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SC seeks Bengal reply on 66A
- IT Act clause grossly abused: Centre

Ambikesh Mahapatra

New Delhi, Nov. 30: The Supreme Court today sought responses from the Centre, Bengal and three other states on a plea to quash Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which the Union government admitted was “grossly abused”.

The states of Bengal, Maharashtra and Puducherry — where the provision has been misused to torment citizens —as well as the Centre and the Delhi government have four weeks to reply.

Hearing a public interest litigation, the bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice J. Chelmeshwar has agreed to examine the constitutional validity of Section 66A.

The court said that had the PIL not been filed, it would have taken suo motu cognisance of the recent incidents, particularly the arrest of two young women in Maharashtra over a Facebook comment.

“State of Maharashtra is directed to explain the manner in which the two children, Shaheen Dhada and Renu Srinivasan, were arrested in connection with the posting made by Ms Dhada on Facebook,” the bench said in its order while issuing notices to the others.

“We wanted to take cognisance on the very first day when we saw the news items. We were even inclined to issue notice,” Justice Kabir told attorney-general G.E. Vahanvati, who was appearing for the Centre. Vahanvati concurred, saying: “It (the way Section 66A was used) is an abuse, complete abuse.”

The bench asked him: “Please inform us what kind of action was taken against the police officers as regards the two children (in Maharashtra).” Later, it passed the order asking the Maharashtra government for an explanation.

Maharashtra has suspended two police officers and transferred a judge for jailing the women and will move to close the case.

In Calcutta, Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra was arrested along with 72-year-old neighbour Subrata Sengupta for emailing a joke about chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

Despite the state human rights commission’s recommendations, no disciplinary action has been taken against the two officers who arrested them, nor has the government compensated the duo. A chargesheet has been filed against them in Calcutta High Court but the court is yet to frame the charges.

The attorney-general told the court the IT Act was drafted on the basis of similar legislation in America and Britain but admitted once again: “It is grossly abused.”

Justice Kabir remarked: “Things are going out of hand. The section may be well-intended but the wordings can be used against anybody.”

The court turned down the petitioner’s plea to restrain the police from invoking Section 66A as long as the matter was disputed. Counsel Mukul Rohatgi said if such an order were not passed, such cases would keep recurring. “If anything like that happens, file an application,” the court said.

The court allowed an impleadment application moved by cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, who had been booked for sedition and other charges for drawing certain cartoons. He will now be heard in the case.