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Timeline: Home Ministry asks states to withdraw police cases under struck-down Section 66A

Supreme Court of India
Credit: Aditi Agrawal

Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling and government advisories, Section 66A continued to be invoked for arrests including those of Ram Gopal Verma and Arnab Goswami. 

The Ministry of Home Affairs on Wednesday instructed states to stop letting police file cases under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. The Supreme Court had taken a “very serious view” on the matter, the circular said.

In March 2015, the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A, which vaguely outlawed “information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character”. In its ruling, the Court struck down the provision for being “violative of Article 19(1)(a) and not saved under Article 19(2).” However, as seen from the timeline below, police and inferior courts have continued to rely on the law. The Supreme Court on July 5 had said that it found the situation shocking.

It has been brought to our notice through an application in Hon’ble Supreme Court that FIRs are still being lodged by some police authorities under the struck down provision of Section 66A of IT, Act, 2000. Hon’ble Supreme Court has taken a very serious view in the matter.

It is therefore, requested to direct all the police stations not to register cases under the repealed Section 66A of the information Technology Act,2000 and sensitise the law enforcement agencies for the compliance of the order issued by the Hon’ble Supreme Court on 24.03.2015. If any case has been booked in your State under section 66A of the IT Act, 2000, it should immediately be withdrawn. — MHA letter to all Deputies General of Police and Chief Secretaries

Attorney General of India KK Venugopal argued that the problem was that the law continued to be in statute books, with a mere footnote that it had been struck down. Indeed, in the version of the law linked above, the footnote is minuscule, and there is nothing in line that indicates that the provision has been struck down. The People’s Union for Civil Liberties, which reportedly brought the case in front of the Supreme Court, said that 745 such cases were pending in 11 states. The Home Ministry has asked states to withdraw these cases.

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  • March 2015: The Supreme Court strikes down Section 66A, deeming it unconstitutional.
  • July 2015: It emerges that arrests are still happening under the law, in spite of the section being struck down by India’s apex court.
  • June 2016: Filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma is summoned by a local magistrate under the law in Mumbai.
  • September 2016: According to the National Crime Records Bureau, over 3,000 arrests were made in 2015 under the law. The government said in Parliament that following NCRB reports would not include data on Section 66A arrests.
  • March 2017: The Law Commission of India suggests legislative changes that would restore much of the police power that was curtailed by the Supreme Court’s 2015 judgement.
  • January 2019: The Supreme Court issues notice in a case filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), asking that police stations and smaller courts be informed that the provision has been struck down. MeitY issues an advisory (copy not made available online) to states advising that cases and FIRs not be filed under Section 66A.
  • April 2020: Anchor Arnab Goswami is named in multiple FIRs and police reports that mention Section 66A.
  • July 2021: PUCL says there are 745 unlawful instances of Section 66A being cited in police complaints and court cases. The Supreme Court terms it “shocking” that the provision is still being exercised by inferior courts and police. The MHA issues a circular reiterating that the law has been struck down and that the Supreme Court has taken a serious view on the matter.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

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