Allegations of U-turn as Government Prepares to Defend Controversial IT Rule

Allegations of U-turn as Government Prepares to Defend Controversial IT Rule
New Delhi: The BJP-led government is likely to defend before the Supreme Court a controversial provision in the Information Technology Act, sources have told NDTV. Section 66(A), which spells out a three-year jail term for those who post objectionable content online, has often been criticized by many as "draconian" and one that challenges "free speech".

Responding to a clutch of petitions that said the law is against freedom of speech, the top court had last week given the government time till today to explain why the provision cannot be called unconstitutional.

The first of the petitions was filed after the arrest of two teenage girls in Mumbai's Palghar, who had, in a Facebook post, criticized a strike called by the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra following the death of
party patriarch Bal Thackeray in 2012. The BJP, which was in the Opposition at the time, had promised to set up a panel to review Section 66 (A).

"It's not a matter of justification, the question is about safeguards and misuse... Now, if there is a blatant misuse of something, thereafter, you start taking corrective steps," said BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli.

"I think this is a distinct U-turn as far as the present dispensation is concerned, because they were the first to criticize the Congress governments in both the Centre and elsewhere  who had taken kind of tough action using Section 66(A)," said Gopal Sankaranarayan, the lawyer representing one of the petitioners.

"Since police is largely a state subject, it is possible that you could find the muzzling of dissent taking place by BJP governments across the country," he added, referring to the party's recent surge in several states.

Last week, the Supreme Court said, "Heavens are not going to fall if the provisions are stayed, because this country has been in existence for the past 60 years without these provisions".

"Either you file the affidavit within a week or we will stay the operation of the provisions until we dispose of the matter," it said.
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