When Police in Palghar arrested two innocent girls on November 18,2012, the popular opinion in the Cyber Law circles was that Police were unaware of the law and had done a mistake because of the pressure from the Shivasena supporters. Even when the girls were committed to Judicial custody by the Magistrate, it was considered that the Magistrate also was ignorant of the law and made a mistake.
About a month after the incident the Police dropped the charges.The Police officers were suspended by the Government by November 29th itself and the Chief Justice also trasferred the magistrate. Government of India also issued guidelines to State police in February 2013 that no arrests should be made under Section 66A without the consent of higher officials in the Police cadre. By February 2013, the Palghar Court had also closed the cases against the two girls. All this indicated that the Police had made a mistake in interpreting Sec 66A.
For all practical purposes the case had been resolved within 3 months but for the sad feeling that innocent persons had to face the ignominy of being imprisoned for a few days despite the compensation of Rs 50000 each ordered by the NHRC.
But some persons in the media and legal circles continued to keep complaining that Section 66A was a draconian law which enabled face book users to be arrested for innocuous comments. Even eminent advocates expressed similar opinion and hence the section was challenged for constitutionality in various courts. The UPA Government added fuel to fire by continuing similar arrests in other cases.
Then in August 2013, the Mumbai High Court in a judgement held
“Creating a website that may contain false or offensive information and facilitating its access to others would fall under the definition of ‘sending messages’ under section 66A of the IT Act, ‘Inconvenience’ cannot be read in isolation and must be read as a whole under the definition of an offence under the section, It is only false information that causes inconvenience”
It further said that “the legislative intent behind the IT Act was not to exclude ‘website’ as a medium of sending,” and “It is abundantly clear that the offence under scrutiny was a computer-related offence,” the court said.
Naavi.org did object to this view and urged that this judgement required to be reviewed and impression corrected.
Then the attention turned towards the Supreme Court on the PIL filed by Shreya Singhal. Kapil Sibal, a legal luminary and also the Minister in charge defended the section in his interview on Headlines Today in January 2013 (Kapil Sibal on Headlines Today with Rahul Kanwal while the undersigned continued to highlight the Mis-perceptions about Section 66A .
Now that the Supreme Court also has upheld the earlier opinion of Mumbai High Court, we need to accept that the legal precedence established in India is that Section 66A is applicable to Facebook, Twitter and Websites. Hence the police who applied the section on Palghar girls, or on Aseem Trivedi or on Professor Mahapatra or on Ravi Srinivasan stand vindicated. Their legal stand was correct and they had done no wrong.
Hence the suspension of the Policemen in Palghar was a mistake. These Policemen interpreted the law as efficiently as the legal and judicial luminaries did several months later. They should therefore not only be compensated for wrongful suspension, but should be honoured and decorated for exemplary sense of duty and service.
I wish these Policemen apply for such decoration and demand their due.
If for any reason their claim for decoration and restoration of service benefits are refused, then it means that our stand that the precedence set by Supreme Court in this judgement was wrong stands vindicated.
Let’s wait and see which side the truth lies… But our effort to debate if even the Supreme Court was only as wise as the Police in Palghar in interpreting Section 66A continues…