Drop cases filed under scrapped IT law: MHA
The Union home ministry on Wednesday asked state governments and police chiefs to immediately withdraw cases registered under the defunct Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, days after the Supreme Court described as “shocking” the existence of cases filed after the law was struck down.
In 2015, the top court quashed the portion of the IT Act after holding it unconstitutional, stressing on the right to freedom of speech and expression of Indian citizens. The law was wielded in several instances to arrest people for posts on social media solely at the discretion of police.
The NGO People’s Union for Civil Liberties filed a petition informing the court that 1,307 new cases were registered under the Act in the six years since what is known as the Shreya Singhal judgment that struck down 66A. The judges, during a hearing on July 5, said: “What is going on? It is terrible...shocking. It is distressing.”
On Wednesday, the Union home ministry sent an advisory to chief secretaries and director generals of police: “It has been brought to our notice through an application in the Supreme Court that FIRs are still being lodged by some police authorities under the struck down provision of Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000. Hon’ble Supreme Court has taken a very serious view of the matter.”
The ministry said that all states are “therefore requested to direct all the police stations not to register cases under the repealed Section 66A of the IT Act and sensitise the law enforcement agencies for the compliance of the Supreme Court order”.
It directed chief secretaries and police chiefs to withdraw such cases. “If any case has been booked in your state under Section 66A of the IT Act, it should immediately be withdrawn.”
Attorney general KK Venugopal, appearing on behalf of the Centre during the July 5 hearing, told the court that Section 66A was present in the IT Act, and the bare acts also contained this provision even after the 2015 judgment of the Supreme Court.
“The section is still there in the statute. When a police officer looks at the law book, it is still there. The section has two stars with a footnote that says the section has been struck down by a division bench of the Supreme Court. But the section is full there,” said the AG. “A police officer won’t read the footnote, we are sure,” justice Nariman responded.
The court then said it would take action to ensure its rulings are complied with.
When it struck the law down, the Supreme Court called Section 66A “open-ended and unconstitutionally vague”. It said nothing short of quashing the law in its entirety could suffice since this provision “arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately” invaded the right to free speech, right to dissent, right to know, and had a “chilling effect” on constitutional mandates.
Section 66A criminalised “grossly offensive” or “menacing character” messages sent in form of text, audio, video, images, or any other electronic record. It provided for the punishment of up to three years in prison.
Even though the Section was struck down in March 2015, 332 cases were filed under it the same year. In 2016, 216 cases were registered and 290 in 2017, 318 in 2018, 253 in 2019, and 34 until February 2020, HT reported last week.