Law

Five Years Since 'Shreya Singhal', UP Police Continues to File Cases Under Section 66A of IT Act

Last week, the Allahabad HC bench of Justices Ramesh Sinha and Samit Gopal quashed an FIR which had been registered last year under this section.

New Delhi: Five years since the Shreya Singhal judgment in which the Supreme Court read down the controversial Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, Uttar Pradesh police has been cavalier in its disregard for it and continues to register cases under it, a LiveLaw article has noted.

In the 2015 Shreya Singhal v. Union of India case, the Supreme Court had struck the section down, declaring it a violation of freedom of speech and expression. Introduced with an amendment in 2009, the section punishes offence or annoyance caused through electronic communication media.

The piece cites an instance from last week when the Allahabad high court bench of Justices Ramesh Sinha and Samit Gopal quashed an FIR which had been registered last year under this section.

“Time and again reminders have been issued by this Court for effective and actual enforcement of it and of the fact that Section 66-A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 has been declared ultra-vires and also in spite of the fact that the said judgment declaring it to be so, has been ordered to be circulated amongst the officers concerned, there appears to be no regards for the same and the situation remains as earlier as is the said section is well in force,” the court held.

The court castigated the state for not taking corrective measures or directing its officers to not register FIRs for offences that have been declared outside of the ambit of legality.

Also read: Data on Arrests Under Section 66A Reveals Police Are Ignorant About Judicial Pronouncements

The high court also reminded the police of the Supreme Court’s reminder to ensure that its own order be held sacrosanct.

In 2019, hearing a petition on the sustained use of the section filed by People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), the Supreme Court had asked all high courts to send copies of its 2015 Shreya Singhal judgment to all the district courts with eight weeks.

The court had also directed state chief secretaries and director generals of police to sensitise the police departments.

However, RTIs filed by the Internet Freedom Foundation with various state high courts and the central government to check compliance with these directions revealed that while a few state high courts had indeed received the copies while chief secretaries had not been informed of the development.

In January this year, the Karnataka high court imposed a cost of Rs 10,000 each on two police officers for registering an FIR under this section.

Uttar Pradesh

The LiveLaw piece singles out Uttar Pradesh as a particularly erring state and the Allahabad high court as a particularly harried one, in this regard.

It cites the direction to the Mathura Senior Superintendent of Police by a division bench headed by Justice Ramesh Sinha which asked the policeman to submit an affidavit on why a case was registered under this section.

LiveLaw has also reported instances of when the high court has refused to quash cases registered under Section 66A by Uttar Pradesh police. One was against Amar Ujala journalist Shiv Kumar and the other against one Rohit Singhal.

In 2017, Zakir Ali Tyagi, an 18-year-old from Muzaffarnagar, was held under Section 66A by the same Uttar Pradesh police for posts against Adityanath that were deemed objectionable.

Bengal, Andhra Pradesh

In 2012, Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra was booked under the section for emailing a cartoon on chief minister Mamata Banerjee to some people. Bengal police also arrested BJP worker Priyanka Sharma ahead of the Lok Sabha polls of 2019 for social media posts under the same section. For the latter, the Supreme Court had intervened.

Bar and Bench notes that in October 2018, one Veeramreddy Suman Reddy was booked under Section 66A in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh.