The Supreme Court on Monday issued a notice to all states and UTs on registration of cases under Section 66A of the IT Act, which was quashed by the court in 2015. A notice has also been issued to the Registrar-General of all High Courts and responses have been sought within four weeks.
“The judiciary (aspect) we will look into separately… (and) as this matter pertains to not only courts but also police, (let) notice be issued to all states and Union Territories,” a bench of Justices RF Nariman and BR Gavai said.
“This is to be done in a period of four weeks from today. List matter after four weeks,” the court said.
The court was hearing a plea by an NGO – the People Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) – seeking a direction to the centre to advise all police stations against registering FIRs under Section 66A.
This comes weeks after the centre told states and UTs not to register cases under the defunct law, and to instruct their respective police forces that any such case should be withdrawn.
Last month’s Home Ministry notification was prompted after the Supreme Court expressed shock and displeasure on being told that over 1,000 cases new had been filed under the scrapped law.
“It is shocking. We will issue notice,” a three-member bench of Justices Nariman, Gavai and KM Joseph said. Justice Nariman added: “Amazing. What is going on is terrible.”
The judges also warned of strict action against officials who continue to use the defunct law.
The petitioner also pointed out that in February 2019 the Supreme Court had directed that copies of the judgment scrapping 66A be available to every district court via the concerned High Court.
At the time, the centre was also directed to make available copies to Chief Secretaries of all states and UTs, who were, in turn, ordered to pass on the information to all police departments.
Section 66A was struck down on March 24, 2015, after it was challenged by Shreya Singhal, a Mumbai law student who filed a petition in 2012 after two women were arrested for posting comments critical of the city’s shutdown after the death of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray.
“Nobody should have fear of putting up something because of the fear of going to prison,” Ms Singhal said at the time, adding there were other laws that could be used to counter hate speech.
Section 66A read: “Any person who sends by any means of a computer resource any information that is grossly offensive or has a menacing character; or any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.”