New Delhi, Sept. 20: The Supreme Court today warned Bengal and Andhra Pradesh with “consequences” if they failed to respond to an eight-month-old directive relating to a law that has led to arrests over “objectionable” Internet posts.
On January 19, the court had asked all states and Union territories to respond to a central advisory that said no arrests should be made under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act without sanction from a senior officer of certain specified ranks.
“If they (Bengal and Andhra) don’t file it (replies), they will face the consequences. Anyway, we are giving them one more opportunity. Let them file their response within four weeks,” the bench of Justices H.L. Gokhale and Dipak Misra said.
Many individuals have been arrested under 66A for Internet posts the authorities viewed as “objectionable”. Among them was Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra who was accused of circulating an Internet joke lampooning Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
This and a spate of other arrests under the clause had led to a public interest litigation challenging the constitutional validity of Section 66A on the ground that it infringed on individuals’ fundamental rights. That case is now before a larger apex court bench.
On January 9, the Centre had issued the advisory saying no arrests should be made under the section without prior approval of an officer not below the rank of inspector-general in cities, or an officer not below the rank of deputy commissioner or superintendent in the districts.
Today, counsel for petitioner Shreya Singhal complained that Andhra and Bengal, both of which had a record of filing cases under the controversial section, were yet to send their responses.
In this context, the court reiterated its August 16 observation that individuals’ right to free speech must be balanced with the state’s power to restrict rumours that could create public disaffection.
At the last hearing, the court had cited the recent exodus, from many parts of the country, by people from the Northeast following rumours of impending attacks on them in the wake of certain incidents in Myanmar.
Singhal’s PIL was filed last year after the arrest of two teenaged girls in Maharashtra for posting and “liking” on Facebook a remark questioning the shutdown on the day Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray was cremated.