The Bombay High Court on Friday said that it does not understand Centre’s concern necessitating amendments to the Information Technology Rules, reported The Hindu.

A division bench of Justices GS Patel and Neela Gokhale made the remarks while hearing a batch of petitions filed by stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra, the Editors Guild of India and the Association of Indian Magazine and regional channels challenging the new amendments.

Under the amendment notified on April 6, the Centre can set up a fact-checking unit that can flag online information it considers false or misleading. Social media intermediaries also have to censor or modify content flagged by the unit.

Advocate Gautam Bhatia, appearing for the Association of Indian Magazines, argued whether the Constitution authorises the government to classify speech based on values or what is true and false, reported the newspaper. Senior Advocate Arvind Datar, appearing for the News Broadcast and Digital Association, argued that the amendment lacked definitions of “fake and misleading”.

“We are going for a national election soon,” Datar told the court. “People are going to campaign hard. There are going to be statements made across parties. Let us assume one channel, or digital or print media, decides to do a fact-check on someone’s statement and finds it is fake. What if the Press Information Bureau says, ‘No, your fact-check is fake, false, misleading?’”

The High Court said that the government is not a repository of truth that cannot be questioned. “It is a fundamental right to doubt, to question, to demand answers from the government and it is the duty of the government to respond,” it said.

The bench added: “One cannot bring a hammer to kill an ant. But leaving this excessive part aside, I still don’t understand what was the concern that necessitates this amedment. What is the anxiety behind it? What was the need? I still don’t know.”

Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta will present his arguments in the case in the next hearing on July 27.

The Centre, in April, had told the High Court that it had amended the Information Technology Rules, 2021, because false and misleading information could harm electoral democracy.

The Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had said that misinformation has the potential to fan “separatist movements and intensify social and political conflict, while also weakening public trust in democratic institutions”.

On June 7, the ministry had said it will not notify the fact-checking unit till July 10.