SC issues notice to States, HCs on people being booked under scrapped Section 66A of IT Act


PTI, Aug 2, 2021, 1:21 PM IST

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday issued notices to all States, Union Territories and high courts on an NGO’s plea that people are still being booked under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act that was scrapped by an apex court verdict in 2015.

A bench of Justices RF Nariman and BR Gavai said that since the police is a State subject, it will be better that all States and UTs are made party to the case and ”we can pass a comprehensive order so that the matter is settled for once and for all.”

The bench ordered, “As this matter pertains to police and judiciary, in the fitness of things, we issue notice to all States, Union Territories and registrar general of all High Courts,”

It said all should respond to the notices within four weeks and directed that details of pleading be also sent with notices to all the parties.

During the hearing, senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for the NGO People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), said that there are two aspects in this matter, one is police and the other is judiciary where such cases are still being tried.

The bench said it can take care of the judiciary and will issue notice to all the high courts, and listed the matter for further hearing after four weeks.

At the outset, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said he received the PUCL rejoinder to the government’s affidavit on Sunday only and he would like to go through it.

On July 5, the top court had said it was ”amazing” and ”shocking” that people were still being booked under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act that was scrapped by an apex court verdict in 2015.

Under the scrapped section, a person posting offensive messages could be imprisoned for up to three years and also fined.

The top court had issued notice to the Centre on PUCL’s application and told the NGO’s counsel, “Don’t you think this is amazing and shocking? Shreya Singhal judgement is of 2015. It’s really shocking. What is going on is terrible.”

The NGO claimed that despite express directions of the court in 2019 that all State governments should sensitise police personnel about the March 24, 2015 judgement, thousands of cases have been registered under the section.

Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, had earlier said that on perusal of the IT Act it can be seen that section 66A features in it, but in the footnote, it is written that the provision has been scrapped.

The top court was hearing a fresh application of PUCL saying, “That, shockingly, despite the order dated February 15, 2019, and steps taken towards compliance thereof, the Applicant discovered that Section 66A of the IT Act has continued to be in use not only within police stations but also in cases before trial courts across India”.

The NGO said, “That in spite of the order passed by this Court on February 15, 2019, directing that copies of the judgment of this Court in Shreya Singhal should remain available with every High Court as well as all the District Courts and that the police departments in the entire country i.e. all States and UTs be sensitized about the said judgment, the facts mentioned above show that not only the investigations under Section 66A by the police are continuing but even in the trial courts.”

It sought direction to the Centre to collect all data/ information regarding FIRs/ investigations where Section 66A has been invoked as well as pendency of cases in the courts throughout the country where proceedings under the provision are continuing in violation of the 2015 judgment.

On February 15, 2019, the top court had directed all State governments to sensitise their police personnel about its March 24, 2015 verdict which had scrapped Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, so that people are not unnecessarily arrested under the struck down provision.

It also asked all the high courts to send a copy of the verdict to all the trial courts to avoid people being prosecuted under the scrapped provision which provided for jail terms to people who posted offensive content online.

On January 7, 2019, while hearing the application of PUCL, the bench had observed that it is shocking that people are still being prosecuted under Section 66A of the IT Act even after it has been scrapped by the apex court in 2015.

It had sought a response from the Centre and warned the concerned officials from sending them to jail for violating its orders.

Terming liberty of thought and expression ”cardinal,” the top court had on March 24, 2015, scrapped the provision saying that ”the public’s right to know is directly affected by Section 66A of the Information Technology Act.”

The first PIL on the issue was filed in 2012 by a law student Shreya Singhal who sought an amendment in Section 66A of the Act after two girls – Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Shrinivasan – were arrested in Palghar in Maharashtra’s Thane district.

While one had posted a comment against the shutdown in Mumbai following Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray’s death, the other had ‘liked’ it.

PUCL was also one of the petitioners in the earlier case and has challenged the constitutional validity of section 66A of the IT Act.

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