Shreya Singhal v Union of India: Case Comment

By | August 4, 2021
Shreya Singhal v Union of India

This case comment on “Shreya Singhal v Union of India[1] prepared by Eshanee Bhattacharya is one of the landmark cases where the Supreme Court of India laid down emphasis on the freedom of speech and expression[2]. The judgement struck down Section 66-A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 as violative of free speech and expression in a democratic setup.

The judgement played a major role in widening the scope of free speech and expression and empowering a citizen a free will of thought, speech and expression thus securing the essence of democracy as well as liberty of an individual.

Citation: AIR 2015 SC 1523

Quorum: Division Bench

Bench: Hon’ble J. Chelameswar and J. Rohinton Fali Nariman

Date of Decision: 24 March 2015

Brief Facts

The case relates to a petition which raised a substantial question over the constitutional validity of Section 66-A of The Information Technology Act, 2000. The case revolves around the arrest of 2 girls named Shaheen Dhadha and Rinu Srinivasan who were arrested for posting objectionable posts on Facebook, a social media platform, about the shut down of the city of Mumbai after the death of a political leader, Bal Thackrey.

They were arrested under Section 66-A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 for transmitting information for causing annoyance, ill-will, danger and insult but later released as criminal charges against them were dropped.

Despite their release, the circumstance gained a lot of media attention and criticism and there were nationwide protests on the fact that police was abusing their power by invoking Section 66-A and curtailing freedom of speech and expression.

Later the women challenged the arrest by way of a writ petition under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution challenging and 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 to be violative of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. It was asserted that the wordings of Section 66-A were ambiguous as well as arbitrary under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.

Issues

A writ petition[3] under Article 32 was filed before the Supreme Court of India were the main issues were-

  • Whether Sections 66-A, 69-A and 79 were violative of Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution and curtailed free speech.
  • Whether arrests of netizens for the comments on social media be violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Arguments

The petitioners argued that Section 66-A of the Information Technology Act,2000 takes away the freedom of Speech and Expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution as well as does not fall within the reasonable restrictions as mentioned under Article 19(2) and is outside the scope of it.

They also argued that the terminology used in Section 66-A was not clear, were ambiguous and were open to the interpretation of the law enforcement. It was also argued that there was no intelligible differentia in accordance with Article 14 of the Indian Constitution as only Netizens were being charged under Section 66-A

It was also argued by the petitioner that such a provision was discriminatory and arbitrary hence ultra-vires of the constitution.

The Respondents on the other hand argued that abuse of laws and powers by the authorities should not be a sole reason to declare a law ultra-vires the constitution. Broad Terminologies are used in law in order to protect the citizens from misusing the laws through any medium hence ambiguity in any law should not be a ground to pronounce a law unconstitutional.

It was also argued that lawmaking is a function of the Legislature and it knows best and that the Judiciary should only step in and interpret the law if there is a clear violation of Part III of the constitution.

Judgement Analysis: Shreya Singhal v Union of India

The Judgement was pronounced by the division bench consisting of Justice Chelameswar and Justice Rohinton Nariman. The court held that:

  • Section 66-A of the Information Technology Act,2000 should be struck down in its entirety as it is violative of Article 19(1) (a) and is not following under the exception under article 19(2)
  • Section 69-A of the Act is Constitutionally valid.
  • Section 79 is valid subject to Reading down of section 79(3)(b) of the Act.
  • Sections are not violative of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.

The Preamble of the Indian constitution ensures freedom of Thought and Expression, articulation and it is of key essentialness.

The privilege to opportunity in Article 19 ensures the Freedom of discourse and articulation which was recognized in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[4], where the Supreme Court held that the right to speak freely of discourse and articulation has no geographical barrier and limitation and it moves with the privilege of a resident to gather data and to trade thought with others not just in India however abroad moreover.

In Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras[5], it was expressed that “Freedom of speech and Expression that of the press lay at the foundation of all democratic organisations, without free political discussion no public education which is essential for the proper functioning of the process of popular government, is possible.

The Supreme Court in Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms & Anr[6] held that “One-Sided data, disinformation, deception and noninformation, all similarly make a clueless populace which makes democracy a farce. Thus it can be construed that free speech is an essential element in a democracy.

Liberty of speech and expression is in fact the most crucial of all freedoms. Inside the leading case of Bennet Coleman v. Union of India [7], it turned into found that freedom of speech and press is the ark of the covenant of democracy due to the fact assessment of views via people is crucial for the running of a democratic nation.

The Supreme Court in Sakal Newspapers v. Union of India[8] determined that freedom of speech and expression is one of the most important concepts under a democratic constitution. Further inside Khushboo v. Kannimal[9] the apex courtroom determined that the freedom of speech and expression even no longer absolute in nature is important as we need to tolerate unpopular evaluations.

Conclusion

The Judgement certainly expands the horizons for freedom of speech and expression and preserves the essence of democracy by upholding the right of the citizen to form opinions and express them in the public domain. This judgement, indeed, is a watershed moment for Article 19(1)(a) this is so because everyone has a right to form their political opinions and express them without the fear of having unreasonable and arbitrary restrictions.


References

[1] (2013) 12 S.C.C. 73

[2] Indian Constitution Article 19(1)(a)

[3] W.P. (crl).No.167 of 2012

[4] (1978) 2 S.C.R.621

[5] (1950) S.C.R. 594

[6] (2002) 3 S.C.R 294

[7] (1973)2 S.C.R.757

[8] (1962)3 S.C.R.842

[9] 2010) 5 SCC 600


  1. Law Library: Notes and Study Material for LLB, LLM, Judiciary and Entrance Exams
  2. Legal Bites Academy – Ultimate Test Prep Destination
Author: Eshanee Bhattacharya

Eshanee is practicing in the areas of Corporate Commercial, Insolvency and Securities Law. She is an alumnus of the National Institute of Securities Markets. (MNLU Mumbai)

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