Section 66A: Relief Soon?
The Calcutta High Court should make the Modi government think
 
In a landmark judgement, 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.
 
Although a high court order does not have the same finality as a Supreme Court judgement (where a case is pending), it has sent a wave of relief among victims of cases filed under Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act. This Section 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. 
 
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. An advisory to this effect had been issued in states like Maharashtra even earlier after controversial arrests. 
 
Activists and freedom of speech proponents in India have keenly followed a clutch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Section 66A in the Supreme Court on the grounds that it violates Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, guaranteeing our fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. 
 
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 Bal Thackeray. One of them had merely ‘liked’ the post. 
 
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. 
 
In February this year, the apex court completed its hearings and has reserved its order. Since the government has made it clear that it is not taking an adversarial position in court, there is a good chance that Section 66A will be defanged, either due to a court order or an amendment of the IT Act to redraft the draconian and highly abused Section. Until then, however, it is not unusual to find people threatened with action under this Section at various forums.
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COMMENTS

SuchindranathAiyerS

4 years ago

Section 66A: Calcutta High Court stands up for "right to free speech and expression. Will the Supreme Court? It is hard to believe that an Indian High Court has stood u for fundamental rights. Just recently, I had the misfortune of hearing a Karnataka High Court Judge proclaim, in open court, that "This is India, not UK or US" to quash a cognized criminal case against a gang of influential and wealthy accused without any regard for the law or evidence. On appeal, the Supreme Court declined to interfere. One also remembers the Suryanelli rape case that was quashed by a High Court without any regard for law or evidence.

SuchindranathAiyerS

4 years ago

It is hard to believe that an India High Court has stood u for fundamental rights. Just recently, I had the misfortune of hearing a Karnataka High Court Judge proclaim, in open court, that "This is India, not UK or US" to quash a cognized criminal case against a gang of influential and wealthy accused without any regard for the law or evidence. One also remembers the Suryanelli rape case that was quashed by a High Court without any regard for law or evidence.

Court order in defamation case against Kejriwal on 2nd May
The Metropolitan Magistrate observed that Kejriwal, Sisodia and Yadav have not explained any reasonable ground for the plea seeking exemption from personal appearance in the Court and they have no respect of law
 
A City Court on Tuesday fixed 2nd May for delivering its order on framing of charges in a defamation case against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and two others after they appeared before it.
 
Earlier, the Court has asked Kejriwal and two others to explain why should they be exempted from court appearing and directed them to be present in a defamation case filed by Surender Kumar Sharma.
 
Metropolitan Magistrate Mayuri Singh observed that accused persons have not explained any reasonable ground for the plea seeking exemption from personal appearance in the court and they have no respect of law.
 
Kejriwal, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Yogendra Yadav moved their application seeking exemption from personal appearance at the hearing.
 
Keeping the matter pending for 2pm, the court asked them to appear before it on Tuesday.
 
The complainant, advocate Surender Kumar Sharma had alleged that in 2013 the AAP approached him and asked him to contest the Delhi assembly elections on a party ticket, saying Kejriwal was pleased with his social services.
 
On 14 October 2013, Sharma claimed, articles in leading newspapers carried "defamatory, unlawful and derogatory words used by the accused persons" which have lowered his reputation in the Bar and the society.
 
The court had earlier reserved the order for 11th February and then adjourned it for 17th March on framing of charges against Kejriwal, Sisodia and Yadav.
 
All three leaders are at present out on bail.
 
Sharma said he filled up the application form to contest the polls after Sisodia and Yadav allegedly told him that the AAP's Political Affairs Committee had decided to give him the ticket. However, it was later denied to him.
 

 

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'No malafide intent in short-term passport to Prashant Bhushan'

Prashant Bhushan has challenged the government's refusal to reissue him a passport with usual 10 years validity

 

The central government on Monday told the Delhi High Court that it has "no malafide intention" in issuing advocate Prashant Bhushan a passport with a year's validity instead of the usual 10 years and the decision was taken as criminal cases are pending against him.
 
The government told Justice Rajiv Shakdher that the action to issue a short validity passport of one year to Bhushan was completely in conformity with the prevailing provisions of a 25 August 1993 notification.
 
Bhushan has challenged the government's refusal to reissue him a passport with full validity.
 
Filing an affidavit, an undersecretary in the ministry of external affairs, said: "Passport Authority, despite the fact that criminal cases were pending against the petitioner (Bhushan), had never denied the passport facility to him and also at any point of time had no intention to impede, hamper or confine the movement of the petitioner."
 
Bhushan has contended that merely because a few criminal cases pertaining to being part of an unlawful assembly are pending against him, the government denied him a passport with full validity.
 
The advocate, also a founding member of India Against Corruption (IAC), had staged a protest in August 2012 against the coal scam. Though the protest was non-violent, police had registered a few cases against IAC members including Bhushan for participating in an assembly which was declared unlawful. The cases are pending in Patiala House court here, the plea said.
 
Bhushan has also argued that the one-year restriction on reissuing the passport is "arbitrary, unreasonable and also discriminatory" and thus in violation of the constitution's article 14 (equality before law).
 
As per the plea, Bhushan had applied for renewal/ reissue of the passport to the regional passport office in 2014. The government had informed him that in order to get his passport renewed, he needs to first obtain a no objection certificate (NOC) from the court where criminal cases are pending against him.
 
Though the metropolitan magistrate at Patiala House Courts granted him an NOC, he did not specify the duration of validity of the passport, which led to Bhushan being issued the passport on 12 September 2014 - valid only till 11 September 2015.
 
The government said Bhushan's request for the re-issue of the passport with full validity cannot be acceded to unless the concerned court issues a fresh order in this regard.
 
The government argued that as per the 1993 notification, a person with a criminal case pending and who applies for the issue or reissue of a passport, has to first obtain a NOC from the court where the case is pending and if the court does not lay down any time period for renewal, then a passport of only one year validity would be issued.
 
The court posted the matter for 15th April.
 

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