No citizen should be prosecuted under Section 66A of the IT Act: Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday took a serious view of people still being prosecuted under Section 66A of the IT Act 2000, and directed that no citizen should be prosecuted under the provision, which was struck down as unconstitutional by it in 2015 in the Shreya Singhal case.

A bench, headed by Chief Justice U.U. Lalit and comprising Justices S. Ravindra Bhat and Ajay Rastogi, said it needs no reiteration that Section 66A is found to be in violation of the Constitution and as such, no citizen can be prosecuted for violation of alleged offences under it.

Passing a slew of directions, the top court directed the Director General of Police (DGPs) and Home Secretaries of all state governments and competent officers in union territories to direct the police force not to register any complaint with respect to violation of Section 66A.

Centre’s counsel submitted a pan-India status report in connection with complaints under Section 66A. The bench said this suggested that despite the issue regarding the validity of Section 66A being dealt with in Shreya Singhal vs Union of India, a number of crimes and criminal proceedings still reflected the provision of Section 66A and citizens were still facing prosecution under the same.

It emphasised that after the Shreya Singhal verdict, there can be no prosecution in violation of Section 66A and if reliance is placed on Section 66A, the same should stand deleted. It added that police should not incorporate Section 66A in any crime and it should be ensured by DGPs.

And, in any government document if Section 66A is included, it has to be mentioned that it has been deleted, it added.

The top court added that this direction should apply only with reference to Section 66A and if the crime has other facets, where other offences are also alleged, those should not be deleted.

Senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, representing the NGO People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), said that there are cases which are pending. The bench replied it can say that Section 66A should be removed.

The top court was hearing a writ petition filed by PUCL citing the issue of Section 66A IT Act being invoked despite the top court’s judgment in Shreya Singhal case.

The NGO submitted cases were still being registered across the country under draconian Section 66A, which gave permission to police to make “arbitrary arrests” and prosecute for what the police felt was “offending and offensive” online posts, even after the provision was declared violative of both Articles 19 (free speech) and 21 (right to life) of the Constitution.

Disposing of the application filed by the PUCL, the bench added that whenever any publication, whether government, semi-government or private, about IT Act is published and Section 66A is quoted, readers must be adequately informed that these provisions have been pronounced to be violative of Constitution by the apex court. (PTI)

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