Striking down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, the Supreme Court called it “unconstitutionally vague”. Yet this section was never debated in Parliament, where it should have been, before becoming part of statute books.
Sources in the government told The Indian Express that when the information technology ministry, then headed by A Raja, got in touch with the law ministry to discuss the proposed amendments, the explanation given for introduction of Section 66A was that it was needed to deal with cyber crimes against women, especially to punish those sending vulgar mobile phone SMSes to women.
“What happened once the law was passed is something that was never the intent when we were drafting the amendments. The purpose was to check cyber crimes against women,” said a former law ministry officer who was involved in drafting the amendments.
According to the officer, the first time the amendments were finalised in the shape of a bill was in 2006 when Dayanidhi Maran was IT minister. The UPA government, the officer said, had not accepted the recommendation of the parliamentary standing committee that the amendments should include one to deal with “new forms of computer misuse like child pornography”, a suggestion that was also made by the CBI in its presentation before the committee.
The Information Technology Act (Amendment Bill) 2006 — one of the eight new amendments was aimed at inserting the new Section 66A in the original Act — was passed, along with three other bills, in less than half an hour in Lok Sabha on December 22, 2008. The next day, Rajya Sabha too passed the bill without a discussion.
On both days, Parliament functioning was disrupted with opposition members creating a ruckus, shouting slogans in the well of the House, over then minority affairs minister A R Antulay’s remarks questioning the circumstances in which Maharashtra ATS chief Hemant Karkare was killed in the 26/11 Mumbai attack. Antulay had called for a probe on Karkare’s death.
As members created an uproar in Lok Sabha on December 22, A Raja, then minister for communications and IT, moved the bill for consideration, following which the deputy speaker announced it would be taken up clause-by-clause.
Incidentally, if the House failed to debate the clause, the department-related parliamentary standing committee on information technology, headed by Nikhil Kumar, MP and former Delhi Police commissioner, also did not raise any red flags.
In an unanimous report on the proposed amendments, the standing committee, while suggesting many changes to the proposed bill, did not express any concern over the possible misuse of the proposed section.
Ravi Shankar Prasad, the current telecom and IT minister, was also a member of this panel.