The Supreme Court has issued notices to the Union government, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Delhi and Puducherry seeking an explanation over the recent arrests of social media users.
This, after an aspiring Delhi Univeristy law student Shreya Singhal filed a PIL before SC stating that Section 66(A) of the IT Act be modified.
An apex court bench headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir issued the notice - also to Maharashtra, West Bengal, Puducherry and Delhi - after Attorney General GE Vahanvati told the court that Section 66A has been grossly abused and welcomed the court's intervention.
However, he said that per se there was nothing wrong with the section and defended it.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court disapproved of the arrests of two youngsters in Palghar for questioning in their Facebook posts the Mumbai shutdown of November 18 for Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s funeral. It agreed to hear a PIL seeking scrapping of section 66A of the IT act used for the arrests.
Shaheen Dhadha, 21, was arrested on November 19 for putting up the post. And her friend, Renu Srinivasan, was detained later for liking it.
“The arrest of two children outraged the conscience of many. We were about to take suo motu cognizance of this. We were wondering why no application was moved till now,” a bench led by CJI Altamas Kabir said after senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi mentioned the petition.
The bench asked attorney general GE Vahanvati to appear before it on Friday when it would hear the PIL filed by 21-year-old Shreya Singhal, an astrophysics graduate from University of Bristol in the UK.
Singhal, an aspiring law student, told HT that the arrests left a chilling effect on her and other internet users. She said section 66A was susceptible to "wanton abuse" in view of the subjective discretion of the police.
"I filed the PIL because I felt that the arrests ... were a gross violation of our right to free speech and expression ensured under the Constitution. I am a Facebook user and I feel a sense of camaraderie with all the people who were arrested," she said.
Apart from striking down section 66A, Singhal's PIL also wants the court to make it mandatory for police to take permission from the magistrate concerned before taking action in Indian Penal Code offences involving the freedom of speech and expression.
Salve, who was present in the court, said the right to "annoy" was part of the freedom of speech and expression and section 66A of IT Act should be declared unconstitutional.
The bench, questioning the arrests made at night, said, "The might of the police got activated after sunset." It, however, refused to stay the operation of section 66A.
Section 66A of the IT Act reads: “Any person who sends by any means of a computer resource…any information that is grossly offensive or has a menacing character; or any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult… shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.”