HC says Twitter in ‘total non-compliance’ with new IT rules

Judge gives company a week to respond on how it intends to comply

'I am giving you a long rope, but please don’t expect this to go on and on,' a single-judge bench of Justice Rekha Palli told Twitter

The Delhi High Court on Wednesday said statements by Twitter India “clearly show total non-compliance” with the country’s new IT rules, and gave the microblogging platform a week to respond on how it intends to comply.

The HC reproached Twitter for appointing its chief compliance officer and resident grievance officer as a “contingent” worker via a third-party contract – and not a regular worker.

The new rules, which came into force on May 26, 2021, make it compulsory for social media platforms to, among other things, make these appointments.

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A single-judge bench of Justice Rekha Palli expressed disapproval on the “contingent” appointment of Vinay Prakash as both the COO and resident grievance officer.

Also read: New rules: Government seeks total control of media

“This gives an impression that he has been appointed in view of some contingency. Will he remain there till you employ someone permanent? What are you trying to imply?” Justice Palli asked Twitter’s counsel, senior advocate Sajan Poovayya.

Poovayya replied that Twitter will “endeavour” to appoint a qualified person as a regular employee within eight weeks.

“Your company is making so much money here [in India] and you are saying you will make an endeavour within eight weeks,” Justice Palli said.

In an earlier hearing of the petition, on July 8 Twitter had said that it had appointed an “interim grievance officer” in accordance with the IT rules but the court rejected its submission and gave the company two weeks to file a “better affidavit”.

Citing the earlier submission, Justice Palli called the new “contingent” appointment “worse”. “Earlier you said interim, now you say contingent. You have made it worse. What do you mean by this word ‘contingent’?” she asked.

Poovayya then explained that it was contractual employment and once Twitter establishes a place of work, it will become permanent. “He [officer] undertakes all responsibility.”

The Centre’s counsel, Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma, also took strong objection to the word “contingent”.

Also read: Centre’s new rules for digital content vague, loaded with draconian clauses

Sharma said according to the new rules, the COO and resident grievance officer should be two separate appointments and that a person with a chief managerial rank should be appointed as the COO. Both of these terms were not followed by Twitter, said Sharma. The government, he said, has not taken action because the matter is pending before the court.

The court gave Twitter a week to file a “better affidavit” on what the company means by a “contingent worker” and also asked it to disclose the name of the third-party contractor.

“I am giving you a long rope, but please don’t expect this to go on and on,” Justice Palli said.

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