Telangana hardens law against dissent, to book offenders without court nod
Abusing a person or institution using harsh words and intimidation through anonymous methods will now be treated as cognisable and non-bailable offences in the state.india Updated: Jan 27, 2018 08:59 IST
In what is being seen as a move to throttle criticism and muzzle opposition parties, the Telangana government has declared crimes falling under Sections 506 and 507 of the Indian Penal Code as cognisable offences that can be registered without the permission of a court.
Section 506 deals with criminal intimidation of a person, while Section 507 deals with criminal intimidation by an anonymous communication (through social media or anonymous letters, mails etc). The punishment under both sections is imprisonment ranging from two to seven years with or without fine.
Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao gave his go-ahead to the move, according to a communication from the Chief Minister’s Office late on Thursday. Abusing a person or institution using harsh words and intimidation through anonymous methods will now be treated as cognisable and non-bailable offences, said a CMO spokesperson. “It has been left to the discretion of the state whether or not to take permission of the court before arresting and prosecuting a person under the said sections. So, after careful examination, the state government has decided to declare the sections as cognizable without having to take the permission of the courts,” the spokesman added.
While legal experts say the changed sections could be misused to harass people, the opposition was apprehensive that the state government had taken the decision to intimidate political rivals and stifle those who raise their voice against the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS).
“Using of harsh words is a subjective term. There is no specific explanation as to what a harsh word is. The government and the police can interpret the term in any manner. For example, if a person calls KCR a tyrant or a monarch, he may get offended and throw that person behind bars invoking these two sections,” said Telangana Joint Action Committee (TJAC) chairman Prof M Kodandaram, who played a key role in the movement for separate Telangana state and is now opposed to the TRS government.
At a press conference last October, the chief minister had warned political rivals against making wild allegations or indulging in vilification campaigns against the government and the ruling party leaders without any facts. “Such posts in the social media, including obscene comments and morphed photos, are not acceptable. We will file cases against those people,” he had said.
Kodandaram said the TJAC would challenge the government’s decision in the high court.
Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee spokesman Dasoju Sravan said the decision was nothing but curbing the freedom of expression of the people. “There is nothing wrong in taking action if the posts or comments are personal, obscene and abusive. One can always file a defamation suit in such cases. But by seeking to arrest a person and prosecuting him without court permission on the pretext that he made offensive comments is nothing but infringing upon the fundamental rights of the person,” he said.
Noted lawyer and civil rights activist Jaya Vindhyala described the move as regressive. “It is a dangerous weapon given to the police to harass people who question the government. KCR should realise that in future, it might even be used against him and his party leaders when they lose power,” she said.
When contacted, senior IPS officer and principal secretary (home) Rajiv Trivedi feigned ignorance about the decision. “May be, it is being handled by the law department,” he said.