The Supreme Court is likely to pronounce its verdict this week on a batch of petitions challenging the contentious section 66A of the Information Technology Act and describing it as vague and ambiguous and beyond ambit of the constitutional right to freedom of speech. Also Read - WhatsApp Privacy Update: WhatsApp asked by SC reasons for lower standards of privacy for Indians
The challenge commenced with Shreya Singhal challenging the constitutional validity of the section, following the arrest of two girls – Shaheen Dhanda and Rinu Shrinivasan – for posting comments critical of the Mumbai bandh in the wake of the death of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray. Also Read - Vodafone Idea prepaid and postpaid plans to cost more
The verdict was reserved on February 26 by a bench of Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman. Also Read - WhatsApp not authorized to go live with UPI full scale operations, RBI tells Supreme Court
The hearing saw NGOs Common Cause, People’s Union for Civil Liberty, individuals, including self-exiled Bangladesh writer Taslima Nasreen, and businessman joining the challenge which had seen a repeat hearing after earlier hearing by the bench of Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice S.A. Bobde remained inclusive.
Broadly, the contention by most was that the provision was vague which gave a scope for an arbitrary interpretation and misuse of the ambiguous provisions by police.
Section 66A reads: “Any person who sends by any means of a computer resource any information that is grossly offensive or has a menacing character; or any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.”
However, the central government, defending the section, took the stand that the provisions in no way intended to curb the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under article 19 of the constitution, but at the same time, the huge cyber world could not be left unregulated.
Bedsides this, the court will conclude hearing on a batch of petitions including by the Supreme Court Advocate on Record Association, and NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation challenging the Constitution (Ninety-Ninth Amendment) Act, 2014, and the enabling statute, the National Judicial Appointment Commission Act, 2014, to set up the panel which will replace the existing collegium system for appointments to the higher judiciary.
The SCAORA has contended that the NJAC would erode the independence of judiciary, but the government and the Supreme Court Bar Association have termed the challenge to these provisions as premature and academic as they have yet to be notified and operationalised.
The apex court March 26 will also take a call on whether to lift its February 26 order asking the government not to announce the results of the auction of the spectrum in 2G band that had fetched it more than Rs.1.09 lakh crore.
The court will also conclude and may pass order on 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blast mastermind Yaqub Memon’s plea seeking recall of the apex court order upholding his death sentence.