In the second such instance after the Supreme Court struck down section 66(A) of the Information Technology Act dealing with offensive messages via device-based communication including computers and mobile phones, the Maharashtra police have registered an FIR for its alleged violation.
While the Thane-based owner of a Facebook page named ‘Revolutionary Tanzil’ was arrested under section 66(A) on April 5, barely weeks after the apex court order on March 24, a 34-year-old Nashikbased MBA was booked under the scrapped section on August 8 after his wife complained to the police about a message he sent her on WhatsApp.
In the April 5 case, the aviation industry worker was booked by Rabodi police based on information provided by local resident Nilesh Mayekar that his Facebook page had objectionable comments about Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
A week later, however, Thane Joint CP (Crime) VV Laxminarayana instructed Rabodi police to drop the section the case.
In Nashik, Bhadrakali police booked Uday Sirsat for sending a message on WhatsApp to his estranged wife, a police inspector posted in Mumbai. The couple married in 2008 and filed for divorce at a family court in Mumbai in 2012.
“I had forwarded a text message to my wife on Holi eve. She objected to it and complained to the Nashik police. Based on her complaint, the police registered a case against me under section 66(A) of the IT Act,” Sirsat told Mumbai Mirror from Nashik. On August 11, Sirsat approached the Nashik district court which granted him bail in the case.
Immediately after the Thane police registered the case under section 66(A), the office of DGP Sanjeev Dayal issued a circular to all police departments across the state informing them of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down section 66(A) of the IT Act.
The Supreme Court had scrapped the controversial IT Act section while hearing a petition that said it goes against the right to freedom of speech and expression. The petition was filed following the arrest of Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan in Palghar in 2012, for a Facebook post on the shutdown after the death of Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray.
Despite the circular from the state police headquarters, PI Madhukar Kad of Bhadrakali police station, who is the investigating officer in the case, claimed he was correct in registering a case under the scrapped IT Act section. “The section has not been scrapped completely,” Kad said, before disconnecting the phone saying he was busy in a meeting. Cyber law experts believe the case could land the police in trouble. “Invoking section 66A of the IT Act indicates that the police are not in tune with the changes in the laws.
If someone seriously pursues the case, it can even invite contempt of court. Moreover, nobody seems to be paying attention to the circulars issued by the DGP’s office. This is a sorry state of affairs,” said advocate and cyber security law expert Prashant Mali.
In the case of Sirstat, Mali said, “The police will have to drop the IT Act charges. If the complainant has evidence, then the investigating officer can always book the culprit for outraging a woman’s modesty and other IPC sections.”
Meanwhile, Sirsat has taken up the issue with the state government and filed a complaint on Aaple Sarkar, a portal where citizens can post their complaint for action by the government.
THE ISSUE EXPLAINED
What was section 66(A)
The section dealt with offensive messages on social networking sites and other device-based communication like cell phones. Punishment under the Act was imprisonment for up to three years and a fine
The SC judgment
The apex court had scrapped the section in March this year while hearing a petition challenging it on the grounds that it goes against the right to freedom of speech and expression. The petition was filed following the arrest of Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan of Palghar in 2012, for their Facebook post on the city being shut down after the death of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray.