Updated: August 3, 2021 7:31:32 am
The Supreme Court on Monday issued notices to all states, Union territories and registrars general of High Courts on a plea highlighting continued use of Section 66A of Information Technology Act even though it was held unconstitutional by the court in 2015. “This cannot continue,” the court said.
“As this matter pertains to not only the courts but the police as well, in fitness of things notice be issued to all States & UTs and Registrar of High Courts,” a bench of Justices R F Nariman and B R Gavai ordered while hearing the plea by the NGO People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).
The bench asked senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, who appeared for the petitioner, to also make all states parties to his petition, as police is a state subject. The plea pertains to continued use of the provision by law enforcement agencies in states and even lower judiciary.
“Judiciary…we can take care of separately but police is also there in this instance. There must be one proper order in this because this cannot continue,” the bench observed.
On March 24, 2015, in the case Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, the top court struck down “Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000”. The court found the law “in its entirety being violative of Article 19(1)(a) and not saved under Article 19(2)”, and that “it is clear that Section 66A arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately invades the right of free speech and upsets the balance between such right and the reasonable restrictions that may be imposed on such right”.
But the provision was invoked in many cases even after that, against which the PUCL moved the SC. The petitioners stated that “in spite of the judgment, it became clear from newspaper reports that the said provision continued to be invoked by the State’s investigative machinery as well as the judiciary, probably under the impression that Section 66A remained on the statute books”.
On July 5, the court had sought the Centre’s reply in the matter, terming it a “shocking state of affairs”.
In its reply, the Centre told the court that police and law and order being state subjects, law enforcement agencies of the state concerned share equal responsibility to comply with the Shreya Singhal ruling. It submitted that “police and public order are State Subjects as per Constitution of India and prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of crimes, and capacity building of police personnel are primary responsibility of States. The Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) take legal action as per provisions of law against the cyber crime offenders. Accordingly the LEAs share equal responsibility to comply with the said judgement.”
The Centre also said that both the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeITY) and the Home Ministry had written to chief secretaries of states, administrators of Union Territories and DGPs of states and UTs, asking them to sensitise LEAs and direct the police not to register cases under the quashed provision.
The government said it had so far received responses from 21 states and UTs on implementation of the judgment.