Delhi High Court dismisses PIL to remove online news article on RAW operations [19.2.2024]

The Delhi High Court on Monday dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking direction to block access to an article published in an online news magazine which allegedly compromised the identity of officials posted in India's diplomatic missions in the US, Canada and the UK working for the country's external intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

The high court said judiciary should not transgress into an area involving national safety and security.

It said the government of India has the power and authority to block any article that compromises national safety and security.

The petition sought a direction to the ministries of Information and Broadcasting and External Affairs and the Press Council of India to frame guidelines to ensure that no media outlet publishes any source based information as to whether a government officer or diplomat posted abroad is working for the Indian intelligence agency.

It also sought a direction to the Centre to block the URLs of the November 30, 2023 article.

A bench of Acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Justice Manmeet PS Arora said the claims made by petitioner Raghav Awasthi, an advocate, are based on surmises and conjectures which are based on hearsay.

The Government of India has full power and authority to block any article which compromises the national safety and security and requires no advice either of the petitioner or of this court. The court should not easily transgress into this area.

The issues between the Government of India and foreign counterparts are to be handled delicately as they are based on state to state relationship, the bench said.

Observing that the article prima facie does not compromise the career of the officers or put the lives of their family members in danger, and dismissed the petition.

The bench added it was the petitioner who was putting the identity of intelligence officials at risk of getting exposed by discussing the issue in the court.

"It is an innocuous piece. Leave it at that. It does not identify anyone. I think you (petitioner) have identified more people than that. Your source is correct or not, we have no idea," the bench said, adding if the officers are in danger, the government will take steps.

The plea said a report was published in the online news magazine on November 30, 2023 which, according to the petitioner, was problematic as it insinuated that particular officers working for Indian diplomatic establishments in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada were working for RAW.

It claimed that the report compromises the career of the officers and since they have been branded as intelligence officers, they would not be able to work at any other Indian mission elsewhere.

Some of them also have relatives and family members who are working as diplomats in sensitive postings and the fact that their identities have been all but disclosed would mean that their relatives and family members would not only have their careers compromised but also put in the way of physical harm because of the current atmosphere where Indian diplomats and diplomatic establishments are being targeted, the petitioner said, adding their lives and limbs were in danger.

The bench said the Indian government is fully empowered to take a call on the issue and it was not a court's job to get into all this.

As the petitioner claimed the government was not doing anything on this, the court said it is a highly sensitive matter which involved state to state relationship.

"We don't enter that space and it should be handled at the highest level diplomatically. This is a diplomatic issue and is handled diplomatically at different levels. It's a state-to-state relationship and the court should not intervene in a state-to-state relationship. If the Government of India thinks any publication is endangering its agents' security, it has the power to take action, the court said.

20 Feb 2024