Leaders from across the political spectrum and ordinary citizens who were prosecuted under a controversial law that made offensive comments online punishable with jail terms welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday to strike down the provision.
The government was more guarded in its response, with communications and information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad saying he would take a “structured view” of the matter after receiving a copy of the court's verdict that declared Section 66A of the IT Act unconstitutional.
Nalin Kohli, a spokesperson for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, responded to the ruling by saying it was a “landmark day for freedom of speech and expression” as Article 19 of the Constitution on freedom of expression had been reaffirmed.
Congress spokesman Manish Tewari, who was a minister in the previous UPA government when it enacted Section 66A, said the Supreme Court has done the “right and appropriate thing” by striking down the provision.
“It had become an instrument of oppression. It had put too much of power in the hands of law enforcement authorities to persecute and hound people who maybe innocuously or intentionally indulged in dissent,” he told the media.
“Mere law enforcement or knee-jerk reactions, as was the implementation of Section 66A, cannot be a solution to curb freedom of speech and expression,” he added.
Former home minister P Chidambaram too welcomed the verdict saying, "The section was poorly drafted and was vulnerable. It was
capable of being misused and, in fact, it was misused."
However, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut said social media was “being misused” and police “must have some powers” to deal with such a phenomenon.
JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav too was guarded in his response saying "Freedom doesn't mean using abusive language or character assasination."
Renu Srinivasan, one of the two young girls booked under Section 66A in 2012 after they posted material on Facebook questioning why Mumbai was shut down for Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray’s funeral, welcomed the court’s verdict.
“If this law is repealed, it may encourage people to speak up against all the wrong in the world,” she told the media. “I am very happy. I feel like we have received justice after two years.”
Jadavpur Unuiversity professor Ambikesh Mahapatra, who was arrested in 2012 for circulating a cartoon that lampooned west Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, hailed the court’s order as a “victory for the common man”. He said democracy and human rights had been protected by the court.
Section 66A, which was incorporated through an amendment of the IT Act in 2009, prohibited the sending of information of a “grossly offensive” or “menacing” nature through computers and communication devices. It was used by several states to arrest people over posts on social media that officials claimed were "seditious"," communally sensitive” or abusive.
Congress spokesperson Tewari said there is a need for “globally acceptable rules of engagement” following the striking down of Section 66A since there were people who took advantage of the anonymity provided by the internet to “launch malicious and hateful campaigns”.