Update: MP P. Rajeeve has moved a motion on repealing Section 66A, and the debate is expected to take place at 2:30 pm today. We’ll update, unless Parliament gets disrupted and no work gets done.
Earlier: Notes from a debate during the Question Hour in the Rajya Sabha on section 66A, of which we caught some parts. Some parts of the notes below are paraphrased:
Rajeev Chandrasekhar: Sibal would be in a minority if he considers section 66A to be in line with the constitution of India. Phrases like ‘Grossly harmful’ etc are being misused – it’s not just the case the police is misusing it, but it is the act itself which is an issue.
Sibal: There were issues and concerns of Phishing, morphing, an expert committee was set up, and then the reform of the act was taken forward. When the matter went to the standing committee, the government’s position was that it should be a non cognizable offence, with 2 years. The standing committee said the government was being soft and it should be a cognizable offence. The member (Chandrasekhar) was a member of that committee. There are statutes all over the world – the UK Communications Act 2003 states that a personal is liable if a personal sends a message which is grossly offensive, of a menacing character or indecent. (Sibal reads a similar provision from the US act, saying it’s much wider, an Australian court as well). Our legislation is in line with other legislation. However, our democracy cherishes fundamental rights. Consider that many times messages are sent which cause enormous disruption, like in Kokhrajhar (Ed: not sure if this is the place).
Balbir Punj: Section 66A has been misused. Will the minister tell us the cases of misuse, statewise, and what remedial action has been taken. We have been hearing about it being misused in Maharashtra. Two teachers in J&K were also harassed and sacked. What are the steps that the central government has taken to address that?
Sibal: I never conceded that there has been rampant misuse of this. I have said that there has been misuse, but no rampant misuse. There is no case limited to 66A. There are 5 instances, and they cannot suggest a rampant misuse. It is the state government which must take note of the act. If the state government misuses the act, it must be taken up in court.
P.Rajeeve: This is not for social media, it is meant for mails written continuously to harass someone. In Britain, there is an unwritten constitution. You cannot validate the constitutional validity of Indian law through the British or US Law.
Sibal: There is a writ petition in Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of this act. There is another matter in the Allahabad High Court. Let the courts decide. (Cites a recent statement in the UK, pointing out that the executing agencies need to understand the phrase grossly)