New Delhi: Days after Supreme Court expressed shock over the continued registration of cases under the scrapped Section 66A of Information Technology Act, which the apex court had struck down in March 2015, the Union home ministry on Wednesday asked state governments and police chiefs to immediately withdraw all the cases registered under this section of IT Act and to stop registering such cases.
Notably, the top court on March 24, 2015, had struck down a much-abused Section, which authorised police to arrest people for posting “offensive” or “menacing” content on social media sites. This controversial provision made posting offensive material on social networking sites an offence punishable by up to three years in jail.
The NGO People’s Union for Civil Liberties informed the court this month that 229 such cases were pending in 11 states. After the provision was repealed, police in these states lodged 1,307 new cases under it.
“What is going on? It is terrible…shocking. It is distressing,” a bench, headed by Justice Rohinton F Nariman, remarked on July 5. The bench asked the government to come up with a response to ensure police stop invoking Section 66A of the Act in First Information Reports (FIRs).
In its advisory sent to the chief secretaries and director generals of police, the ministry said on Wednesday: “It has been brought to our notice through an application in the Supreme Court that FIRs are still being lodged by some police authorities under the struck down provision of Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000. Hon’ble Supreme Court has taken a very serious view of the matter.”
The ministry said it is therefore requested to direct all the police stations not to register cases under the repealed Section 66A of the IT Act and sensitise the law enforcement agencies for the compliance of the Supreme Court order.
It directed the chief secretaries and police chiefs to withdraw such cases. “If any case has been booked in your state under Section 66A of the IT Act, it should immediately be withdrawn.”
The section had been widely misused by police in various states to arrest persons for posting critical comments about social and political issues and political leaders on social networking sites.
The Supreme Court has called Section 66A “open-ended and unconstitutionally vague”. It said nothing short of quashing the law in its entirety could suffice since this provision “arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately” invaded the right to free speech, right to dissent, right to know, and had a “chilling effect” on constitutional mandates.
Section 66A criminalised “grossly offensive” or “menacing character” messages sent in form of text, audio, video, images, or any other electronic record. It provided for the punishment of up to three years in prison.
Even though the Section was struck down in March 2015, there are as many as 1307 cases. While, around 332 cases were filed under it the same year. In 2016, 216 cases were registered and 290 in 2017, 318 in 2018, 253 in 2019, and 34 until February 2020.