Supreme Court of India
Supreme Court of India

The Supreme Court on Monday expressed shock that people are still being booked under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which it had scrapped way back in 2015.

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

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

A bench of Justices Rohinton Fali Nariman, KM Joseph and B R Gavai issued notice to the Centre on an application filed by an NGO, 'People's Union for Civil Liberties' (PUCL).

"Don't you think this is amazing and shocking? The Shreya Singhal judgement is of 2015. It is really shocking, what is going on is terrible," the bench told senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, who was appearing for PUCL.
Parikh said that despite express directions of the court in 2019 that all state governments should sensitize police personnel about the 24 March, 2015 judgment, thousands of cases have been registered under the section.

The bench said, "Yes, we have seen those figures. Don't worry we will do something".

Parikh said there has to be some kind of method to handle the matter as people are suffering.

Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, 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.

Now, when a police officer has to register a case, he sees the section and registers the case without going through the footnote. Instead what can be done is that we can put a bracket just after section 66A and mention that it has been scrapped. We can in the footnote put the entire extract of the verdict, Venugopal said.

Justice Nariman said, "You please file counter in two weeks. We have issued a notice. List the matter after two weeks".

The top court was hearing a fresh application of PUCL saying, "that, shockingly, despite the order dated 15 February, 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 applicant has 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.

The PUCL also sought direction to top court registry to communicate to all the District Courts throughout the country (through respective High Courts) to take cognizance of the 2015 judgment, so that no person should suffer or face any adverse consequences which violate his fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Constitution.

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 IT Act.

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