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'This Cannot Continue': SC Issues Notice to HCs, States Over Use of Section 66A of IT Act

Senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for the NGO People's Union for Civil Liberties, said that there are two aspects in this matter, one is police and the other is judiciary.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday, August 2, issued notice to states, Union Territories and the registrar general of all high courts on the plea that people are still being booked under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act.

The Section 66A was read down by the Supreme Court in the Shreya Singhal judgment in 2015.

In the affidavit filed before a bench headed by Justice R.F. Nariman, the Centre said that state law enforcement agencies are responsible for taking action against offenders related to cyber crime.

“Police and public order order are State Subjects as per Constitution of India and prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of crimes, and capacity building of police personnel is primary responsibility of States,” the Centre said.

The bench, also comprising of Justice B.R. Gavai also said that since police is a state subject, it will be better if all the state governments and Union Territories are made party. “We can pass a comprehensive order so that the matter is settled for once and for all,” the bench said.

Justice R.F. Nariman was part of the bench that had that delivered the Shreya Singhal verdict.

Senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for the NGO People’s Union for Civil Liberties, said that there are two aspects in this matter, one is police and the other is judiciary, as such cases are still being tried.

“There must be one proper order in this because this cannot continue,” the court said.

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

The bench said that as far as the judiciary is concerned it can take care of that and will issue notice to all the high courts.

The top court listed the matter for further hearing after four weeks.

On July 5, the top court had said it is “amazing” and “shocking” that people are still being booked under Section 66A.

A bench of Justices R.F. Nariman, K.M. Joseph and B.R. Gavai had said, “Amazing. What is going on is terrible…Don’t you think this is amazing and shocking? Shreya Singhal judgement is of 2015. It’s really shocking,”

Following this observation, the Ministry of Home Affairs had asked state and Union Territory governments to direct their police not to register cases under the section and withdraw any cases that were registered after it was repealed.

Under the scrapped section, a person posting offensive messages could be imprisoned for up to three years and also fined.

According to LiveLaw, PUCL’s plea seeks directions to the Union government so that it collects all data on FIRs and probes where the scrapped section has been invoked. The NGO has also sought data on pending cases on district and high courts of the country, and new communication to be made to all district and high courts of the country so that the latter take cognisance of the fact that Section 66A has been struck down.

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

The Wire had recently reported on the vast number of cases filed by Uttar Pradesh police with disregard for the 2015 order.

Thirty-seven cases under the section are pending in West Bengal, including one against a Jadavpur University professor, for forwarding a cartoon.

In early 2020, the Karnataka high court imposed a cost of Rs 10,000 each on two police officers for registering an FIR under the section.

(With PTI inputs)