Shreya Singhal v. Union Of India

NameShreya Singhal v. Union Of India
CitationAIR 2015 SC 1523
CourtSupreme Court of India
BenchJ. Chelameswar, J. Rohinton Fali Nariman
Date Decided24th March, 2015

In recent times, we have been witnessing a spike of cases in terms of hatred which are either delivered by politicians or media, or any citizen of the country which usually results in violence among the public. Sensational reporting on such critical issues is made just for the sake of obtaining viewership and notoriety and hence results in tarnishing the image of any citizen.

According to the research of various legal scholars, it has been observed that the freedom of expression upsurges in the instance where social media handled by various people around the world is misusing the technology solely for propagating the view that either defame or by comments contradicting the views earlier made by any reputed authority.         

The Right to freedom and Expression is guaranteed to the citizen of the country and not to any foreigner. One of the most basic elements in a healthy democracy is to establish an area or path where citizens can participate fully and effectively in the decision-making process of the country.    

Introduction

This case serves the foundation of the Freedom of Speech and Expression in India which also plays an important role in a democratic country. The freedom of speech and expression to the citizens is not only guaranteed by the constitution but is also provided by various international conventions to name few they are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), European Conventions on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom, and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). These organization not only talks about the freedom of speech and expression but directly responsible for the protection of such rights if violated by any other person living in the country.

Shreya Singhal union of India[1] is a landmark case where Section 66-A of the Information Technology Act was stuck down solely on the purpose that it was violating the right mentioned under article 19 of the Indian Constitution that is the Freedom of Speech and Expression. 

However, the right of freedom and expression embedded inthe constitution of India is not absolute and thus the government of the country has imposed some reasonable restrictions to maintain the sovereignty and integrity of the country. In the case of Romesh Thappar v. the State of Madras,[2] the court rightly pointed out that freedom of expression includes the freedom of propagating ideas and to publish them but also the fact of not harming anyone’s integrity should always be looked upon.

The whole case is about the right of freedom of speech and expression including its absolute or non-absolute character.

Facts

  • Two girls named Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Shrinivasan expressed their displeasure against the Bandh that was declared by Shiv Sena in Mumbai on the death of the leader named Bal Thackrey. They did by posting a comment on Facebook and by liking certain posts regarding the same.
  • The action was taken against them and immediately under section 66 A of the Information and Technology Act the Mumbai police arrested them solely on the purpose of commenting and it was believed that the hatred and annoyance in the minds of the public at large were created by their action.
  • After several days, the girls were released but the case attracted public protest at large, and the same was bought by media into limelight stating that the provision of Section 66 A of the Information Technology Act violated the right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under article 19 of the Constitution of India.

It was also observed that the arrest made by the Mumbai police was made without the warrant and due to which the police authorities abused their power by invoking the provisions mention in section 66 of the I.T.[3] Act.

  • Further, it was observed that many innocent people also got arrested for merely expressing their views and opinion which according to the government were full of hatred and obnoxious content.

After the incident soon the Central Government in 2013 issued an advisory notice stating that no one can be arrested without the knowledge of the Inspector general of police.

Soon after challenging the validity of section 66 A of the I.T. Act, under article 32 of the Indian Constitution, several petitions were filed before the court of law. The petitions files were clubbed by the Supreme Court of India. Hence, the case was named as Shreya Singhal v. Union of India.

Issue

Whether section 66 A of the Information and Technology Act is violative of the rights mentioned in the Indian Constitution particularly article 19 that is the Freedom of Speech and Expression?

Summary of Arguments Made by The Petitioner

  • The first and foremost contention raised by the petitioner in his plaint was that the section dealing with the punishment of sending offensive messages through public service communication systems that is section 66 A of the I.T. Act is a violative provision under article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution dealing with freedom of Speech and Expression.

In the case of Romesh Thappar, the court rightly pointed out that freedom of speech is the foundation of all democratic countries and thus without any political or discussions based on debate no public education can be further conducted.

In another case Sakal Papers Ltd. and others v. Union of India[4] that the right under article 19 is of great importance. It is build based on the democratic criteria prevailing in the country. It is also mentioned that the interest to alter or impose general restrictions of carrying of any business is within the hands of the public and no state can immediately intervene to curtail anybody is right of freedom.

In other words, the state cannot make any other law which directly or indirectly hampers any of the fundamental rights (mentioned in part III in the constitution of India) of any citizen of the country.  

 In another case named as Bennet Coleman and Co. and others v. Union of     India and others,[5] the judgment of Justice Beg J. stated that being the Ark of democracy the freedom of speech and expression is essential for typically criticizing the public institution just to leaving behind the scope of improvement in their field.

According to article 19 of the UDHR, the freedom of speech and expression has been granted to each member of the country and is ensured to enjoy this right without the interference of anyone also to add more those member granted with such right can impart any information and ideas given by media regardless of any authority by which it is delivered by.

Thus it is proved that freedom of speech and expression holds an evidentiary value along with the importance in the eyes of the law in which people have a right to express their views and opinion freely but section 66 A of the I.T. Act is totally against such article of the constitution.

  • The second contention made by the petitioner is that the section of I.T. particularly section 66 A is creating a nuisance and annoyance in the functioning of the country. It was said by the petitioner that the section was creating danger and obstruction for the people and the constitution of India as it does not cover the ambit of reasonable restrictions of freedom provided under clause 2 of the article.

Indeed, freedoms are not absolute in nature. Certain restrictions are necessary to be imposed on decency and rational between the country members. 

  • The third contention made it clear by the petitioner that section 66 A is vague and thus not properly interpreted by the Act itself. It is said that people interpret the section according to their needs and desires as the case may demand so. This can highly abuse the Act and the said provisions.
  • The last contention made by the petitioner stated that section 66 A is violating the fundamental right of equality mentioned in article 14 of the Indian constitution. This is said on the basis that one cannot discriminate as to what kind of citizens can perform certain things on their social sites and what kind of citizens are restricted in the same scenario. Hence, the classification made between the citizens is a violative factor under article 14.

Summary of Arguments Made by The Respondent

The respondent fruitfullydefended the contention made by the petitioner based on proving the validity of section 66 A of the I.T Act. According to the respondent, the legislature can rightly decide the position best suited for the people concerning the above-mentioned section, and accordingly, the declaration of section 66 A will be held unconstitutional if the legislature feels that it is violating the part III of the Indian Constitution.

Respondent further claimed that just because the police authority abused the section that does not mean that the whole section of the I.T. Act will be held inconsistent.

Lastly, the respondent contended that just because of the vagueness in language does not prove that the section is unconstitutional. According to the contention made by the respondent, the procedure of amendment is always open for such faults in the provisions.

Judgment

Agreeing with the contention made by the petitioner on the ground that section 66 A of the I.T. Act affects the right of freedom of speech and expression the Supreme Court held that the words used in the Act can seriously harm the society in terms of injustice and cause serious arbitrariness and thus the said provision of the Act needs to be stuck down as soon as possible.

The court in the present case pointed out the difference between “Hate Speech and Fair Speech”, according to the court any innocent comment made by anyone whose aim is not to defame or disrespect anyone can not fall under the ambit of hate comment.

And further the court denies the principle of violation of article 14 which was a contention made by the petitioner. According to the court, there is intelligible differentia which was made between the print media and speech when further compared with the speech published on the internet. Thus, to challenge the violation of article 14 by the petitioner was failed by the court.

Conclusion

The two-judge bench of the Supreme Court while taking a positive step towards the right of freedom of speech and expression states that millions of people use internet as a medium of expressing their views and opinion. This is correctly stated that while expressing one should never use the internet and abuse any person’s dignity. The use of such provisions should always be made without harming any citizen of the country either physically or mentally.

Thus, court by declaring Section 66 A as unconstitutional made the right open to everyone without disturbing the core value of the rights granted.

 FAQs

Question 1. What Is the Basic Aim of The Information and Technology Act?

 Answer 1. The I.T. Act provides a recognition legally proved to inherit the transactions made through any electronic communication system. Such the I.T. Act is also known as e-commerce and thus particularly protects the citizens from any cybercrime.

Question 2. What Does Section 66 A of The I.T. Act Provides to The Citizen of The Country?

Answer 2. Section 66 A of the Act criminalizes certain offensive acts, comments, and messages on social media platforms. Under this act if anyone makes.

  • A grossly offensive statement
  • Any false statement whose purpose was to create annoyance in the mind of citizens either politician or any normal citizen.
  • Or, meant to mislead statements against the person solely to defame.

Shall be punishable by the law.

 The condition should be these statements should be made by using a technical instrument that is computer or mobile in hand.

References

  1. https://www.lawctopus.com/academike/freedom-of-speech-and-expression/
  2. https://cis-india.org/internet-governance/resources/section-66A-information-technology-act
  3. https://www.bing.com/search?q=+an+abstract+right+to+freedom+of+speech+and+expression&qs=n&form=QBRE&sp=-1&pq=an+abstract+right+to+freedom+of+speech+and+expression&sc=1-53&sk=&cvid=B7845964E8274B90BBCEF5904575C533
  4. https://www.slideshare.net/soumya18srk/shreya-singhal-vs-union-of-india-case-study
  5. https://www.civilsdaily.com/striking-the-sec-66a-of-it-act-the-shreya-singhal-case-2/

[1]AIR 2015SC 1523

[2] AIR 1950 SC 124

[3] Information and Technology Act

[4] (1962) 3 S.C.R.

[5] (1973) 2 S.C.R. 757 at 829

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