Rajya Sabha: Government aware of possible risks and harms associated with online games

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The Minister for Electronics and Information Technology on Friday (Feb 11) said that the government is aware of possible risks and harms associated with online games. The reply came in as a response to a set of queries by Vinay Tendulkar, BJP Rajya Sabha member from Goa. “The rapid expansion of mobile ecosystem and Internet in India has also seen emergence of many new categories of mobile Apps including online gaming Apps. Government is aware of the possible risks and challenges including that of user harms associated with online games and their advertisements through different channels/media,” the minister said in a written response.

The minister said the government is aware of the growing number of online games available in India and also the opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship associated with them. “Apart from some industry estimates available in public domain, this Ministry does not have any precise details about the market size of such games available in India,” the minister said.

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Online gaming platforms are intermediaries and they have to follow the due diligence as prescribed in the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 and the Rules thereunder. On the question of online gambling, the minister said all forms of gambling and betting come under the purview of State Governments and they have enacted their laws to deal with the same within their jurisdictions under List-II of the Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution.

Based on the requests received from the designated Nodal Officers of the Ministries/States on specified grounds, this Ministry blocks Apps/URLs following the due process specified in the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009, notified under section 69A of the IT Act,” he said on the question whether there is any plan to discontinue the app-based games.

On the question of whether the Government has prepared any plan to bring such app-based games under the category of gambling, the minister said there is no such proposal. A few days back, the Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports Shri. Anurag Thakur on Tuesday informed the Lok Sabha that the draft discussion paper titled “Guiding Principles for the Uniform National-level Regulation of Online Fantasy Sports Platforms in India’ released by the NITI Aayog in December 2020 has been shared with various ministries.

In July 2021, in response to an RTI, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has indicated that the draft guidelines released by the NITI Aayog in December 2020, as well as the need for a central regulatory framework for online gaming in India, maybe deliberated upon by the Council of Ministers. 

Earlier in December 2021, the Rajya Sabha Chairman and Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu called online games (referring to games like poker, rummy) a “big menace” and referred to them as “Kill games” and not “Skill games.” The Vice President directed the Minister for Electronics, Information, and Technology to examine the possibility of regulating them. The remark followed a discussion in the House initiated by former Bihar Deputy CM and Rajya Sabha member Sushil Kumar Modi where 21 members across party lines associated with the issue of the gaming menace.

The discussion on the regulation of online gaming is not limited to Parliament. The southern states Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu, have notified prohibitory laws, citing addiction and financial losses to enact prohibitory laws. The Madras High Court in August 2021 and the Karnataka High Court yesterday had struck down the respective state laws as unconstitutional. Tamil Nadu has appealed to the Supreme Court. The Kerala High Court had struck down the notification banning online rummy.