Section 66-A of Information Technology (IT) Act was defined as ‘‘Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc. —Any person, who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device’’:—
(a) Any information that is grossly offensive or has a menacing character; or
(b) Any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device; or
(c) Any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.
This Section 66A which was used against the cartoonists, journalists, writers, university professors, and the common people sharing posts or communication on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc., was not there in the original IT of Act 2000, but came into force by virtue of an Amendment Act of 2009 done by the then Congress-led UPA Government. But thereafter, so many state governments like Maharashtra, UP, Rajasthan, and Jharkhand continued to file FIR under this for which High Courts and Apex had to intervene to cancel these FIRs. Finally, this section was struck down by the Supreme Court in March 2015 as a violation of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India. Despite the scrapping, thousands of FIRs were registered under this section till 2019.
But now, the BJP-led central government has submitted on 12 May 2022. a proposal to UN Ad Hoc Committee (AHC) to elaborate a comprehensive International Convention on countering the use of Information and Communications Technologies for criminal purposes (‘‘Criminalization, General Provisions, and Procedural Measures and Law Enforcement’’) If one compares the proposal with the annulled Section 66A, one would find a striking resemblance. If the proposal is accepted, the freedom of expression and speech would be curtailed once again.
Visibly exasperated, Justice Madan B. Lokur, a former judge of the Supreme Court, held that ‘‘It is beyond shocking that the government is trying to introduce Section 66A through backdoor legislation… Is the government sending a message to the Supreme Court or to constitutional law experts or to freedom of speech supporters or to everyone, that the government will do what it thinks appropriate, regardless of what the Constitution and the Courts may say.’’ (The Wire-09-06-22)
It shows that the BJP is bent upon silencing voice of not just dissent but any criticism whatsoever by riding on draconian laws violative of the basics of jurisprudence, natural justice and freedom of expression.