The case analysis is written by Deepika, pursuing BALLB from IIMT & SCHOOL OF LAW, GGSIPU, Delhi.
Shreya Singhal vs. Union of India AIR 2015 SC 1523
Freedom of speech is one of the most cherished fundamental right guaranteed by our Constitution. The honourable Supreme court in various cases reiterated the importance of this fundamental right. In the matter of Shreya Singhal v. UOI (2015), the Apex Court reaffirmed the importance of the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression, by declaring Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2010 unconstitutional.
J. Chelameswar, Rohinton Fali Nariman
Date of Judgement
24th March, 2015
Articles 19, 14, 21
Information Technology Act, 2000
Section 66-A, section 69-A, section 79
Rule of severability
Facts of the case
There was bandh declared by the Shiv Sena People in Maharashtra, in the year 2012, after the death of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray. This bandh decision was not liked by the two girls, Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan, who lived in Than. One of them posted something on Facebook and the other one liked it. They both expressed their displeasure at a bandh called in the wake of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackery’s death. They were arrested by the Mumbai police in 2012 under Section 66A of Information Technology Act, 2000. This Section punishes any person who sends through a computer resource or communication device any information that is grossly offensive, or with the knowledge of its falsity, the information is transmitted for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, insult, injury, hatred, or ill will. Later on, the arrested women were released and it was decided to close the criminal cases against them yet the arrest attracted widespread public protest.
The writ petition was filed in Public Interest under Article 32 of Constitution of India by Petitioner seeking to declare Section 66A, Section 69 and Section 79 of the IT Act, 2000 unconstitutional.
- Whether the Sections 66-A, 69-A and 79 are constitutional or not?
- Whether Section 66A is curtailing Freedom of speech and expression or not?
- Whether Section 66A is saved under Section 19(2) or not?
The petitioners in their argument argued that 66A of IT Act 2000 infringes the right of Freedom of Speech and Expression as enshrined under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. They further argued that sec 66A is vague in nature and infirmity has been created by this section, as it does not properly define the terminology used under the section. The court said: “Every expression used is nebulous in meaning. What may be offensive to one may not be offensive to another”. Therefore, the interpretation was held to be subjective in nature. Hence the court-ordered 66A as violative of right to freedom of speech and expression and is not covered under the grounds of reasonable restrictions given under Article 19(2). The court also observed that the challenge was to identify where to draw the line. Traditionally, it has been drawn at incitement while terms like obstruction and insult remain subjective.
In addition, the court had noted that Section 66A did not have procedural safeguards like other sections of the law with similar aims, such as :
- The need to obtain the concurrence of the Centre before action can be taken.
- Local authorities could proceed autonomously, literally on the whim of their political masters.
The judgment had found that Section 66A was contrary to both Articles 19 (free speech) and 21 (right to life) of the Constitution. The entire provision was struck down by the court.
So this section was declared void by the honourable court. In this case, the court applied the rule of severability, the court didn’t declare the whole IT Act void but only section 66A was held unconstitutional. The court also held that blocking of information for public access given under Section 69A of IT Act is constitutionally valid in nature.
- Section 66A was struck down in its entirety being violative of Article 19(1)(a) and is not saved under Article 19(2).
- Section 69A is valid.
- Section 79 is valid subject to the reading down of Section 79(3)(b).
In the judgement, the honourable Supreme court focussed on the significance of Fundamental Right of freedom of speech and expression and reasonable restrictions to it. The court by its judgement has shown that this right is one of the basic pillars of democracy, so the state can’t unreasonably and arbitrarily interference with the right.
This is a landmark case which plays a very significant role in the Indian legal system. In this case, the honourable Supreme court has reaffirmed the importance and vital status of the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression. Freedom of speech and expression is very important for overall growth and development of a country. It is a means by which every person can indirectly participate in the governance of the country. This right is which gives essence to a democratic country. The Supreme court has increased the scope of right available to us under freedom of speech and expression. At the same time court has limited the scope of any arbitrary interference of the state in the enjoyment of our this right, which is an indispensable gem of a democratic country. This decision of the court also affirms that the honourable Supreme court is the custodian of our fundamental rights. It acted as a watchdog to protect our fundamental right.
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