Shreya Singhal v. Union of India
In the Supreme Court of India
Before Justice Chelameswar and Justice RF Nariman
Decided on March 24, 2015
Relevancy of the case: Constitutional Validity of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000
Statutes & Provisions Involved
- The Information Technology Act, 2000 (Section 66A, 69A, 79)
- The Constitution of India (Article 19(1)(a) and 19(2) )
Relevant Facts of the Case
- Two girls, Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan were arrested after they had shown dismay about a Band brought by Shiv Sena’s chief Bal Thackrey’s death in 2012. They had posted their opinion on Facebook.
- The girls were later released and all the criminal charges against them were also dropped. But the nation was furious about the arrests. It was presumed that the Police had abused the authority given u/s 66A of the IT Act and thus, infringed a fundamental right.
- The Supreme Court called up petitions related to the constitutional validity of the IT Act, 2000 or any Section within it under a single PIL case known as “Shreya Singhal v. Union of India.”
Prominent Arguments by the Advocates
- Mr Soli J. Sorabjee, for the Petitioner:
- Section 66A takes away the Freedom of Speech and Expression guaranteed under Art. 19(1)(a) and is not saved by the reasonable restriction mentioned under Art. 19(2). The section is vague and doesn’t have any definition in the General Clauses Act.
- Mr Tushar Mehta, for UOI:
- Legislature is in the best position to address the needs of the society and the courts should only read into or read down the provisions of law. Vagueness is not a ground to declare a law unconstitutional.
Opinion of the Bench
- Constitutionality of 66A: There are 3 identified ways of expression – Discussion, Advocacy and Incitement. Mere discussion or advocacy will come under Freedom of Speech but incitement will come under reasonable restrictions given under Article 19(2). Section 66A doesn’t pass the elements given under Article 19(1)(a).
- Chilling effect and overbreadth: Section 66A by its definition is cast so widely that any type of speech will come under the purview of this section. This section also has a chilling effect on the fundamental right of speech and expression.
- Section 66A was struck down in its entirety being violative of Article 19(1)(a) and is not saved under Article 19(2).
- Section 69A is valid.
- Section 79 is valid subject to the reading down of Section 79(3)(b).
- Completely striking down of Section 66A was not needed and the decision feels a bit harsh. Like Section 79, Section 66A could have been read down to make it constitutionally valid.
- It is a positive step to safeguard the rights of individuals in the modern era where every person has his views and can easily express them on a plethora of social media platforms.