Most parties today welcomed the Supreme Court’s verdict scrapping a provision that made posting offensive comments online punishable with jail term, with Congress admitting to flaws in the law.
JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav disagreed saying that though he respects judiciary, it was wrong to strike down the “good” provision as freedom of speech does not mean “freedom to abuse” while Shiv Sena felt it would weaken the hands of law enforcement agencies.
The Left parties and Aam Aadmi Party accused both BJP and Congress of taking the “same anti-democratic position” on the issue in the court.
Former Union Minister P Chidambaram, who was part of the UPA government that introduced the controversial provision in 2008, welcomed the Supreme Court judgement holding Section 66A of the IT Act as unconstitutional, saying it was poorly drafted and misused.
“I welcome the judgement of the Supreme Court holding that Section 66A of the IT Act is unconstitutional.
“The section was poorly drafted and was vulnerable. It was capable of being misused and, in fact, it was misused,” he said.
Congress leader Manish Tewari said section 66A was hurting the Freedom of Expression.
“We welcome the decision. It (section 66A) was used by the authorities in a very knee-jerk manner. 66A was an antithesis of the Right of Freedom and Expression guaranteed by Article 19 (2).
“The Supreme court has arrived at an appropriate decision. Section 66A has put too much of arbitrary power in law enforcing agencies and not withstanding the safeguard we attempted to build into it,” Tewari said.
BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli said the verdict was consistent with the stand of the party and the Narendra Modi government.
Though its counsel had defended the constitutional validity of Section 66A of IT Act, the Modi Government maintained that it respects freedom of speech and expression and is not in favour curbing dissent on social media.
It stressed that it had differed from UPA’s stand in the court on the issue.
NDA constituent Shiv Sena has demanded that there should be a debate on the issue and steps were needed to stop misuse of social media.
Incidentally, two Palghar girls were arrested for posting remarks against a shutdown in Mumbai after the death of Sena supremo Bal Thackeray in November 2012, which sparked an uproar.
“The court is looking at the overall functioning of the state and the Centre. In Uttar Pradesh, when a student poste on Facebook, he was jailed. In Palghar, after Balasaheb’s sad demise one girl put something on Facebook and this led to a tense situation. The policemen were suspended in the matter.
“With this order, there will be nothing in the hands of the police. Social media is important and it has some important aspects. The social media is being misused in our country. To stop that there should be something or the other to strengthen the hands of law enforcing agencies,” senior Sena leader Sanjay Raut said.
He also demanded a greater debate on the issue.
“Tomorow if something (offensive) is put against SC, then will it not act? There will be contempt of court. But what about people in political and social life? You give full liberty to comment on people in political and social life. This requires a debate,” Raut added.
Speaking in the same vein, Sharad Yadav said, “I respect the verdict of the Supreme Court. But it is a wrong decision.
The way vulgar and abusive language is being used (in social media), it is not freedom. Freedom means to have a debate....
Does it mean freedom to hurl stones and abuses.
“This is a very good Act. I completely disagree with the Supreme Court’s verdict,” he said.
When asked about his reaction, UP minister Azam Khan, who was in the eye of a storm over arrest of a student for allegedly posting “objectionable” remark against him, hit out at the media, accusing it of “supporting criminals“.
“Aap log aparadhiyon ki himayat kartey hain (you support criminals),” the Samajwadi Party leader said in Lucknow when asked by reporters about the apex court’s judgement.
Welcoming the ourt’s decision, the Aam Aadmi Party said the section 66A was often misused by the Congress and the BJP governments to curb freedom of speech.
“The manner in which two successive union govts have misused #Sec66A to subjugate freedom of speech was bizarre and SC order is a welcome move!
“#AAP welcomes the SC decision to declare #Sec66A of IT Act unconstitutional. It was repeatedly misused by govts and law enforcement agencies,” the party tweeted.
CPI(M) said the SC verdict scrapping the “draconian” provision not only defends civil liberties and fundamental rights of citizens but has sent the “correct message” to state governments like West Bengal that they cannot suppress dissent.
“This clause, it is not so much as misuse as used by the some of the ruling governments like Mamata Banerjee’s government in West Bengal to supress any kind of dissent or criticism. We hope Mamata Banerjee and leaders like that who have used 66A to supress dissent will get the correct message from the Supreme Court,” CPI(M) Politburo member Brinda Karat told PTI here.
She maintained that both BJP and Congress had taken the “same anti-democratic position” on the issue before the apex court.
“Both these parties have made it clear that they are not committed at all. On the contrary, they would like such clauses to be used against political dissent. Both parties have shown that they hold the same views as far as suppression of democratic dissent is concerned,” Karat said.
Her senior party colleague Sitaram Yechury also termed the judgement as “a big relief” and said the provision had been used for “political vendetta against some people” which was completely unjustified.