Facebook did not violate rights: Bombay HC dismisses right-wing organization's claim

Facebook did not violate rights: Bombay HC dismisses right-wing organization's claim

The Bombay high court in Goa on Monday rejected a plea by Hindu extremist group Sanatan Sanstha to possess its pages, which were taken down by social media company Facebook, restored.

The Sanatan Sanstha claimed in its appeal before the high court that Facebook’s action was high handed, arbitrary and violated their constitutional rights. It also said that Facebook blocking its pages amounted to usurpation of powers that are only vested with the state.

The high court, however, rejected the claims and said that blocking or unblocking of pages hosted on Facebook, would at the foremost be a contractual dispute.

“The dispute regarding blocking or unblocking of the petitioner’s (Sanatan Sanstha’s) Facebook pages, appears to be governed by the contractual relationship between the petitioner and respondents (Facebook) and normally purely contractual disputes between private parties can't be adjudicated in proceedings under Article 226 of the Constitution of India”, the high court bench comprising justices MS Sonak and MS Jawalkar, said.

The Sanstha had told the court that it used these pages to spread the essence of their spirituality and allied matters, and Facebook’s action disabled it from communicating or propagating [its] philosophy and disabling its followers from accessing information that it posted on such pages.

Facebook told the Sanstha that as per the terms of service they need the proper to permanently disable access to any account that breaches its community standards. This, the Sanstha alleged, was being violative of their fundamental rights enshrined within the constitution.

In response, advocate for Facebook Darius Khambata told the court that the petition wasn't maintainable because Facebook Inc and Facebook Online Services India are “neither a ‘State’ under article 12 of the constitution nor are they discharging any public functions”.

“The issue of blocking the Facebook pages, may be a matter governed by contract and therefore the petition under Article 226 of the Constitution isn't maintainable to deal with a dispute over a contractual relationship between two private parties”, he said.

“The petitioner has no right to hunt hosting or transmission of its information or its philosophical views on the platform provided by Facebook. Such a right is neither granted by Section 79 of the knowledge Technology Act (protection granted to intermediaries) nor for that matter, the other provision of the knowledge Technology Act”, Khambata said.

“All these matters are within the realm of contract and if in the least the petitioner has any grievance, they're going to need to seek redressal before any appropriate forum which is empowered to adjudicate disputes between the 2 private parties”, he added.

The high court said that there was neither any assertion that Facebook answered the definition of ‘State’ under Article 12 of the Constitution nor were there any serious to determine that these respondents indeed answer the definition of ‘State’ under Article 12 of the Constitution, or otherwise, discharge some public functions.

“Based on the sketchy and unclear pleadings during this matter, however, there's no case made out for grant of any declaratory relief during this petition. Even, otherwise, Adv (Shirish) Punalekar (advocate for Sanatan Sanstha) was unable to means any provision under the knowledge Technology Act, supported which the petitioner could enforce maintaining a Facebook page on the platform provided… without agreeing to be bound by the contractual terms which will are proposed”, the high court said.

“If there's some breach of contractual relationship involved within the blocking of the Facebook page then, it's for [them] to require appropriate steps before the acceptable forum to secure redress. But, a Petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India might not be an appropriate remedy for this purpose”, the bench said.

The controversial organisation Sanatan Sanstha, that's headquartered in Goa and features a significant presence in Maharashtra, is on the radar of investigating authorities within the murders of rationalists Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar and MM Kalburgi also as within the murder of Gauri Lankesh. Operatives of the Sanstha were also accused of attempting to plant a bomb at a crowded religious place in Margao in 2008 which exploded prematurely killing two persons who were ferrying it.

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