Shreya Singhal v. Union of India: Case Analysis

    In the year 2013, Shreya Singhal documented an appeal in court stating that section 66A of IT Act is in violation of freedom of speech and expression [1]. The applicant was seeking declarations of some sections in the IT Act [2] as unconstitutional on the ground that the provisions were very broad and vague, and that they violated Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution

    Equivalent Citation: (AIR 2015 SC 1523)

    Facts 

    In 2012, two women named, Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan were convicted by Mumbai Police for posting objectionable comments on a social site, expressing their displeasure about  a curfew in Mumbai effectuated in light of the death of Shiv Sena Chief, Bal Thackrey. The police arrested the woman u/s 66 A of IT  Act 2000 which provides punishment for the person who transmits any information which is grossly offensive and can create trouble, affront, insult, etc., through computer resources or any communication device. Later, the arrested women were released but this arrest attracted widespread protest by the public. Under the Act, any message in the form of text, image, audio or video could be punished with upto 3 years imprisonment or fine.  A lot of writ petitions under Article 32 were filed. It was argued that police have misused the powers given under section 66A.

    In the year 2013, Shreya Singhal documented an appeal in court stating that section 66A is in violation of freedom of speech and expression [1]. The applicant was seeking declarations of some sections in the IT Act [2] as unconstitutional on the ground that the provisions were very broad and vague, and that they violated Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution. In 2015, section 66A of IT Act, 2000 became unconstitutional and this was hailed as significant progress in the country’s pursuance for the right of freedom of speech and expression.

    Issues Raised

    1. What is the constitutional validity of section 66A, 69A and 79 of the Information Technology Act  2000?
    2. Whether section 66A is in violation of the fundamental right of speech and expression?
    3. Whether section 66A is protected under reasonable restrictions given in 19(2)?

    https://legalreadings.com/political-violence-in-bengal/

    Arguments

    From petitioner side

    • Petitioner(Shreya) contended that this section has given rise to new types of crimes which are wrong & section 66B to 67C along with other sections of IPC are sufficient to manage all such crimes. So, there is no need for this section at all.
    • It is contravening Article 19 (1)(a) of our Constitution [3] and also, they are not secured by any of the eight restrictions canvassed under Article 19(2). It is not covered under the exemptions given under article 19(2)
    • The words used in this section [4] like causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury are all outside the scope of Article 19(2).
    • This section also suffers from the vice of vagueness because none of the previously mentioned words is even endeavoured to be characterized and can’t be characterized, and due to this innocent persons are bound in as well as those who are not the real offenders.
    • This section also gives wide discretion to authorities. One thing may be causing inconvenience to one person but it might not be to another one. So, this is very subjective.
    • Shreya singhal also contended that Articles 14[5] and Article 21[6] are penetrated in as much there is no intelligible differentia between the individuals who utilize the internet and the individuals who by words spoken or written use different modes of communication.

    From Respondent’s side

    • The legislature is at the topmost spot to comprehend and value the necessities of the individual and this section does not violate fundamental rights at all. That’s why the presumption of validity of a statute should be made by the court.
    •   The provision can’t be declared unconstitutional just on the ground that the probability of abuse cannot be justified
    •  Vagueness is certifiably not the only ground in proclaiming a statute as unconstitutional if otherwise, it is qualified and non-subjective.
    • There has been use of loose language in defending people’s rights from them who use this medium to threaten.

    Judgement

    The court in the Shreya Singhal case said that the issues were very nebulous in nature. What may be offensive to one may not be to another and therefore, the court abrogated section 66A of the IT Act in its entirety because of the fact that it is in contravention of Article 19(1)(a) i.e. fundamental right of speech and expression. Also, this is not rescued under Article 19(2) which provides for reasonable restrictions. It is invalid and declared unconstitutional. Section 69A & the IT Rules 2009 [7] are intrinsically legitimate. Along with this, the court also held section 118(d) of the Kerala Police Act [8] as unconstitutional. The methodology embraced by the court was to secure the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression and a legislation cannot take away this right by hiding under the protection of Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

    The Court referred to different landmark decisions on freedom of speech and expression in Shreya Singhal’s case . For instance, in Romesh Thapper v. State of Madras[9], the court expressed extensive restrictions as constitutionally invalid & only permission granted is regarding narrow restrictions on freedom of speech and expression.

    In Khushboo v. Kanniamal & Anr[10]., the court expressed freedom of speech and expression not to be absolute which was essential as we need to endure unpopular ideas. Indeed, the freedom to hold views by the media houses is to be recognised as of utmost significance among all the liberties as provided by the constitution, the reason being it is essential for proper working of democratic institutions. The similar views were opined by the court in Bennett Coleman & Co. v Union of India [11], the court in the shreya singhal case observed that Freedom of Speech and of the press is the Ark of the Covenant of Democracy since public criticism is basis to the working of its organizations.

    Regarding whether 66A was a significant generous endeavour to save the individuals from abusive statements by means of online communications, the court noted that the fundamental crucial component of analysis is “injury to reputation”. It ruled that law doesn’t bother the target since it similarly censures hostile explanations that may annoy a person without influencing his notoriety. The Court similarly kept an eye on whether section 66A is fit for forcing chilling impact on right to freedom of expression. It expressed that in considering the reality of fact the arrangements fail to portray the terms, for instance, inconvenience or annoyance, a lot of ensured and honest discourse could be abridged.

    Analysis And Interpretation

    Thus, this milestone shreya singhal case is an important case which assumes a very significant function in the Indian general set of laws. The whole shreya singhal case is centred around Article 19(1)(a) which provides fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression and challenges the constitutional validity of section 66A.

    The judgment has protected and spared the freedom of speech and expression given to residents under article 19(1)(a) of Indian Constitution and furthermore, limiting state from self-assertive implication of powers in regard to liberty provided under Article 19 of the Constitution. Simultaneously, it gives clear rules for additional enacting law according to reasonable restriction on fundamental rights given by the Indian Constitution. However, to ask the straightforwardness for transparency of rules to block the website needs some further cross-examination and fine-tuning concerning viewers directly as he/she must know why the state isn’t permitting them to have certain data and that reason can be challenged by the viewers too.

    Conclusion

    In striking down Section 66A, the Supreme Court not only gave a new way of life to free speech in India but also performed the function as the constitutional court of India, as well as it also furnished the statute of free speech with improved & rare clarity. Various provisions of the Indian Penal Code & Information Technology Act are adequate to manage all these related wrongdoings and thus, this is wrong to say that section 66A has offered rise to new crimes. After a brief study of S. 66 A of the Information Technology Act with respect to its constitutionality in light of A. 19 of the Constitution of India, it is hereby concluded that a country which aspires to be a democracy should not come up with such draconian laws as it is the essential nature of the rule of law in all democratic countries that men in public positions, even though officials, can claim no immunity from criticism. Also, the court by applying the rule of severability held only those sections to be invalid which were vague and arbitrary in nature. The whole legislation need not be declared as unconstitutional.[1]

    References

    [1] The Constitution of India, art. 19(1)(a). 

    [2] The Information Technology Act 2000, ss. 66A, 69A and 79.

    [3] Supra 1. 

    [4]  The Information Technology Act 2000, ss. 66A. 

    [5] The Constitution of India. 

    [6] Id.

    [7] The Information Technology Act 2000.

    [8]  The Kerala Police Act, 2011.

    [9]  AIR 1950 SC 124.

    [10]  AIR 2010.

    [11] AIR [1960] 2 S.C.R. 1671.


    BY SWATI GOYAL | PUNJAB UNIVERSITY, CHANDIGARH

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