As the police continue to face the flak for arresting a 21-year-old BMS student from Palghar and her friend for questioning the bandh in the city last Sunday when Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray was cremated, state home minister RR Patil on Tuesday announced a high level probe into the matter. He said the police targeted the girls because of the ambiguity in the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000. Patil’s explanation makes it clear that the authorities are passing the buck and that the arrests were unnecessary.
The girl wrote on her Facebook profile: “People like Thackeray take birth and die daily and people should not observe bandhs.”
She and her friend, who liked the post, were arrested under various sections of the IPC and the IT Act. Shiv Sainiks vandalised a hospital in Palghar owned by the uncle of one of the girls after she refused to apologise for her Facebook post.
The arrests led to national outrage and reignited the debate over free speech in the country. CM Prithviraj Chavan tried to pacify the situation by assuring action against the policemen once the probe report by Sukhawindar Singh, inspector general of Konkan, was out. The report is expected to be submitted by Wednesday evening.
“The officer has been asked to probe whether the sections applied were correct and whether the arrests were necessary; whether the police officer acted under pressure from Shiv Sainiks. The government will decide on the course of action once it gets the report,” said Patil. He also demanded more clarity on the IT Act. “Ambiguities in the act leads to its wrong interpretation by police officers in various cases,” he said.
Patil said the Azad Maidan riots in August happened because of messages and videos uploaded on social networking sites. But the police were criticised for the violence, he said. “The police are targeted from both sides, for taking action and for not taking action. The Act itself should have more clarity on the action against the literature on social networking sites,” Patil said.
However, Milind Deora, minister of state for communications and IT, slammed the police for acting in haste. “Question isn’t about amending 66A of the IT Act, it’s about preventing misuse by the police who clearly acted in haste and applied wrong sections of the IPC and IT Act,” Deora wrote on Twitter. Press Council of India chief Markandey Katju has demanded the chief minister’s resignation over the arrests.