|The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Wednesday, July 14 requested States and Union Territories (UTs) to direct all police stations under their jurisdiction not to register cases under the repealed Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
The decision comes in the backdrop of the Supreme Court expressing its disbelief and shock that cases were still being booked under the repealed section. It said it found it “distressing”, “shocking” and “terrible” that people are still booked and tried under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act even six years after the apex court struck down the provision as unconstitutional and a violation of free speech.
According to People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), the number of cases under Section 66A had increased post the judgement, and 745 cases are still pending and active before the Districts Courts in 11 States, wherein accused persons are being prosecuted for offences under Section 66A of the IT Act.
What is Section 66A?
Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 relates to punishment for sending offensive messages via communication services. According to the said Section, any person who sends any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character, or which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device, any electronic mail or electronic message, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.
However, the section does not define any of the terms namely, causing of annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill-will.
When was Section 66A repealed?
In the matter of Shreya Singhal Vs. Union of India, the Supreme Court in its judgment on March 24, 2015, struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
In the case of Shreya Singhal Vs Union of India, the petitioner (here, Shreya Singhal) had raised a large number of points as to the constitutionality of Section 66A. They had contended that Section 66A infringes the fundamental right to free speech and expression and is not saved by any of the eight subjects covered in Article 19(2). Further, according to them, the causing of annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill- will are all outside the purview of Article 19(2).
They had also contested that in creating an offence, Section 66A suffers from the vice of vagueness as it does not attempt to define the terms mentioned in the section. This leads to the booking of innocent people too.
Article 19(1) of the Constitution of India relates to the rights of all the citizens of the country. 19(1)(a) relates to the freedom of speech and expression of the citizens.
The bench of J. Chelameswar and Rohinton Fali Nariman in its judgment had declared Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 null and void. It read, ” Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 is struck down in its entirety being violative of Article 19(1)(a) and not saved under Article 19(2).” Hence no action could be taken under this section.
What happens to those already booked under Section 66A?
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has also asked the States and UTs to sensitize law enforcement agencies for the compliance of the order issued by the Supreme Court on March 24, 2015. The MHA also requested that if any case has been booked in States and UTs under section 66A of the IT Act, 2000, such cases should be immediately withdrawn.