The Supreme Court on Friday issued notices to Maharashtra, West Bengal and Delhi and Union Territory of Puducherry on a petition challenging Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, in the wake of the arrests of two young women for their Facebook posts.
“The State of Maharashtra, in particular, is directed to explain the manner in which Shaheen Dhada and Renu Srinivasan came to be arrested in connection with the post made by Dhada on Facebook,” said a Bench comprising Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice J Chelameswar.
As far as the Union of India is concerned, service of notice is dispensed with, said the Chief Justice, as the Attorney General (AG) G E Vahanvati was personally present after being served a copy of the petition on Thursday.
The respondents were directed to file their respective counter affidavits within four weeks. Rejoinder, if any, may be filed within two weeks thereafter, Kabir added.
The AG said he would assist and satisfy the Bench over the issue.
He further said there was a meeting of the advisory committee of the government and it was decided to issue guidelines (that a police officer of not less than the Deputy Commissioner of Police rank only can sanction prosecution in such cases in rural and urban areas. In metros, such an approval should be given by an officer at the level of Inspector General of Police.)
“I do believe that your Lordships intervention in the form of guidelines is necessary,” the AG submitted.
The Chief Justice said incidents related to Section 66A have occurred in West Bengal, Puducherry and Mumbai.
Mukul Rohtagi, appearing for petitioner Shreya Singhal, a student from Delhi, said: “It is our belief that this Section (66A) is wholly unconstitutional.”
When advocate Prashant Bhushan said NGO Common Cause would like to join issue, the Chief Justice said the Bench does not want to widen the scope of the petition.
The Chief Justice permitted cartoonist Aseem Trivedi to be added as a respondent in the petition, noting that he was also a victim of the action taken by the Mumbai Police in an identical case.
The Bench posted the matter to January 14 for further hearing.