The Supreme Court Tuesday asserted that it would not wait and examine the law as it stands today even as the Centre said a panel has been set up to review applicability of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which empowers the police to make arrests over contentious social posts.
A bench of Justices J Chelameswar and Rohinton F Nariman made it clear to the Centre that it would not wait till the panel decides on the applicability of Section 66A and propose amendments, if any. “We have to judge this statute and the provisions therein as they stand today. We cannot wait for an amendment or the new guidelines that you may propose tomorrow,” said the bench.
The court’s observation came after Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta read out from a communication that the panel was now in place to examine Section 66A afresh and come out with suggestions, which may also include amendments in the law.
“Amendments and a totally new legal framework are also being contemplated. It is not that we want to save this provision anyhow. This committee is examining various measures, safeguards and also amendments. The court, if it considers it right, may wait for this committee’s report,” Mehta urged the bench.
The court, however, shot down this suggestion, saying it was not going to wait for any report and that the government should go ahead with its arguments on constitutionality of Section 66A.
Mehta, who started the arguments on behalf of the government against a batch of petitions challenging the validity of Section 66A, argued that the law did not seek to curtail anybody’s fundamental right to speech and expression and it rather dealt with instances of cyber crimes.
“Cyber crimes are sought to be curbed under Section 66A. Phrases like annoyance, inconvenience, danger or obstruction, used in Section 66A, have no correlation or connection with any citizen’s freedom of speech and expression. Nobody can file a criminal complaint against anyone for an act that may come under the ambit of these phrases,” argued the ASG.
Mehta maintained that a “grossly offensive” message would be covered under the law and cited an English case to elucidate what would connote a “grossly offensive” message. The bench, however, told Mehta that no such term has been defined under the IT Act, leaving everything to the subjectivity of an individual.
Mehta submitted that he was of the personal opinion that the offence under Section 66A should be made non-cognisable so that no arrest is made before a judge takes a call. The arguments will resume on Wednesday.