Case Summary: Shreya Singhal vs. Union of India

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Title of the case: Shreya Singhal vs Union of India

Citation: AIR 2015 SC 1523

Court:- Supreme Court of India

Bench:- J. Chelameswar, Rohinton Fali Nariman

 Parties:

Petitioner: Shreya Singhal

Respondent: Union of India

Brief Facts of the Case:

In the year 2012, two girls named as Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan, was arrested by the Mumbai police. The arrest was made for expressing their displeasure at a bandh which was called in by the members of Shiv Sena people in Maharashtra for the incident of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackery’s death. The accusation made against the petitioners was that they were involved in posting their comments on the Facebook and liking the comment at the same time which resulted in widespread public protest. The petitioners by the way of Public Interest, filed the writ petition under Article-32 of the Constitution claiming that section 66A of IT Act 2000 violates the right of freedom of speech and expression of an individual.

Issues involved:

1) Whether Sections 66-A, 69-A and 79 of the IT Act are constitutionally valid?

2) Whether Section 66A of IT Act is violative of fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression?

Petitioner’s Argument:

  1. Article -66A of IT Act 2000 infringes the right of Freedom of Speech and Expression as enshrined under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution.
  2. The petitioners argued that the causing of disturbance, hassle and so forth are not covered under the reasonable restrictions as expressed under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution.
  3. Section- 66A is vague in nature and infirmity has been created by this section as it does not properly define the terminology used under the section and it left the gates open for interpretations of this section according to the desire of the law enforcement agencies. Thus, the limitation is absent and not provided by the section.
  4. The section violates the Article 14 of the Indian Constitution as there is no “Intelligible differentia” with respect to why just methods for communication are focused by the Section-66 A. This results in self-discrimination which by the way violates the Article 14, 21 of the constitution.
  5. The petitioners also argued that the section construed arbitrary powers to the authorities for its interpretation.

Respondent Argument:

Objections rose on behalf of the respondents against the maintainability of the writ petition:

1) It is the legislature who is responsible to meet the requirements of people and the court is allowed to interfere only in case of violation of Part-III of the Constitution. The respondent argued that there is presumption in favour of constitutionality of law in question.

2) It was contended that the probability of abuse of section could not be a possible ground for declaring the section as invalid.

3) The vagueness is not the ground to declare the statue as unconditional when the statue itself is not arbitrary in nature.

Judgment:

The court said: “Every expression used is nebulous in meaning. What may be offensive to one may not be offensive to another”. Therefore, the interpretation was held to be subjective in nature. Hence the court ordered 66A as violative of right to freedom of speech and expression and is not covered under the grounds of reasonable restrictions given under Article 19(2). The court also held that blocking of information for public access given under Section 69A of IT Act is constitutionally valid in nature.

Other landmark cases:

Romesh Thapper v. State of Madras 1950 AIR 124

Khushboo v. Kanniamal & Anr (2010) 5 SCC 600

Bennett Coleman & Co. V. Union of India & Ors [1960] 2 S.C.R. 1671

Conclusion:

The court observed that the expressions used in 66A are completely open-ended and undefined and it is not covered under Article 19(2) of Indian Constitution. Section 66A actually had no proximate connection or link with causing disturbance to public order or with incitement to commit an offence and hence it was struck down by the court. The approach adopted by the court was to protect the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression and in no way the legislation can take away this right by claiming the shield under Article-19(2) of the Constitution.

Also, the court by applying the rule of severability has struck down only those sections which were vague and arbitrary in nature. The whole legislation need not be held as invalid.

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