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Madras HC slams Centre for different approaches on action against security clearance

In its order setting aside the order of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) which asked Kal Cables to switch off transmission for not getting security clearance from Home Ministry, the Madras High Court has questioned the rationale of the government in acting against a Multi System Operator (MSO) while the same was not applied against a group of several Satellite Commercial Television Channels promoted by the same promoters.

In his detailed order, Justice V Ramasubramanian also said that the Central Government should spell out clearly whether the abuse of official position by a person in power and the amassing of wealth of unimaginable proportions would constitute security and if so, the same yardstick would apply at all levels, not only against MSO but also against the television channels.

“There cannot be two different security standards, one for Multi System Operators and another for TV Channels,” said the in order, a copy of which is available with Business Standard.

After going through the files called in from the Ministry of Home Affairs in the matter, the court observed that the conclusions reached by the officers are that there are no adverse reports against the Directors or Key Executives of the petitioner company, from the security point of view and that several investigations and enquiries are under progress against the Maran brothers who promoted a group of companies including the petitioner and one of whom was a Union Minister.

The Justice, while stating that he has decided not to disclose the factual contents of the file produced by the Ministry, pointed out that the information contained therein is already in the public domain in the form of press reports and the entire information revolve around allegations of gross abuse of official position, adoption of corrupt practices of incomprehensible nature to make unlawful gains and amassing of wealth of unimaginable scales etc.

“Maybe a time has come to hold that the abuse of official position by a person in power and the amassing of wealth of unimaginable proportions, is also an assault on the security of the State. Economic aggression may soon become more dangerous than military aggression,” said the order while adding that Security is a matter of policy for the government to decide.

The central government should have applied its mind to the question whether abuse of official position and large corrupt practices constitute an affront to the security of the State or not, to enable the Ministry of Home Affairs to deny security clearance, it said.

Further, the Court observed that an MSO can be equated to the local agent of several newspapers, and has nothing to do with the contents of the newspapers. By stopping such a local agent on the ground of denial of security clearance will serve no purpose especially if the same agent also happen to publish newspapers and those newspapers are not banned on the same ground.

“According to the respondents, the promoters of the petitioner-company are also the promoters of a group of several Satellite Commercial Television Channels known as the Sun TV group”, said the order. If security clearance cannot be given to the petitioner, on account of the adverse information available with Ministry of Home Affairs against the promoters of the petitioner, the same logic would extend to those Television Channels, whose role and importance in society is much more than that of a mere MSO.

The court also observed that the security clearance was not placed as one of the pre-conditions for the grant of permission to operate as a MSO, under the Act in its original form and was added in an amendment in 2011.

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