The Indian government is looking at amending IPC sections 153A and 505 to include provisions specified under Section 66A, that were struck down by the Supreme Court in March 2015, reports DNA. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued recommendations to the Centre last week specifying that instead of modifying the current IT Act, the govt can look at “strengthening” IPC sections 153A and 505, the report said. Section 66A of the IT Act was initially formulated in the year 2000 to criminalize offensive and hate speech content on the Internet.
These recommendations were issued by the MHA after an ‘expert’ committee, headed by TK Vishwanathan, Secretary General of Lok Sabha, met last week. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeiTY), also supported these suggestion made by MHA. While the Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry suggested a real-time system for handling cyber-crime cases along with a legal backing under the IT Act.
This isn’t the first time that the MHA was looking for an alternative to bring back 66A. Just 3 weeks after the Supreme Court scrapped in 2015, for being unconstitutional, the MHA set up a committee to look into “how national security concerns can be accommodated in the IT Act”. Instead of addressing national security concerns, Sec 66A was earlier being used to criminalize and charge citizens for questioning or passing jokes against the government, religious figures, etc. on social media. In 2015 alone, more than 3,000 cases were registered under 66A.
The more troubling fact is that the police continued to charge citizens under 66A last year. As of January 2016 data, at least 575 people were still in jail after being charged under the unconstitutional act, as pointed by Hindustan Times. Section 66A is controversial mainly because of its broadly worded language with terminologies such as “grossly offensive,” “annoyance,” “inconvenience” and “ill will.” All these broad and undefined words in the section was being misinterpreted by different state police departments, leading to arrests for any kind of offensive or dissenting voices on the Internet. Critics have suggested that this is against free speech, guaranteed under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution.
IPC sections that the MHA is looking at
MHA’s new recommendation will broadly look at modifying two important IPC section which looks at prohibiting and punishing hate speech against religions, caste, community, Indian soldiers, army, navy, etc. Here is a lowdown of these IPC sections:
1) Section 153A of IPC:
Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.—
(a) by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, or
(b) commits any act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, and which disturbs or is likely to disturb the public tranquility…
(2) Whoever commits an offence specified in sub-section (1) in any place of worship or in any assembly engaged in the performance of religious worship or religious ceremonies, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to five years and shall also be liable to fine.
(a) with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, any officer, soldier, 3[sailor or airman] in the Army, 4[Navy or Air Force] 5[of India] to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty as such; or
(b) with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility; or
(c) with intent to incite, or which is likely to incite, any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to 6[three years], or with fine, or with both.
(3) Offence under sub-section (2) committed in place of worship, etc.—Whoever commits an offence specified in sub-section (2) in any place of worship or in an assembly engaged in the performance of religious worship or religious ceremonies, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to five years
(Exception) —It does not amount to an offence, within the meaning of this section when the person making, publishing or circulating any such statement, rumour or report, has reasonable grounds for believing that such statement, rumour or report is true and makes, publishes or circulates it 8[in good faith and] without any such intent as aforesaid.