New Delhi: Against the backdrop of some arrests over certain postings on social networking sites, Telecom and IT Minister Kapil Sibal on Friday said a provision in the Information Technology Act has been misused in some states and the Centre will soon issue an advisory to check it. "As per our assessment, there has been misuse (of Section 66A of IT Act) in some states...It is my personal opinion and also of Central Government that it (misuse) is not right.
Hopefully, we will issue an advisory at the earliest," Sibal said replying to questions in Rajya Sabha. He, however, said the misuse is not rampant. Sibal was responding to questions on whether Section 66A is prone to misuse by law enforcement agencies and what steps the government is taking to amend it to check the misuse.
There has been uproar after two girls were arrested in November over a Facebook post criticising the bandh like situation in Mumbai after Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray's death. Another boy was arrested for posting 'vulgar' comments against MNS chief Raj Thackeray and the people of Maharashtra on the social networking site. Section 66A provides for punishment up to three years for sending via electronic mail messages which are grossly offensive, menacing, insulting, dangerous or causing inconvenience. The minister said there was a need to educate the police and implementing agencies on the issue. Sibal said Section 66A was provided in the Act based on the international best practices and similar provisions in the Communications Acts of a number of countries. The provisions, he said, are in line with the freedom of speech and expression and citizen's right enshrined in Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution.
Sibal said India will protect right of freedom of speech to the citizen with greater vigour than any other country. Sibal said the government has held discussion with stakeholders including industry associations, intermediaries and users to address the issue of proper implementation of the provisions of the Act. "It has been agreed to provide necessary guidelines to prevent misinterpretation of the provisions of the Act and to minimise the unintended consequences," he said. The controversial provision in the Act came under criticism in the Upper House in the post-lunch sitting when P Rajeeve (CPI-M) through a Private Member's Resolution said the "draconian" section needed to be amended as it could be misused in future.
He cited several examples including that of the two girls who were arrested by the Mumbai police for posting comments on the bandh in Mumbai after the death of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray. Rajeeve said the Centre was planning to issue guidelines to states against the misuse of the law but it would not be of much help and only an amendment in it can ensure that such things are not repeated. "Guidelines cannot overrule laws and guidelines are no answer to the problem. The problem is with the act itself which needs to be amended...This is a blot on the Indian democracy," he said. "I am not against the regulation of usage of internet but I am not in favour of control of usage of internet," Rajeeve said.
Gyanprakash Pilania (BJP) said under the section, even an April fool joke on the social networking sites can land a person in jail for causing annoyance. He said Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal does not find any fault with the Act but the opposition feels there is one. Section 66A of the Act provides for punishment up to three years for sending via electronic mail messages which are grossly offensive, menacing, insulting, dangerous or causing inconvenience. Condemning police action against the two girls in Palghar for questioning the shutdown in the city following Bal Thackeray's death on Facebook by invoking Section 66A, Santaram Naik (Cong) noted such an incident does not prove the point that the Act has to be amended. He said there has been many instances when abusive language has been used against the political class but no one raised any objection to such remarks.
He also rejected the resolution that Section 66A is not in consonance with the fundamental rights. Supporting the resolution, D Bandopadhyay (TMC) demanded that crimes under IPC should be incorporated under the IT Act, while Baishnab Parida (BJD) said if the Act is not amended then there would several instances of it being misused. Supporting the resolution, Rajeev Chandrasekhar (Ind) said it was incumbent upon Parliamentarians to seek corrections as "review of the Act is absolutely necessary". He demanded constitution of a drafting committee with representations from different sections to arrive at a substantial framework. He said the recent issue of guidelines under the Act following arrest of the two girls to prevent its misuse was not the answer to the problem as the "content of the Act itself is bad.
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