Government, whose counsel had defended the constitutional validity of Section 66A of IT Act, today maintained that it respects freedom of speech and expression and is not in favour curbing dissent on social media.
At the same time, it said it had conveyed a request to the court that government is willing to come out with additional, more stringent guidelines so as to prevent abuse of Section 66A of the Act which allows arrest of a person for posting allegedly “offensive” content on websites.
“Our government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a very conscious decision that we don’t support the stand of the previous government.
“We respect the freedom of speech and expression. We respect communication of ideas on social media and we are not in favour of curtailing communication of honest dissent, opinion, disapproval or criticism on social media,” Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
In his initial comments on the Supreme Court verdict, he said the government had stressed that it will not support any interpretation of Section 66A of IT Act that curtails the ideas of freedom of speech and expression enshrined under Article 19(1) of the Constitution.
“It is very important to be noted that in our affidavit filed, apart from reiterating our new position on behalf of Government of India, we have clearly conveyed that if Section 66A of the IT Act cannot be interpreted in consonance with Article 19(1) read with Article 19(2), then we don’t support that interpretation at all,” he said.
Though Prasad said he will come with a structured response once he reads the entire judgement that runs into 200 pages, he said, on government’s instruction the additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta also conveyed a request to the bench that “government is willing to come out with additional more stringent guidelines so as to prevent abuse of Section 66A of the Act”.
“I am awaiting the judgement. The Government of India’s stand is quite different from the previous government’s and it has been very clear and consistent which I have just mentioned. I will come with a structured response after going through the judgement,” he said.