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Raj Kumar Makkad (Adv P & H High Court Chandigarh)     30 November 2012

Supreme court fumes at facebook arrest; government tries to

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday echoed the public outrage over the high-handed night-time arrests of two girls by Maharashtra police for posting their views on a social networking site, entertaining a PIL seeking the repeal of the controversial Section 66A ofInformation Technology Act which has turned out be a source of harassment and attempts to muzzle freedom of speech.

The court, which urged attorney general G E Vahanvati to express his views on the plea for dispensing with the section, suggested that it was eager to remedy the situation, while wondering whether the police excess against the two girls — Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Shrinivasan — from Palghar near Thane in Maharashtra was the result of mob pressure.

"We were wondering why no one was approaching the court and were thinking of taking suo motu notice of the incident," said a bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice J Chelameswar no sooner than senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi sought an urgent hearing on a petition by 21-year-old student Shreya Singhal.

"The way the children were arrested and treated like criminals outraged the conscience of a major section of society. The way things were done needs some kind of consideration though the serious charges against the two girls appear to have been withdrawn," the bench said. It added that the arrests were in violation of the apex court's guidelines prohibiting the arrest of women after sunset.

"They were arrested after sundown and for a bailable offence? So the might of police was activated by a mob," the bench said. It seemed to have many questions to ask, but decided to keep them for Friday when Vahanvati is to appear.

Although the court also took note of the arrest of a professor in Kolkata for circulating a cartoon which took a dig at West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, its focus was clearly on the arrest of Dhada and Shrinivasan at Palghar just after they disapproved of the shutdown in Mumbai after the death of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray.

Although the two girls have since been let off and the two ultra-zealous police officers who were instrumental in their arrests suspended, their plight seems to have sensitized the country to the potential of Section 66A being misused by authorities to harass people who can at best be held guilty of exercising their constitutional right of freedom of expression.

Pegging her PIL on the Palghar arrests, Singhal argued that Section 66A was loosely worded, thus leaving police and authorities with enormous discretion to misuse it and make arbitrary arrests.

The CJI said the court would like to hear the views of a cross-section of people and wanted to know if others would like to intervene and put forth their views. Senior advocate Harish Salve said he would. "We have a fundamental right to give our opinion on a public platform on political issues. We also have the fundamental right to annoy a politician if he is perceived to be not doing his job or is corrupt. Section 66A is not meant to arrest people for expressing opinion on a public platform," Salve said.

Rohatgi said Section 66A was replete with so many words like 'offensive', 'menacing', 'annoyance', 'inconvenience', 'danger', 'obstruction', 'insult' and 'annoyance or inconvenience' without the Act defining their meaning. "This is unacceptable in a criminal law as it allows the police to act arbitrarily according to their whims and fancies," he said while requesting the court that till further orders, no arrests should be made under this section.

Even as the bench said it would prefer to wait for the AG's views. Rohatgi persisted by saying, "We get so many pesky calls despite rules and regulations prohibiting it. It causes a lot of annoyance to every person who gets these calls or SMSes. Should all those who send these SMSes or make the calls be arrested under the Act?"

PIL petitioner Singhal said, "The phraseology of the aforesaid section is so wide and vague and incapable of being judged on objective standards that it is susceptible to wanton abuse." She said like crores of other citizens, she was a user of internet and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

"Recent events involving action taken by various authorities under Section 66A of the IT Act has left a chilling effect on the petitioner and crores of other internet users, violating the constitutionally guaranteed rights, especially the right to freedom of speech and expression," she said.

She listed incidents of abuse of Section 66A:

* April 2012 - arrest of professor of chemistry Ambikesh Mahapatra from Jadavpur University for posting a cartoon concerning a political figure on social networking site

* May 2012 -Air India employees V Jaganatharao and Mayank Sharma arrested by Mumbai police for putting up content on social networking sites against a trade union leader and some politicians and kept in custody for 12 days

* October 2012 - businessman Ravi Srinivasan arrested by Puducherry police for making allegations against a TN politician on a social networking site

* November 2012 - Shaheen Dhada and Rinu arrested for commenting on Mumbai bandh

Singhal said mere acquittal after a snail-paced prosecution was not enough to compensate the trauma of arrest and loss of reputation linked to it. "The very fact that the machinery of criminal law is set in motion against citizens on frivolous grounds amounts to harassment which is inadequately mitigated by the eventual discharge or acquittal."


 1 Replies

Ya_Ta (Software Professional)     16 December 2012

Hello sir,

Thanks for detail information.

Colud you please guide me from where i can gather the PIL details for this case ,as I am also want to fill the PIL for Other IT Acts which are confusing as IT 66 , and as Suprime court said that "We were wondering why no one was approaching the court"

I want to highlight the other IT ACT issues which are also misused by police against people.


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