P.Rajeeve had First Raised Voice Against Sec.66A in Parliament

P.Rajeeve, CPI(M) member of Parliament from Kerala, was one of the first people to raise voice against the draconian Sec.66A of the IT Act which was recently struck down as ‘unconstitutional’ by the Supreme Court.On 14 December 2012, he moved a private member’s resolution calling for drastic changes in the law. We give below excerpts from his speeches in the RajyaSabha criticizing the provision,and also the government for defending it.

In the Private Members’ Resolution moved by P.Rajeeve it is said, among other things:

“(T)he language of section 66A of the amended Act goes farbeyond the reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech, asmandated under Article 19 (2) of the Constitution of India;

 India, being the world’s largest vibrant democracy, reasonablerestrictions on freedom of speech need to be very strictly construedand section 66A of the amended Act, needs to be amended tomake the Indian Cyber law in sync with the principles enshrined inthe Constitution of India and also with the existing realities of socialmedia and digital platforms today…”

While moving the Resolution, P.Rajeeve said:

“All of us are awarethat there is no specific law for protecting freedom of the press inour country. It is interpretation of article 19 (1) of our Constitutionwhich ensures Right to Free Speech and Expression. The media isenjoying this freedom. The country is benefiting from that. We areensuring the democratic nature of our system. ….

But then why is thisnot allowed to the new media? A person can think and writecriticising what incident has happened in the print media. A personcan write a story criticising one thing in the visual media. But ifsome persons just tweets a thing — sometimes the access is onlyfor 100 or 150 persons, sometimes it is for 2 or 3 persons — then,they are booked and arrested after sunset and they were jailed forseveral days. This is totally unconstitutional. ….

I totally agree thatfreedom is not absolute. Article 19(2) of our Constitution strictlymentions the reasonable restrictions on article 19(1) of ourConstitution. I am not against the regulation on internet. ….. But I am totallyagainst the control of the internet where the freedom ends.Regulation is okay as per article 19 (2) of our Constitution.”

Referring to the UPA government’s attempt to bring in some new guidelines for the implementation of Sec.66A, P.Rajeeve said:

“(T)he Minister, Mr. KapilSibal had declared some newguidelines for Section 66A of the Act.But according to these guidelines before registeringcomplaints under Section 66A as per media reports junior policeofficials will have to seek the approval from an officer in the rank ofDeputy Police Commissioner in rural areas and Inspector Generalsin metros.

This is a cosmetic treatment to divertthe attention from the controversial Section 66A of the IT Act. Asan eminent lawyer, ShriKapilSibal is well aware that theseguidelines have no backing of law. The primary legislation is theAct as passed by the Parliament. The subordinate legislation isthe rules and regulations. It should be in accordance with theparent Act; it should not be ultra vires. These guidelines are onlythe third stage of legislation. Guidelines cannot overrule the reachof the main legislation.”

Analysing the provisions in greater detail, P.Rajeeve said:

“Now I come to the draconian provisions of Section 66A of theIT Act. After the IT Act was passed in 2000, there were regularreports of cyber crimes and tax enforcement that surrenderedthem. It is true that in this atmosphere the Government haddecided to amend the IT Act. That is true. All of us agree to it.The first amendment Bill was prepared in 2006. The provision ofSection 66A appeared all of asudden. I have gone through all the documents, but I could notfind a legislative note which explains its presence….

(T)he amendment Bill was passed along with seven other Bills inseven minutes on 22nd December in the LokSabha and it waspassed in the RajyaSabha on 23rd December, 2008, the last day ofthe Winter Session without any discussion! While we were goingthrough Section 66A of this Act, Sir, any person who sends bymeans of a computer resource or a communication device (a) anyinformation that is grossly offensive or has a menacing character or(b) any information which he knows to be false, what was thepurpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience? How can youdefine ‘inconvenience’? It is very difficult for an objectiveinterpretation. It is only easy for a subjective interpretation.”

Referring to certain observations made by the Supreme Court at that time while dealing with the PIL, and how the government was refusing to be guided by these obiter dicta, P.Rajeeve said:

Sir, the Apex Court of the country saw a deeper problem withthe wording of the provisions in the Act and also its implementationby State police officers, while considering the PIL recently. It alsosaid that the wording of this Section is very wide as it can apply withregard to anybody or any activity.And thehon. Minister is not ready to accept that reading of the Judges.While replying to the question, he strictly took the position that itwas in accordance with article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution. ThisSection questions the fundamental right of speech and expressionas enshrined in the Constitution of India.”

A few months later P.Rajeeve again spoke on the issue in the RajyaSabha on 1 March 2013:

“The Apex Court has given itsinterpretation ofArticle 19(2) several times. I would not like to givedetails, but it is well known to all as to how these reasonablerestrictions have been implemented. Article 19(2) clearly defineswhat ‘reasonable restrictions’ are. It is true that we would find itdifficult to define certain phrases in article 19(2), but that has beendone by the Constitution-makers and it has been done by the ApexCourt while interpreting it in different cases. It is already there.Then, why are you adding new abstract phrases only for the newmedia, or imposing restrictions on Article 19(1)—‘right to freedomof speech and expression’? Why are you adding terms like‘inconvenience to’ here? My request is: there should be somerestriction. As I have stated in the beginning, I am not against anyregulation but I am totally against control. In ‘control’ there is nofreedom but in ‘regulation’ there is freedom. So, while there shouldbe some reasonable restrictions, they should be in accordance witharticle 19(2) of the Constitution. The restrictions given in article19(2) are sufficient. I have the right to draw a cartoon in anewspaper but I have no right to draw, to paste, to share, thesame cartoon in a new media! What is the logic behind that?What is the reason for that? I can write a piece in the print media, Ican make a statement in the visual media but I have no right to dothe same in the new or the developing media! What is the basis forthat? What is the logic behind that? That is the main question. Ihope, the Minister would address the issue and tell us why he hasmade a distinction between the new media, the print media and thevisual media for the same offences?