Shreya Singhal vs. Union of India

Shreya Singhal vs. Union of India

Introduction

Shreya Singhal vs. Union of India is a landmark case of the Indian Judiciary, where the court deliberated upon the issue of the constitutional validity of certain sections of the IT Act and observed Whether these sections are violative of the fundamental rights enshrined under the Indian Constitution.

Decided on: 24th March 2015

Citation: writ petition (criminal) no.167 of 2012

Petitioner: Shreya Singhal

Respondent: Union of India

Judges: Justice Nariman, Justice Chelameswar

Facts of the case

Two women Shaheen Dhaba and Rinu Srinivasan were arrested for posting offensive comments on Facebook regarding the shutting down of the Mumbai city which was declared by the shiv sena DAL after the death of a political leader Bal Thackery. The arrest was made under section 66A of the information technology act 2000.

Which states 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 both the women were released and the criminal case against them was closed, but this led to widespread public protests and media attention as the people felt that the police had misused section 66A and then a woman filed a writ petition challenging the validity of section 66A.

Issues Raised in the case of  Shreya Singhal vs Union of India

  • Whether sections 66-A, 69-A, and 79 of the IT Act are constitutionally valid?
  • Whether Section 66A of the IT Act is violative of the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression?

Arguments of the Petitioner

  • Section 66A of information technology 2000 violated article 19A of the constitution and infringes the right to freedom of speech and expression
  • The act of causing disturbance, hassle, displeasure, exasperation, and vexation, and so on are not covered under the restriction as expressed under Article 19(2)
  • Section 66A contended to be vague in nature as it can interpret in many manners as it is left open-ended. And does not properly define the terms of this section and can be enforced in any desired manner be it right or wrong.
  • Section 66A violates article 14 of the Indian constitution as there is no intelligible differentia, so the entire provision is vague and discriminatory in nature.
  • The petitioner also stated that the section also construed to the arbitrary powers to the authorities for its interpretation.

Arguments of the Respondent 

  • The respondent contended that it was an obligation of the legislature and the judiciary would not interfere in it. the court is only allowed to interfere in cases that violate part III of the Indian constitution. It was submitted by the respondent that there is a presumption in favor of the constitutionality of the law in question.
  • The respondent stated that the probability of abuse of the section cannot be the sole reason for declaring the section invalid
  • The Court of law can interpret the law in a manner which makes it impartially enforceable and while doing so the details of the provisions can also be read down by it.
  • The respondent stated that the broad terms are being used to protect the rights of the citizen for those who violate them by the same medium.
  • The respondent stated that the vague nature cannot be the ground to declare the statue as unconditional when the statue itself is not arbitrary in nature.

Do Read- I.C. Golaknath & Ors. vs.  State of Punjab Anrs. 1967

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                                                           Shreya Singhal vs. Union of India

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Judgment

“Every expression used is nebulous in meaning. What may be offensive to one may not be offensive to another” said the court. Justice Nariman conferred the numerous standards which are applicable to pronounce when restrictions on speech can be deemed reasonable, under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution.

The Court held in the case of Shreya Singhal vs. Union of India, that Section 66-A was imprecise and overbroad and therefore fell afoul of Article 19(1)(a), since the statute was barely tailored to specific instances of speech which is required to curb. Importantly, the Court also considered the ‘chilling effect’ on speech caused by vague and over-broad statutory language as a foundation for striking down the provision. Further, the Court held that the ‘public order’ restriction under Article 19(2) of the Constitution would not apply to cases of ‘advocacy’, but only to ‘incitement’, specifically incitement which has a proximate relation to public disorder.

The court ordered 66A section 69A and Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring, and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009 was held intra vires to the Constitution of India. Section 79 was affirmed to be legitimate subject to the reading down of Section 79(3)(b) of the IT Act.

Section 118(d) of the Kerala Police Act was also struck down by the Apex Court of India as violative of the 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 held that blocking of information for public access given under Section 69A of the IT Act is constitutionally valid in nature.

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Shreya Singhal vs. Union of India

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Conclusion

The observation of the court in Shreya Singhal vs. Union of India was that the section 66A was an open-ended provision that was undefined. Which was misinterpreted and misused. Section 66A also violated article 19(2) which is freedom of speech and expression being important to a country like us which is democratic.

The girl who was arrested had simply asked a question on the shut-down in Mumbai through Facebook. She clearly had no intentions of conducting misconduct. Being a democratic country there is no harm in questioning the government. On anything that includes the decisions made for the people of the country.

Declaring a band n closing all the commercial industry is not a small thing because not working for a day makes a big difference for every economic sector. Freedom of speech is an essential part of democracy.

Expressing your concerns toward anything that the government does is not wrong. Even though section 66A was adopted to protect the freedom of speech a lot of time it can lead to severe offense. Even though the provision had its own disadvantages. The section could have still been in force If it had been used properly. The court struck down the sections which were vague and arbitrary in nature the whole legislation was not considered invalid.

Written by Tanvi Joshi

(Writer, The Legal State)

– Edited by Mahek Raval

(Editor, The Legal State)

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