Implementation of S.66A: Writ Petition Summary (PUCL)Implementation of S.66A IT Act
Background and Issues
In 2015, the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. The provision criminalised “offensive messages”. The Court held that s 66A was a vague restriction and had a chilling effect on freedom of speech. The provision was struck down in its entirety as it violated Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, 1950. And it did not fall under the restrictions imposed in Article 19(2).
In 2019, the Supreme Court directed that the copy of Shreya Singhal judgment be provided to all High Courts and District Courts. Further, a copy was to be made available to all Chief Secretaries of State Governments and Union Territories. The Chief Secretaries were directed to sensitise police departments regarding the developments of the case.
The Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) submits that the prosecution under Section 66A has continued even after it was struck down in Shreya Singhal v Union of India. The petitioner refers to newspaper articles and reports to support this submission. The petitioner contends that since the judgment rendered all investigations, prosecutions and convictions based on Section 66A void, the continued use of Section 66A was unlawful.
What does the petitioner seek?
The petitioner prayed for the Court to
Direct the State and relevant authorities such as the National Crime Records Bureau to collect data on the instances, and pendency of cases where Section 66A are being invoked after the judgement in Shreya Singhal.
Direct all District Courts to take cognisance of the Shreya Singhal judgment in all proceedings where Section 66A has been invoked.
Direct High Courts to collect information from District Courts regarding pendency of cases at different stages under Section 66A. Also to issue directions to comply with the judgment.
Direct the Ministry of Home Affairs to issue an advisory to police stations in India to not register complaints under Section 66A.
Direct the Union of India to publish information about the striking down of Section 66A in all leading newspapers.
Cases under Section 66A in District Courts are Still Active
The petitioner referred to data collected by the Zombie Tracker website, which tracks the cases filed under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. The data reflects that as of March 2021, a total of 745 cases under Section 66A are still pending and active before the District Courts in 11 States. Many such cases are instances where the charge is solely under Section 66A.
The petitioner also referred to cases heard in various district courts where persons charged under Section 66A were asked to pay costs towards the District Legal Service Authorities. They argue that since the provision is ‘void ab initio’ or invalid from the very beginning, charges under the provision cannot be heard in court.