February 17: On Friday, Supreme Court directed all state governments to remind their respective police departments of its March 24, 2015 order which led to the scrapping of Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act. This act enabled police to arrest anyone accused of ‘spreading offensive content’ on social media. The act, when in force, carried a maximum punishment of up to three years in jail.
The Supreme Court bench comprising of Justices RF Nariman and Sanjay Kishan Kaul also directed all high courts to send a copy of the verdict to all trial courts in the country in order to ensure that no one is prosecuted or arrested under this provision.The Supreme Court also sought a response from the Centre in addition to warning concerned officials with imprisonment for violating its orders.
The apex court bench was hearing a plea in this regard filed by NGO PUCL who claimed that people are still being prosecuted under this provision even three years after it was struck down by the Supreme Court. While challenging the constitutional validity of the provision, PUCL reiterated that it is still being invoked by police departments across India in First Information Reports (FIRs).
It needs mention here that the Supreme Court had scrapped Section 66A in 2015 by citing liberty of thought and expression as “cardinal”. It had also stated that the public’s right to know is directly affected by Section 66A of the IT Act. The Apex court bench comprising Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice RF Nariman, struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 in its entirety, for being violative of Article 19(1)(a) and not saved under Article 19(2).