The ‘IT’ Verdict

The Striking down of the con-troversial Section 66A of the Information Technology Act by the Supreme Court has been welcomed by many, and not without reason. Section 66A gave the police the right to arrest anybody for posting anything on Facebook if it injured the pride of the political power. Two girls were arrested in Mumbai for questioning the shutdown of activities in the city after the death (a normal death, of course) of the Shiv Sena Chief Bal Thackeray. This incident angered and saddened a young law student named Shreya Singhal, who submitted a petition to the Apex Court against Section 66 A. Six other petitioners later followed her. Apex court has observed Section 66A was so vaguely defined that any person expressing an opinion could be prosecuted under it. The well-known example of Mr Ambikesh Mahapatra, a Jadavpur University professor who was arrested and beaten up for posting a joke on Mamata Banerjee on a social networking site illustrates how the Trinamul Congress government of West Bengal misused this section in order to suppress all dissent. The Human Rights Commission recommended payment of compensation to Professor Mahapatra, but the state government refused to obey. Now the Calcutta High Court has directed the state government to pay it. It remains to be seen whether the state government this time alters its position or chooses to defy the court order. The examples of Mumbai and Jadavpur have demonstrated that the governments of the two provinces tremble at the mere rustle of leaves. Otherwise, why should the police be employed to silence the slightest voice of dissent?

But the Court upheld the validity of Section 69 of the Act, which empowers the authorities to block any site posting offensive material, and Section 79 of the Act, which proscribes punishment for not complying with government or Court directives to block any site carrying such material. The Court observed that the public's Right to Know is directly affected by Section 66A, and it clearly affects the right to freedom of speech and expression as enshrined under the Indian Constitution. Citizens can still be arrested for online posts and comments under IPC Sections, such as 153 and 505.

It goes without saying that the police forces all over India have made many such arrests, using this draconian Section 66 A. Those who have been incarcerated will find some relief at the Supreme Court's verdict. But the point is that the police and para-military forces, and their political masters, are guilty of many more crimes against the people. If an assembly of villagers in Chattisgarh, who had gathered to discuss the planting of crops, is brutally fired upon, and even babies in the laps of their mothers are killed, and if  such ghastly episode is covered up by the brazen lie that the para-military acted in self-defense, the Supreme Court has to step in and bridle the activity of the police and para-military forces who kill people in cold blood at the bahest of the ruling governments. The Supreme Court earlier banned the outfit called Salwa Judum, and thus dealt a blow to the oppressive political powers and their ally, corporate capital, that are out to plunder the resources of the country to the fullest extent possible. That verdict of the Supreme Court was certainly commendable, as is the latest decision to strike down Section 66A of the IT Act. The court has now to do something more by using its legal and constitutional powers.

Vol. 47, No. 39, Apr 5 - 11, 2015