SC Warns States Over People Getting Booked Under Scrapped Sec 66A Of IT Act

The Supreme Court of India on Tuesday asked chief secretaries of states to take back the cases, registered under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, within three weeks, calling to be a “matter of serious concern”. The top court had scrapped Section 66A of the Information Technology Act in 2015. As per the law scrapped section 66A of the IT Act, a person can be jailed up to three years and fined for posting offensive content on social media. 

“It is the matter of serious concern that despite an authoritative pronouncement of this court by which the validity of the provision was set aside, the cases are still being registered,” a bench comprising Chief justice Uday Umesh Lalit and Justice S Ravindra Bhat said earlier in the day, news agency PTI reported.

The apex court has also asked chief secretaries of the states concerned to take remedial measures at the earliest possible and complete the exercise of taking back the cases in three weeks.

“In the circumstances, we have asked Zoheb Hossain, the counsel for the Centre, to communicate with the concerned chief secretaries of the respective states where the offences are still being registered or stand registered and impress upon them to take remedial measures as early as possible,” it said.

Furthermore, the court said that the counsel for the Central government would be assisted by lawyers representing state governments. This counsel would be free to communicate with chief secretaries of the states for seeking relevant information.

“Let the entire exercise be completed in three weeks from today. List the matter for consideration after three weeks,” it ordered.

Supreme Court had on March 24, 2015 done away with Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, terming liberty of thought and expression “cardinal”. While scrapping the act, the top court said “the public’s right to know is directly affected by Section 66A of the Information Technology Act”.

The development came after the bech heard a miscellaneous application of NGO ‘People’s Union for Civil Liberties’ (PUCL) alleging prosecution of perople under the scrapped provision.

In its plea, PUCL alleged that 40 cases under the provision are pending before courts in Jharkhand. It futher claimed that in Madhya Pradesh, the state machinery has taken cognisance of 145 cases and out of these, 113 are pending in courts.

“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.

Even in 2012, a law student filed a PIL and sought an amendment to Section 66A of the Act after two girls – Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Shrinivasan – were arrested in Palghar in Maharashtra’s Thane district. While Dhada had posted a comment against the shutdown in Mumbai following Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray’s death, Shrinivasan had ‘liked’ it.

(With inputs from PTI.)