NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to involve the high courts to facilitate a quick burial for hundreds of cases lodged by state police under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act even though the provision was annulled by the apex court more than six years ago to protect freedom of speech in social media.
A bench of Justices R F Nariman and B R Gavai agreed with senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, counsel for petitioner NGO People's Union for Civil Liberties, that the high courts and the district judges should be involved in the process for closure of cases under Section 66A pending before the trial courts.
The bench issued notices to the registrars general of the high courts for this purpose to explore a mechanism by which the judiciary can oversee the process of implementing the SC's landmark Shreya Singhal judgment delivered on March 24, 2015 striking down Section 66A as unconstitutional.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta said that the Centre has repeatedly written to the chief secretaries of the states about the nullity of Section 66A after the SC's 2015 judgment and that they must implement it in letter and spirit. The bench agreed and said, "the states and Union Territories must be impleaded in this case as parties so as to enable us to pass a comprehensive order. Ultimately, police and law and order is squarely within the domain of the states." The bench issued notices to all states and UTs and sought their response in four weeks.
It was Justice Nariman who on July 5 had termed the action of state police authorities to continue slapping cases under Section 66A, despite it being struck down, against citizens for social media posts as "terrible, shocking and unacceptable". However, after four weeks the matter would be taken up by another bench as Justice Nariman will retire on August 12.
The Centre in its affidavit put the onus on states and UTs for the implementation of the 2015 SC judgment and said it has repeatedly advised them to drop all cases under the defunct provision.
PUCL had pointed out that states have registered thousands of cases post-judgment.
"The Section (66A) has become null and void with effect from the date of the judgment," the Centre had said and informed the court that between February and May 2019, as many as 21 states and Union territories have responded to the Centre intimating that police have been directed not to register cases under Section 66A and that no prosecution has been undertaken by the state under this provision after March 24, 2015.
PUCL said Maharashtra had registered 349 cases prior to the judgment, and post-judgment, went on to register 381 more. The Centre said the Maharashtra government on February 21, 2019 had informed that it has "complied with the Supreme Court judgment and that no prosecution has been initiated post March 24, 2015."
PUCL had also claimed that Uttar Pradesh had registered just 22 cases before 2015, but its police went on to file 245 more cases after the judgment. It had said that Jharkhand had just 43 FIRs prior to the order, but went on to register 291 FIRs after the verdict. The Centre's affidavit does not mention any response from the UP or Jharkhand governments.
PUCL had accused Rajasthan of having only 75 cases, but going on to register 192 more FIRs post-judgment. The Centre said the Rajasthan government on February 22, 2019 had responded saying it had issued appropriate directions to police and complied with the judgment.
In its rejoinder to the Centre's bald affidavit, the PUCL sought a series of directions for the implementation of the SC's judgment in letter and spirit by the states and highlighted the proactive role the Centre should play in protecting citizens from getting booked under the defunct provision for posting messages in social media.
PUCL said the state governments must be directed to collect and collate all information about cases lodged and pending under 66A and order their immediate dropping/withdrawal. This could be achieved by a direction to the DGPs to take the necessary steps and to the HCs to issue suitable advisories to the district judges for closure of cases in the courts within their jurisdictions.