Biju Janata Dal MP Tathagata Satpathy on Tuesday launched a campaign aimed at replacing India's criminal defamation law with legislation that protects free speech while strengthening civil defamation provisions. The campaign, organised through SpeechBill.in, calls for comments from the public on the ten guiding principles for the legislation Satpathy intends to introduce eventually.
"The #SpeechBill is a public consultation," the websites explains. It aims to remove, "the criminal defamation provision completely and second it brings a civil law to provide a better mechanism to deal with defamation matters." The site claims that the new framework will provide a balance between the right to free speech and the protection of a person's reputation.
India's laws, based on colonial English provisions, currently make defamation a criminal offence. In May, the Supreme Court upheld the legality of the criminal defamation law after it was challenged by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and others. The apex court insisted that the right to free speech must be balanced against the right to reputation. The decision attracted much criticism.