Cases cannot be registered under the defunct Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, the union home ministry (MHA) told states and union territories (UTs) in an advisory. Police should be asked to stop filing such cases and any case under the scrapped law should be immediately withdrawn, the home ministry says in an order marked with “most immediate”.
“It has been brought to our notice through an application in the Supreme Court that first information reports (FIRs) are still being lodged by some police authorities under the struck down provision of Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000. The Supreme Court has taken a very serious view of the matter,” the communication says.
The MHA says all states are “therefore requested to direct all the police stations not to register cases under the repealed Section 66A of the IT Act and sensitise the law enforcement agencies for the compliance of the Supreme Court order”.
It directed chief secretaries and police chiefs to withdraw such cases. “If any case has been booked in your state under Section 66A of the IT Act, it should immediately be withdrawn.”
In 2015, the Supreme Court (SC) had quashed Section 66A of the IT Act after holding it unconstitutional. The apex court had stressed on the right to freedom of speech and expression of Indian citizens.
Alhough the section was struck down in March 2015, 332 cases were filed under it the same year. In 2016, 216 cases were registered and 290 in 2017, 318 in 2018, 253 in 2019, and 34 until February 2020.
People’s Union for Civil Liberties, a non-government organisation (NGO), had filed a petition informing the apex court that 1,307 new cases were registered under the act in the six years since what is known as the Shreya Singhal judgment that struck down section 66A.
The SC judges, during a hearing on 5th July, had expressed shock saying: “What is going on? It is terrible...shocking. It is distressing.”
When it struck the law down, the apex court called Section 66A “open-ended and unconstitutionally vague”. It said nothing short of quashing the law in its entirety could suffice since this provision “arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately” invaded the right to free speech, right to dissent, right to know, and had a “chilling effect” on constitutional mandates.
Section 66A criminalised “grossly offensive” or “menacing character” messages sent in form of text, audio, video, images, or any other electronic record. It provided for the punishment of up to three years in prison.