The Supreme Court on Friday slammed the Maharashtra government and sought a report on action taken against the persons who had used the most-abused section, 66A, of the Information Technology Act.
Though attorney general Goolam E Vahanvati termed the Congress-NCP alliance government’s hasty action against the two residents of Palghar in Thane — Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Shrinivasan — “unjustified”, he said section 66A should not be struck down as unconstitutional.
On her Facebook post, Shaheen had said there was no need for shops to close just because Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray had passed away. Her friend Rinu “liked” it.
During the hearing of a PIL filed by a Delhi law student, Shreya Singhal, on behalf of millions of users of social websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Orkut, the top court took cognizance of the misuse of the IT Act by West Bengal, Puducherry, Delhi and Maharashtra against certain netizens and issued notices to them as well.
A bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice J Chelameswar has already expressed serious concern at the Maharashtra incident and indicated that it would have started suo motu proceedings had Singhal not moved the court.
Outside court, Singhal told journos: “You don’t get arrested if you air your views on TV or write in newspapers. Why should it be any different if you post your views on the Net?
I do not want to live in fear of being punished for expressing my views on a public forum as a citizen of a democratic nation... I am not doing this for me, I am doing this for the citizens of this country,” Singhal said.
Responding to the court’s call for assistance in this matter, Vahanvati urged the judges to examine section 66A and also referred to the guidelines that say cases under this provision has to be decided by senior police officers of the ranks of DGP for rural areas and IGPs for metros. “This can’t be done by the head of the police stations,” he said.
Shreya’s counsel Mukul Rohatgi sought a direction that no cases be registered across the country unless such complaints are seen and approved by the DGP of the state concerned.
He also sought the scrapping of section 66A because it is “unconstitutional”. In the meantime, the court could direct all the states that no case be registered under this provision unless the complaint is seen and approved by the DGP, he added.
Considering the importance of the matter and its effect on millions of people, an NGO, the Center for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), too filed an application seeking the court’s intervention.