Regulations
Supreme Court strikes down Section 66A of IT Act
In an historic decision, the Supreme Court struck down the 'draconian' Section 66A of the IT Act, thus guaranteeing citizens fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression 
 
The Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act holding it violative of Article 19(1)a of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech.
 
Section 66A of the IT Act has been repeatedly abused by powerful politicians, political parties and their followers to silence critics and violate human rights through the abuse of the draconian power to arrest and jail those who speak their minds, especially on social media. 
 
Consumer review social media company Mouthshut.com had filed the petition before the apex court. The case was clubbed along with a petition filed by Shreya Singhal, a law student, challenging India's IT Act's section 66A. Because the hearing for 66A and the IT rules were clubbed together by a Supreme Court order, the matter is sometimes referred as Shreya Singhal cases
 
In a message, Faisal Farooqui, the Founder and Chief Executive of MouthShut.com, said, "....(the) Verdict in our favour. No content take down without Court order. No arrests for posting online. Current law unconstitutional. India is free and so is the internet. Thank you to all of you."
 
Section 66A provides the power to arrest a person for sending grossly offensive or menacing messages, or causing annoyance and inconvenience through electronic communication service. It prescribes a three-year jail term, if found guilty. The wording of the Section has been liberally misinterpreted to harass and intimidate people by arresting them.
 
While the Act has been repeatedly challenged, the Supreme Court, in 2013, diluted the power of arrest by ruling that no person can be arrested for social media posts without prior approval from an officer of the rank of an inspector general of police. This case, too, was in connection with comments posted on social media about a member of the legislative assembly (MLA) of Tamil Nadu.  
 
MouthShut.com approached the Supreme Court to nullify Information Technology Rules 2011, which are a part of the IT Act on April 2013. Writ petition was filed by MouthShut.com under Article 32 of the Constitution for quashing the IT Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 as it claimed are violative of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India.
 
According to the petition, the Rules impose a significant burden on the petitioners, forcing them to screen content and exercise on-line censorship. While a private party may allege that certain content is defamatory or infringes copyright, such determinations are usually made by judges and involve factual inquiry and careful balancing of competing interests and factors, which the petitioners are not equipped to make. The petitioners receive notices and phone calls from cyber cells and police stations asking them to delete content and provide information of users, which makes the running of their business difficult.
 
The examples of misuse of Section 66A by politicians are many. In 2012, two young girls were arrested and terrorised by a mob for a harmless Facebook post criticising the shutdown of Mumbai for the funeral of Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray. One of them had merely ‘liked’ the post.

The two girls were first booked under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 295A (hurting religious sentiments). When it was realised the Shiv Sena is not a religious group the girls section 295A was dropped and section 505(2) (promoting enmity or ill-will between classes) and section 66A were applied.
 
Karti Chidambaram, son of former Union minister P Chidambaram, had a Puducherry businessman arrested at night for some posts on Twitter. This case, too, had sparked outrage on social media. Section 66A has even been applied with other provisions of the Indian Penal Code for cases involving cyber-squatting and impersonation.
 
Few days ago, the Calcutta High Court penalised the West Bengal government and ordered action against police officials who had arrested professor Ambikesh Mahapatra of Jadavpur University in 2012 for forwarding an email joke about Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal. The state has been ordered to pay Rs50,000 in compensation and another Rs50,000 in costs to the professor.

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COMMENTS

Divya & Bapoo Malcolm

2 years ago

Unfortunately, in an adversarial system, there will always be losers. Most of them genuinely think they are in the right; but unfortunately, the law is NOT in their favour, for various reasons. The main one is delay.

Most people hate to visit a lawyer at the first sign of trouble. The one thought that comes to mind is the matter of cost. But being penny-wise may amount to being pound-foolish.

As for Mr. Warrier's comment, self regulation, more so self-restraint, is the need of the hour. One understands the build up of bile at being hurt, or mistreated. So, one attacks the keys. It's easy, fast and cheap. The audience is world-wide. It's a load off one's chest.

But then there are other signposts that one needs to heed. Libel, defamation, slander are still on the books. The rule of thumb, to avoid trouble are these three points of reference. 1) What you write must be true and you must be able to prove it. 2)It must carry to a wide audience,3)It must cause harm, either tangible or not, suggested or direct.

So, if you cannot prove what you say, on the internet, and the person harmed proves hurt; you have had it.

The internet was invented for transmission of data. That it is now a tool for attacks is unfortunate. Maybe not as unfortunate as the clampdown that fascist politicians want to put on it. Let us make sure that they do not get the chance. They won's till the judiciary is free.

MG Warrier

2 years ago

My personal view is that the Apex Court decision which is most welcome, will make people more responsible and groups sharing mails or 'information' will impose self-regulation to protect common/public interest. There are several punitive legislative provisions which are selectively 'used'. The judicial process itself is slow due to various constraints. While celebrating victories like this, we should not forget larger issues.

SuchindranathAiyerS

2 years ago

This means nothing. Forget the administration and police, even High Court and Supreme Court Judges do not heed Supreme Court Judgements. How many victims of India can afford to wait six years to have their criminal cases quashed in favour of the wealthy and the influential by a High Court Judge who over rules the law of the land, the evidence and Supreme Court judgements to proclaim, in open, court, that "This is India, not UK or US" and then pay a fortune to be told that the Supreme Court declines to interfere?

Divya & Bapoo Malcolm

2 years ago

God bless the Judiciary. The problem is that now Modi will go hell bent in devising a system to pack the courts, a-la Indira Gandhi and her sick concept of a 'committed judiciary'.
And the next to fall by the wayside will be the Right To Information Act.

Let's keep our fingers crossed.

Our immediate target would be to gain 15%-20% market share: Saurabh Sarkar
Saurabh Sarkar joined MCX Stock Exchange (MCX-SX), the country's newest full-fledged bourse, as its managing director (MD) and chief executive officer (CEO) in February 2014. Mr Sarkar, former MD and CEO of United Stock Exchange of India, had earlier worked with global financial services giants like Credit Agricole, Standard Chartered Bank, Calyon and ANZ Grindlays Bank. His goal is to improve participation and volumes, of the renamed Metropolitan Stock Exchange of India Ltd (MSXI). 
 
Moneylife (ML): Since MCX-SX is making a new beginning, what are your plans to improve participation from investors, mainly retail investors and increase volumes?
 
Saurabh Sarkar (SS): Yes, indeed, it is a new beginning. Our new name ‘Metropolitan Stock Exchange of India Ltd’ (MSXI) will soon come into use. With this, we will leave our past behind and will focus on building the business. The Exchange has created dedicated business development teams to focus on various segments of market participants, namely, member brokers, domestic banks / institutions and foreign portfolio investors, corporates and retail clients. We believe, this focused approach and continuous dialogue with market participants would help us to build sustainable business. Further, the Exchange is also working on certain products which will be new to Indian markets and investors will find them interesting to trade.
    
ML: Have you set any target in terms of volumes, or market share, for MCX-SX, over the next three years?
 
SS: We have set our internal targets from a long-term point of view and also decided our priorities. However, our immediate target would be to gain 15%-20% market share in the currency futures segment soon. Currently, we have around 10%. Further, recent announcements by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) which has proposed higher exposure limits in exchange traded currency derivatives (ETCD), without having to establish underlying exposure up to $15 million in US$/INR per Exchange, and placed the aggregate at up to $5 million equivalent per exchange, would give us the much required boost. The extension of market timing up to 7.30pm will be another major advantage.
 
The Exchange is also enjoying rising volumes in the interest rate futures (IRF) segment over the past few weeks. RBI has also decided to permit stock exchanges to introduce cash-settled IRF contracts on 5-7-year and 13-15-year G-Secs. So, in the days to come, there will be a lot of activities in this segment too and the Exchange is well-poised to benefit.    
 
ML: What is the membership base of MCX-SX at present? Do you think lower costs in the price-sensitive options segment would help you generate volumes or you would refrain from reducing prices?
 
SS: The Exchange has over 900 registered members. We have been receiving new membership applications too. We are really thankful to all our members who helped us in sailing through our difficult times. We would like to focus on bringing a lot of real users/ hedgers to our platform which will help in making our platform liquid and vibrant rather than getting into any price wars with competitors.
 
ML: You received approval from the Security and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) to launch fresh contracts in currency futures, currency options, interest rate futures and equity and index derivatives. Will you be launching any new product? If yes, do you have any timeline in mind?
 
SS: As I mentioned, we have a long-term plan in place. As you may be aware, currently, the Exchange is in the process of reaching out to its existing as well as new investors for fund infusion. This is expected to be completed soon. After this, we will start implementing our plans one by one. However, the groundwork related to our plans / strategies has already been initiated and market will soon hear new announcements from us.  
 
ML: You would also require substantial funding for launching new products and making the Exchange run seamlessly. What are your requirements for funding and how you plan to raise it?
 
SS: We will soon have a preferential and /or rights issue to capitalise the Exchange. 
 
ML: You have converted the original promoters, FTIL and MCX, as public shareholders. Will there be any change in your relations with them, like technology support from FTIL and using MCX as the brand name? Do you see a possibility for a new vendor for technology supply or a change in branding in the near future for MCX-SX?
 
SS: FTIL has already sold its shareholding and exited the Exchange. It continues to be our technology provider. MCX continues to be our shareholder. As far as the brand or name is concerned, we will soon unveil our new brand identity. 

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