CASE ANALYSIS ON SHREYA SINGHAL Vs UNION OF INDIA

By Ms. Dayalu sureshkumar & Mr. M. Ashwin


BENCH:

Hon’ble Judges:

Justice Jasti Chelameswar and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman

DATE OF JUDGMENT:

March 24, 2015

CITATION:

AIR 2015 SC 1523

PETITIONER:

Shreya Singhal

RESPONDENT:

Union of India


INTRODUCTION:

Freedom of speech is one of the most cherished fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitution. The Supreme Court of India has reiterated the importance of freedom of speech and expression. Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 came into force by the amendment in 2009. Section 66A defines the punishment for sending “offensive” messages through a computer or any other communication devices like a mobile phone or tablet and a conviction of it can fetch a maximum three years of jail and fine.

The landmark judgment SHREYA SINGHAL Vs UNION OF INDIA plays a very important role in Indian legal system. This case revolves around the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India. It challenged the constitutional validity of section 66A and led to struck down of the same from the IT Act, 2000.

STATEMENT OF FACTS:

In the year 2012, two girls named as Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan, was arrested by the Mumbai police for expressing their displeasure at a bandh called in the wake of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackery’s death. The women posted their comments on Facebook. The police arrested them under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. The arrested women were later released and it was decided to close the criminal case against them yet the arrest resulted in widespread public interest. The petitioners filed a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India claiming that section 66A of the IT Act 2000 violates the right to freedom of speech and expression of an individual provided under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

ISSUES:

1. Constitutional validity of Section 66-A, 69-A and 79 was challenged.

2. Whether Section 66A is curtailing Freedom of speech and expression?

3. Whether Section 66A is saved under Section 19(2)?

ARGUMENTS OF PETITIONER:

1. Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000 curbs away the right to freedom and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) and is not saved by the reasonable restrictions mentioned under Article 19(2).

2. Section 66A is vague in nature and creates infirmity as it does not clearly defines terminology used under this section and are left open at the desire of the law enforcement agencies to interpret it.

3. Article 14 and 21 has been violated because there is no “intelligible differentia” as to why this provision was addressed only by one means of communication which results in self discrimination.


ARGUMENTS OF RESPONDENT:

1. It was contended that the probability of abuse of section could not be a possible ground for declaring the section as invalid.

2. Vagueness is not a ground to declare a statute unconditional.

JUDGEMENT:

This Judgment has increased the importance of the right available to us to express ourselves freely. Justice Nariman highlighted the point, “the liberty of thought and expression is not merely an aspirational ideal. It is also a cardinal value that is of paramount significance under our constitutional scheme.”

The Court agreed with the petitioner that none of the grounds contained in Article 19(2) were capable of being invoked as legitimate defenses to the validity of Section 66A of the IT Act. The court further stated that what might be offensive for someone may not be for someone else. Therefore, it is very subjective in nature.

Two things have to be noticed. The first is that the definition is an inclusive one. Second, the definition doesn’t refer to what the content of information can be. In fact, it refers only to the medium through which such information is disseminated. Information of all kinds is roped in-such information may have scientific, literary or artistic value, it may refer to current events, it may be obscene or seditious. That the information sent has to be annoying, inconvenient, grossly offensive etc., also shows that no distinction is made between mere discussion or advocacy of a particular point of view which may be annoying or inconvenient or grossly offensive to some and incitement by which such words lead to an imminent causal connection with public disorder, security of State etc. The court agreed with the Petitioners that Section 66A very clearly affects the freedom of speech and expression of the citizenry of India at large.

The Court referred various landmark judgments on freedom of speech and expression. The right to freedom in Article 19 guarantees the freedom of speech and expression recognized in the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, where the Supreme Court held that freedom of speech and expression has no geographical limitation and moves with a citizen's right to collect information and exchange ideas with others, not only in India but also abroad. In Romesh Thapper v. State of Madras, the court stated that freedom of speech lay at the foundation of all democratic organizations. In Khushboo v. Kanniamal & Anr., this court stated the right requires free flow of opinion and ideas. In Bennett Coleman & Co. V. Union of India & Ors, the court held that Freedom of Speech and of the press is the Ark of the Covenant of Democracy because public criticism is essential to the working of its institutions. This Court has laid down further what “reasonable restrictions” means in several cases. In Chintaman Rao v. The State of Madhya Pradesh, this Court said: The phrase “reasonable restriction” connotes that the limitation imposed on a person in enjoyment of the right should not be arbitrary or of an excessive nature, beyond what is required in the interests of the public. The word “reasonable” implies intelligent care and deliberation, that is, the choice of a course which reason dictates. Legislation which arbitrarily or excessively invades the right cannot be said to contain the quality of reasonableness and unless it strikes a proper balance between the freedom guaranteed in Article 19(1)(g) and the social control permitted by Clause (6) of Article 19, it must be held to be wanting in that quality.

The Hon’ble Court also discussed the concept of balancing the strike between “Hate Speech” and “Free Speech”. The Court stated that Hate Speech is basically when people pass hate comments on religion, race, caste, sex, place, birth etc. By Arbitrary decision, any innocent comment can just not be put in the ambit of Hate Speech and any hate speech cannot be given the shield of right to Speech and Expression under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution.

The court stated that discrimination under Article 14, it is unable to agree with Petitioners that there is no intelligible differentia between the medium of print, broadcast and real live speech as opposed to speech on the internet. The intelligible differentia is clear – the internet gives any individual a platform which requires very little or no payment through which to air his views. Further Rule of Severability was applied. With this application, only Section 66A was held to be unconstitutional and not the whole act.

Finally, the Court also upheld the secret blocking process under Section 69A of the Act, by which the Government can choose to take down content from the Internet, holding that it did not suffer from the infirmities in Section 66A or Section 79, and is a narrowly drawn provision with adequate safeguards.

RULE OF LAW

In this judgment, Section 66A was struck down as unconstitutional and it was held that citizen’s Right to freedom of speech and Rights to carry out business using the internet are constitutionally protected.

CONCLUSION

Our Indian Constitution’s preamble guarantees citizen’s fundamental right to speech and expression and it is one of the most cardinal principles of the democracy. In the modern era social media has become the most preferred medium to express their thoughts. However defamation and sedition are exceptions to freedom of speech and expression. In this case, the girl had just questioned the reasoning for Mumbai shut down by a comment on Facebook. The police arresting for this act is unlawful as it is curtailing the rights of the citizen. It becomes a mental agony for innocent persons for unlawfully detaining them. It is the duty of the nation to protect the fundamental rights and hence the law must be strictly implemented as it is interpreted by the court.

STATUS OF JUDGMENT:

The present status of judgment is still applicable and has not been overruled in any other case.


REFERENCES:

1. Shreya Singhal v Union of India, [W.P. (crl).No.167 of 2012]

2. Section 66A of Information Technology Act, 2000- Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc. -Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device.

3. Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, {(1978) 2 S.C.R. 621}.

4. Romesh Thapper v. State of Madras,{ (1950) AIR 124}.

5. Khushboo v. Kanniamal & Anr, {AIR 2010 SC 3196}

6. Bennett Coleman & Co. V. Union of India & Ors, {[1962] 3 S.C.R. 842}.

7. Chintaman Rao v. The State of Madhya Pradesh, {1951 AIR 118, 1950 SCR 759}.

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