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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Withdrawal of Section 66A of IT Act has not led to any case being withdrawn: RTI reply

In all, 209 cases in which 66A had been applied and later withdrawn, in compliance with a Supreme Court ruling, in investigations and trial are continuing, an RTI query filed by The Indian Express has shown.

Written by Mohamed Thaver | Mumbai |
October 1, 2021 1:11:04 am
In 178 cases, chargesheet has been filed while in the other 31 investigation is ongoing. (Express illustration)

All cases to which the Maharashtra government had applied section 66 A of the Information Technology Act since March 2015 were related to cyber crimes, hence withdrawing the section has not led to the closure of any of these cases in the state.

In all, 209 cases in which 66A had been applied and later withdrawn, in compliance with a Supreme Court ruling, in investigations and trial are continuing, an RTI query filed by The Indian Express has shown.

This was stated by the Maharashtra cyber police in response to details sought by The Indian Express on the number of cases to which Section 66 A had been applied even after it was struck down by the Supreme Court in March 2015, and whether those cases had been withdrawn after the court sent a notice to the Union government earlier this year expressing shock that it was still in use.

The Maharashtra cyber police replied that in a total of 209 cases, section 66 A had been applied even after it was struck down by the Supreme Court and later withdrawn as per SC guidelines. The RTI reply stated that these 209 cases, however, still stand.

In 178 cases, chargesheet has been filed while in the other 31 investigation is ongoing.

As per the RTI response, besides 66 A, the main IPC sections applied in these cases include those related to crimes against women, hurting religious sentiments of people, cheating and forgery over the internet, promoting enmity between groups, online abetment to suicide and defamation and other sections of the Information Technology Act.

Section 66 A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015 after it was challenged through a PIL on the ground that it was being misused. In 2012, cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was booked under section 124 (sedition) and 66 (A) for ‘insulting the national flag’ through his cartoon. The same year two girls from Palghar were booked under 295 (A), 66 (A) for a Facebook post criticizing the bandh following the death of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray. In both cases, however, the government had closed the case after wide criticism.

When the section continued to be used by police across the country, PUCL approached the Supreme Court, which said in July this year that it was “shocked” that the section was still being applied.

An official from the Maharashtra cyber department who provided the RTI response said that none of the cases had been withdrawn since the FIRs had other sections, mainly of the Indian Penal Code or the Information Technology Act, which were still maintainable.

Another officer from the Maharashtra cyber department said that prior to the section being struck down by the Supreme Court, it was used widely since the words used to define the section had wide scope. “Police stations across the state continued using it in some cases. Now we have sensitised the police stations to no longer use the section,” the officer said.

He added that after the section was scrapped even if it was used erroneously, it was mostly along with other sections. “For example, in a case of cybercrime, a policeman may have added 66 A along with sections of cheating and forgery. So even if 66 A is dropped, the chargesheet will be filed for other sections as a crime has been committed,” the officer said.

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