: The whole purpose of banning political parties from canvassing during the last 48 hours before any poll in India was to help people think about the developments in the past and vote unbiased. But defeating this entire purpose, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has now opined  before the court that it can’t ban political content posted on social media by individuals during the 48-hour period.

This observation has created a stir across the country which is soon going to face general elections. This submission has been made before the division bench of Chief Justice Naresh Patil and N M Jamdar of the Bombay High Court which is currently hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google to take ECI’s approval before publishing or sponsoring any political advertisement on their platforms.

But, ECI submitted before the court that it would not be able to restrain individuals from posting political content on social media platforms 48  hours before polls. The PIL was filed by Sagar Suryawanshi through advocates Abhinav Chandrachud along with Sagar Kursija. It states that despite the provisions under Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, prohibiting campaigning 48 hours before polling, social media platforms are used by political parties to campaign even during the ban period.

The High Court asked whether any policy is in place to address these issues. The EC counsel said some deliberations were taking place. The counsel for the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting told the court that a report was submitted to ECI this week on provisions of the Act.

The court has directed the EC counsel to take instructions regarding the report. The PIL had claimed that undue advantage could be taken of of  sponsored advertisements on these platforms, even by individuals outside the country to cause tensions during elections.

The court will hear the case Monday. On Thursday, a 14-member committee report was submitted to the EC on regulating violations of the Act, impact of new media platforms and social media during the prohibitory period of 48 hours before polling.