'Terrible' That Section 66A Is Invoked Despite Being Struck Down: Supreme Court

It has now been six years since Section 66A of the IT Act was struck down by the apex court in the landmark Shreya Singhal judgment.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday said it was “amazing” and “shocking” that people are still being booked under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which was scrapped by the apex court in 2015.

A bench of Justices R.F. Nariman, K.M. Joseph and B.R. Gavai issued notice to the Centre on an application filed by the NGO Peoples Union For Civil Liberties (PUCL).

“Amazing. What is going on is terrible,” Bar and Bench quoted Justice Nariman as saying.

“Don’t you think this is amazing and shocking? Shreya Singhal judgement is of 2015. It’s really shocking,” the bench told senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for PUCL.

Parikh said that despite express directions of the court in 2019 that all state governments should sensitise police personnel about the March 24, 2015 judgement, thousands of cases have been registered under the section.

The bench said, “Yes, we have seen those figures. Don’t worry we will do something.”

Parikh said there has to be some kind of method to handle the matter as people are suffering.

Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, said that on perusal of IT Act it can be seen that section 66A features in it and in the footnote one can see it written that the provision has been scrapped.

Also read: Five Years Since ‘Shreya Singhal’, UP Police Continues to File Cases Under Section 66A of IT Act

“Now when a police officer has to register a case, he sees the section and registers the case without going through the footnote. Instead what can be done is that we can put a bracket just after section 66A and mention that it has been scrapped. We can in the footnote put the entire extract of the verdict,” Venugopal said.

Justice Nariman said, “You please file counter in two weeks. We have issued a notice. List the matter after two weeks.”

Parikh told the court that prior to the scrapping of Section 66A, there were 229 pending cases. Since then, 1,307 new cases had been registered, of which 570 are still pending. The majority of these were registered in Maharashtra (381), followed by Jharkhand (291), Uttar Pradesh (245) and Rajasthan (192), NDTV reported.

PUCL’s petition said that despite the Supreme Court’s orders on disseminating information to the police on not using this section, this had continued. “… shockingly, despite the above order (dated February 15, 2019) and steps taken towards compliance… the Applicant discovered that Section 66A of the IT Act has continued to be in use not only within police stations but also in cases before trial courts across India.”

PUCL has also sought directions to the Union government to publish in all leading newspapers – both English and vernacular languages – informing people that Section 66A is no longer a law.

The NGO had earlier filed a similar plea in 2018, seeking compliance with the 2015 verdict.