No obligation to disclose reasons for denying security clearance when national security involved: MHA to Supreme Court

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The Central Government has told the Supreme Court that denial of security clearance to Malayalam news channel, MediaOne was based on intelligence inputs and that the Union Home Ministry is under no obligation to share the reasons for such denial in cases in which national security is involved [Madhyamam Broadcasting Ltd. v Union of India].

In an affidavit filed before the top court, the Central government has stated that as a matter of policy and in the interest of the State and its establishments, the MHA does not disclose the reasons for denial of such clearance.

“It is submitted that in cases like the present wherein the matter concerning national security is involved, the petitioner company cannot insist upon strict compliance with principles of natural justice and the respondent is not bound to disclose the reasons for denial of security clearance to the petitioner-company,” the affidavit said.

It was further stated that the reasons for denial was already submitted before High Court and Supreme court and if it is asked to submit such a report again, then the same will be produced “in a sealed cover.”

“MHA under Section 124 of the Indian Evidence Act seeks privilege over its secret files and prays that the contents of the files may not be disclosed to the petitioner since such disclosure may have far reaching and unimaginable consequences in so far as national security is concerned,” the affidavit by the Centre said.

On March 13, a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath had ordered that the channel can resume operations in the same manner in which it was being operated before revocation of security clearance.

The appeal by MediaOne before the apex court has challenged Kerala High Court Division Bench judgment which had upheld the Central government’s ban.

A Division Bench of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly had upheld a single-judge decision which had rejected the channel’s plea against government decision to revoke its license.

On February 8, single-judge Justice N Nagaresh had upheld the decision of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B Ministry) to revoke the Malayalam channel’s licence. The Court opined that the material handed over to the Court in a sealed cover indicated that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had sufficient cause to deny security clearance to the channel, thereby justifying the ban.

The appeal against said order before the Division Bench alleged that the Central government’s haste to cancel the licence of the channel indicated that there was some pre-scripted agenda motivated by some ill-will against the channel.

The channel which is owned by Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited was issued a notice by the ministry on January 5, 2022 in which it was stated that in consideration of national security and public order, the government can revoke licences. It also asked them to show cause as to why their licence should not be revoked as the company had not received security clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The Central government had told the High Court that the decision to revoke the licence was based on credible national security concerns.

However, they refused to state what the concerns raised by MHA were, and contended that a party cannot insist on observing natural justice principles in a situation involving national security.

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