A few days before two women from Palghar — Shaheen Dhada, 21, and Rinu Srinivasan, 20 — were booked under Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act for posting a comment on a social networking site, the Mumbai police had approached the state home minister for changing the language of the act to avoid ambiguity.
“An oral submission had been made before the home minister, asking if the terminology of the act [Section 66A] could be drafted in another manner to avoid ambiguity in its application,” said Niket Kaushik, additional commissioner of police, crime.
The home department was to make a proposal to the Centre (as the IT Act is a Central Act) when the Palghar incident took place, police sources said.
Sources said the suggestion had been made after junior-level officers in the cyber police station at BKC and the cyber crime investigation cell (CCIC) faced difficulties while investigating complaints attracting the provisions of Section 66A. “Though it is one of the mildest sections under the IT Act, it is the most ambiguous,” a source said.
However, the Mumbai police have been treading cautiously over the application of the entire IT Act for two years, knowing well that the provisions under the new Central legislation could be misunderstood and thereby applied wrongly by junior officers.
In 2011, former Mumbai police commissioner Arup Patnaik had issued instructions to the CCIC and the BKC cyber police not to register an FIR unless the application of the IT Act was approved by the joint commissioner of police, crime, and written orders were issued by his office.
“Investigating officers have to take complaints in writing. Before registering the offence, the officer has to explain before higher authorities [additional commissioner of police who will forward it to the joint commissioner] the grounds for registering the offence. Only after obtaining permission, can the FIR be registered,” Kaushik said.
For carrying out an arrest, separate permission has to be taken, justifying why arrest or custodial interrogation is necessary.
In fact, said Kaushik, 80-odd cases had been registered by the crime branch under various sections of the IT Act, but “very few” arrests had been carried out.
The latest central guideline — junior officers to seek permission from superintendents of police in rural areas and an inspector general rank officers in metros, before registering an offence under IT Act — replicates the practice being followed by the city police.