In 2015, India’s Supreme Court struck down a controversial IT law that stifled freedom of speech. It had said at that time that section 66A of the IT Act was “vague in its entirety,” as it punished anyone storing information that could be false or “grossly offensive or has a menacing character.”
However, a petition filed by People’s Union for Civil Liberties, a non-profit, revealed that six years after the judgment, police stations across the country had filed more than 1,500 cases under this scrapped act. Given the act’s nature, it’s easy to incriminate anyone by accusing them of storing false information with an intention of dangerous activities.
Before the law was struck down, miscreants used it to file cases against folks speaking out against the prime minister, making cartoons about the parliament, or criticizing the state government. It was misused to squash any critical voice against authorities.
After the case was presented against the apex court last week, it informed the government to file a reply describing what it’s doing to stop this practice.
Last night, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) sent a notice to all states, indicating that all police stations across the country should drop all cases filed under the abolished law. Plus, it asked the states to “sanitize” the police stations and educate them not to file cases under IT Act 66A anymore.
Great news! The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has issued a notification directing all states and UTs to sensitise police officials to strictly comply with Shreya Singhal v. Union of India and withdraw all cases under S.66A of the IT Act. (1/n) pic.twitter.com/IlkILFv9yk
— Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) (@internetfreedom) July 14, 2021
Shockingly, the act is still there in the law book referred to by the cops while filing cases. While it has a footnote of the 2015 Supreme court judgment, there’s a possibility that the filing officer might not look at that at all.
Hopefully, the court and the ministry will work together to remove this rule from the book altogether, and negate the chilling effect against free speech across the country.