New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday decided to examine a controversial provision in the IT law under which two girls in Maharashtra were arrested for posting comments on Facebook on the shutdown for Bal Thackeray's funeral, saying it is very "wide" and can be invoked against anybody.
"The working of this section can lead to any kind of action by the police as it is very wide and can be applied against everybody or anyone can be arrested," the Apex Court observed while directing Maharashtra government explain the circumstances under which the girls were arrested.
The girls--Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Shrinivasan—were arrested in Palghar in Thane district under section 66A of the Information Technology Act after one of them posted a comment against the shut down and the other 'liked' it.
"On the very first day, when we saw the incident (in the press), we were inclined to examine this matter," said a bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice J Chelameswar which sought response from the Centre on the amendment and misuse of the provision.
It also issued notices and sought responses from governments of West Bengal and Puducherry where a professor and a businessman were arrested under section 66A of the Act for a political cartoon and tweeting against a politician respectively. Delhi Government was also asked to respond.
Attorney General G E Vahanvati replied in the affirmative to the suggestion of the bench that this action of the police was "motivated" and said, "the action of Maharashtra police is not justiciable and in fact, it is indefensible." Vahanvati, whose assistance was sought by the court, said, "Please examine section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and I will assist the court on this issue."
However, the AG said that it did not mean that section 66A should be done away with as the provision was well intended.
"An abuse of the section does not make it ultra-vires. This section is based on cognate provisions in other jurisdictions such as 2003 Act of United Kingdom and the 1996 Act of United States (on the IT laws)," Vahanvati submitted and added that according to him, this section can be justified.
The AG also referred to the guidelines, to be implemented, which say that cases to be registered under the provision of the IT Act has to be decided by senior police officers.
"This can't be done by the head of the police stations," the AG said, adding that this was a matter which required the court's consideration.
The bench concluded the brief hearing by ordering that "the Maharashtra government is directed to explain the circumstances under which the two girls - Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Shrinivasan - were arrested for posting comments made by them on Facebook."
The bench asked the Centre and the four state governments to file their response within four weeks on the PIL of Shreya Singhal, a Delhi-based student and posted the matter for hearing after six weeks.