Amidst the debate with respect to the power of the judiciary to declare the constitutionality of laws and directing the law making in India, the Supreme Court has once again proved to the citizens of this Nation, that the Court has the duty to do the needful if it feels that such an act would amply justified public policy. In its judgment dated 24th March, 2015, the Apex Court of the Nation has finally abolished the draconian Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. The decision came from a bench consisting of J. Chamleshwar and R.F Nariman who termed ‘liberty’ and ‘expression’ as cardinal. They expounded that public`s right to know is directly affected by Section 66A of the IT Act which clearly affects the fundamental right of a citizen with regard to freedom of speech and expression enshrined in the Constitution of India.
Section 66A of the IT Act provided power to the Union to arrest a person for positing allegedly “offensive content” on websites. Taking this into consideration the Court said that the drafting of this particular section is itself very ambiguous as the terms “annoying”, “inconvenient” and “grossly offensive” are difficult for even the best judicious minds to fathom and therefore it seems inappropriate on the part of any law enforcement agencies to decide as what may be offensive to one person, may not be offensive to another person. Thus the Supreme Court on realising the invalidity of the law declared it to be unconstitutional and struck down the particular provision of the Information Technology Act.
The Government whose counsel had defended the Constitutional validity of Sec. 66A contended that it respects the freedom of speech and expression but at the same time conveyed a request to the court that the Government was willing to come out with additional, more stringent guidelines so as to prevent the abuse of Section 66A. The Court while declaring the law to be unconstitutional did upheld the constitutionality of Section 69A of IT Act regarding the power of the Union to issue directions to block an internet site, saying that there are adequate procedural safeguards. It noted that the procedures for blocking need to be recorded in writing in such blocking order, which would be amenable to judicial scrutiny.
This fight for freedom has not been a one month journey but an effort which have been put in by many persons from time to time in order to upheld the welfare of their fellow citizens. The Public Interest Litigation or PIL in common language was filed in the year 2012 by law student Shreya Singhal, who sought amendment in Section 66A of the Act, after two girls- Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Shrinivasan were arrested in Palhar in Thane district as one of them posted a comment against the shutdown in Mumbai following Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray`s death and the other ‘liked’ it. In the wake of numerous complaints of harassment amounting to arrests, the apex court had on May 16, 2013, come out with an advisory decision that a person, accused of posting objectionable comments on social networking sites, cannot be arrested without police getting permission from senior officers like IG or DCP. After the Apex Court had reserved its judgement in the matter on, another controversial case hogged the limelight for alleged misuse of Section 66A. The case in which a boy was arrested for allegedly posting on Facebook objectionable comments against senior Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan created a major hue and cry. A petition was filed before the Supreme Court in this regard alleging that its advisory was violated after which the apex court had asked UP police to explain the circumstances leading to the arrest of the boy.
Liberty of speech and expression is an undisputable right that every citizen of this Nation must cherish and through the abolition of Section 66A of the IT Act, the Court has thus provided to its citizens the contemporary sovereignty, need of the hour by protecting the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression as enshrined in Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India. But it must not be ignored that every such fundamental right comes with its limitations. Thus, when the Court has strike down such a Section claiming it to be unconstitutional, it should now be the duty of the Court to act as a sentinel and make sure that other rights of a human being are not infringed by this newly recognised right. Thus, though the Court has abolished the Section 66A of the Information Technology Act it must adequately dealt with the condition or the basic purpose with which this particular amendment was brought into the IT Act, which is to protect the dignity of an individual which has the possibility of being demeaned through exchange or communication of derogatory, immoral or offensive statements.