While the Supreme Court (SC) on Monday expressed dismay over the violation of its March 2015 order on the scrapping of Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, Shreya Singhal, whose public interest litigation (PIL) was the trigger for the apex court’s historic judgment on this issue back then, is also planning to file a ‘contempt petition’.
“It is absolutely shocking that Section 66A of the IT Act is still being used and people are still being arrested. I am planning to file a contempt petition,” said Singhal, who practices in the Delhi High Court. “Even after three years, the arrests are being made in big cities like Delhi and people are being charged under it.”
A second-year law student at the Faculty of Law of Delhi University back in 2012, Singhal had filed the PIL seeking amendment to Section 66A of the IT Act after two girls – Shaheen Dhada and Renu Srinivasan – were arrested in Palghar in Maharashtra’s Thane district. While one posted a Facebook comment against the shutdown in Mumbai following Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray’s death, the other ‘liked’ it.
In her petition, Singhal had stated that “the phraseology of Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000, is so wide and vague and incapable of being judged on objective standards, that it is susceptible to wanton abuse and, hence, falls foul of Articles 14, 19 (1)(a) and Article 21 of the Constitution.”
In its judgment, the SC in 2015 struck down this section which prescribed punishment for sending ‘offensive’ messages online or electronically, stating it was infringing upon the Fundamental Rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India.
Hearing a plea by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties on Monday, an SC Bench, headed by Justice R F Nariman, sought the Centre’s response over the alleged prosecutions even after the apex court scrapped Section 66A.
The Bench said the officials concerned will be arrested and sent to jail if the apex court’s earlier order for scrapping the provision of the IT Act is violated. Sanjay Parikh, who appeared on behalf of the petitioner, said more than 22 people have been arrested under the said provision of the IT Act that was scrapped by the top court in 2015.
In the wake of numerous complaints of harassment and arrests, the apex court on May 16, 2013, came out with an advisory that a person, accused of posting objectionable comments on social networking sites, cannot be arrested without the police getting permission from senior officers like an Inspector General or Deputy Commissioner of Police.
“The lack of awareness about the law and also authoritarian attitudes of the local police have made Section 66A a ‘legal zombie’, having died its legal death but continuing to be used by state authorities to harass innocent citizens,” Salman Waris, managing partner at Delhi-based specialist technology law firm TechLegis Advocates & Solicitors, told Business Standard.
He said even three years after being scrapped, the issue is still haunting the Indian criminal process. “This is because of deeper institutional problems resulting in judicial decisions not reaching out to the officials at the ground level.”