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Section 66A: With defence and criticism, Congress speaks in many voices

Tthe section was poorly drafted and was vulnerable. It was capable of being misused and ... was misused, Chidambaram said.

Supreme Court, Section 66A, Centre Section 66A, UPA Section 66A, India news, SC Section 66A judgement, SC 66A judgement, Section 66A UPA, Section 66A judgement, Freedom of speech, Freedom of expression, government speech ban, speech freedom, BJP government, UPA government ban, indian Express column, ie column The CPM termed it a landmark judgment and said it was in “defence of civil liberties and fundamental rights of citizens”.

The Congress said it respects the Supreme Court decision but defended its 2008 decision to introduce Section 66A and put the onus on the NDA to “re-examine the issue threadbare”.

READ — A little reminder: No one in House debated Section 66A

Randeep Singh Surjewala, who is in charge of the party’s communication wing, pointed out how BJP leader Arun Jaitley, now finance minister, “termed the law an ‘online emergency’ while in opposition and justified the same law when in power through an affidavit in Supreme Court by stating that Section 66A was necessary to ‘regulate the use of cyberspace’.”

Former Congress minister P Chidambaram struck a different note from his party. “I welcome the judgment… The section was poorly drafted and was vulnerable. It was capable of being misused and, in fact, it was misused,” he said, adding 66 A was not the answer to preventing misuse of freedom of speech.

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Indian National Congress respects the decision of Hon’ble Supreme Court… Congress has always been the champion and torchbearer of freedom of expression, democratic dissent and right to criticise…We, however, are deeply conscious of the fact that one person’s individual liberty of expression cannot unilaterally infringe upon another person’s liberty,” read a statement by Surjewala.

READ — What next: What happens to Section 66A now?

He defended 66A: “Section 66A was enacted to prevent online abuse and hounding of groups and individuals, check propagation of obscene/incorrigibly false information with the intent to create social divide and unrest and deter unbridled defamation in cyberspace. This Act came into effect in 2008 when social media was yet evolving.” He added the Congress had weaved in “safeguards” that the Supreme Court appears to have “not found sufficient”.

“We believe that onus lies on the government to re-examine the issue threadbare and strike an appropriate balance by upholding freedom of expression, democratic dissent and right to criticise on one hand and prevent abuse/hounding of groups/individuals through obscene/incorrigibly false information and deter unbridled defamation in cyberspace,” the statement adds.

READ — Sec 66A: 21 individuals who changed the system

The BJP and the CPM welcomed the judgment.

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“It is a moment for celebration of freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution. It’s a landmark day for the Internet, cyberspace and social media in terms of them also being put on the same feet as the citizens outside cyberspace. The core thinking of Government of India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is that freedom of expression and speech is something that the government is not willing to curtain subject to restrictions in 19 (2),” said Nalin Kohli, BJP spokesperson.

The CPM termed it a landmark judgment and said it was in “defence of civil liberties and fundamental rights of citizens”. “The draconian provision of 66A was used to arrest people who express dissenting views against the government and the state and to suppress criticism of those in power,” a party politburo statement said.

First published on: 25-03-2015 at 12:41:42 am
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