SC asks states to sensitise cops about scrapping of Section 66A of IT Act

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Friday directed all state governments to sensitise their police personnel about its March 24, 2015 verdict which had scrapped Section 66A of Information Technology Act, so that people are not unnecessarily arrested under the struck down provision.

It also asked all the High Courts to send the copy of the verdict to all the trial court to avoid people being prosecuted under the scrapped provision which provided for jail term to people who posted offensive content online.

A bench of Justices R F Nariman and Sanjay Kishan Kaul disposed of the application filed by NGO PUCL alleging that people were still being prosecuted under the scrapped provision.

Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, said the apex court verdict needs to be sent to all the high courts and to the district courts, so that prosecution does not take place.

On January 7, while hearing the application of PUCL, the bench had observed that it is shocking that people are still being prosecuted under Section 66 A of the IT Act even after it has been scrapped by the apex court in 2015.

It had sought response from the Centre and warned the concerned officials from sending them to jail for violating its orders.

Advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for the NGO had said prosecutions are taking place even after the provision has been struck down three years ago.

As per the data available, he had said, more than 22 prosecutions have taken place till now after the provisions was struck down.

Terming liberty of thought and expression “cardinal”, the top court had on March 24, 2015, scrapped the provision saying that “the public’s right to know is directly affected by Section 66A of the Information Technology Act .

The first PIL on the issue was filed in 2012 by a law student Shreya Singhal who sought an amendment in Section 66A of the Act after two girls Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Shrinivasan were arrested in Palghar in Maharashtra’s Thane district.

While one had posted a comment against the shutdown in Mumbai following Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray’s death, the other had ‘liked’ it.

PUCL was also one of the petitioners in the case and has challenged the constitutional validity of section 66A of IT Act.

“…despite the clear and unequivocal holding of this Court in Shreya Singhal case, Section 66A of the IT Act continues to be applied in the legal system. A recent working paper by the Internet Freedom Foundation demonstrates that pending prosecutions under Section 66A of the IT Act have not been terminated, and further that it continues to be invoked by police across India in FIR registered after the verdict,” the PUCL plea said.

It said that research paper has considered several media reports as also the NCRB data but that is not an exhaustive list of the cases.

It added however that the data sufficiently establishes that Section 66A of the IT Act continues to live on in the legal system despite the judgment in Shreya Singhal case.