In response to a writ petition in the Supreme Court challenging the validity of Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, the Maharashtra government in its counter affidavit dated January 9, 2013 has made no reference to the arrests of two Air India employees though their case was mentioned in the petition.
The Maharashtra government’s affidavit acknowledges that arresting the two girls from Palghar, Shaheen Dadha and Renu Srinivasan, after a post on Facebook was unwarranted. It said that the government was cognisant of the chilling effect that such incidents could create and had taken action in the matter.
However, there is no mention of the case of the Air India employees who were arrested and jailed for 12 days last May under Section 66 A and other provisions of the IT Act and other laws. One of them, Mayank Sharma, told The Hindu on Wednesday that the Supreme Court’s order on November 30, 2012, had issued a rule on the writ petition.
In addition it had allowed the respondents, including the Maharashtra government, four weeks to file their counter affidavits. It directed Maharashtra in particular to explain the manner in which Ms. Dadha and Ms. Srinivasan were arrested in connection with Ms. Dadha’s Facebook post.
However, Mr. Sharma pointed out that in response to this order the Puducherry government filed a counter affidavit explaining the arrest of Ravi Srinivasan, who tweeted on Karti Chidambaram (in October 2012). West Bengal will have to file an affidavit on the arrest of Professor Ambikesh Mahapatra from Jadavpur University for posting Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee’s cartoons.
The writ petition filed by Shreya Singhal last year lists four cases, including the arrest of the two Air India employees, and submits that Section 66 A violates the Constitution. It asked the Supreme Court to strike down the section and also asked it to lay down a guideline that all offences irrespective of the classification under the first schedule of the Code of Criminal Procedure, if they involve freedom of speech and expression, ought to be treated as non cognisable offences.
While the apex court made specific mention of the Palghar case, the Maharashtra government should have responded to the Air India employees’ case, which is riddled with illegalities, Mr. Sharma said. “The petition makes clear mention of our case and if the two other governments could have provided counter affidavits, there was no reason for the Maharashtra government not to explain our arrest and furnish details of illegally impounding our passports and identity cards which the high court noted while ordering that these documents should be returned to us. In addition a non bailable offence under the IT Act was added by hand in the application to the court, so that we were in jail for 12 days,” he said.
While the Palghar case is closed and the government suspended police officials involved, Mr. Sharma and his colleague K.V. Jaganatharao wrote several letters to the police in vain. Their efforts to meet senior police officers also ended in failure.
On January 7, Mr. Sharma and Mr. Jaganatharao wrote a letter to Joint Commissioner of Mumbai Police (Crime) Himanshu Roy, with copies to the Commissioner and State Home Minister, pointing out the illegal actions of five policemen from the cyber police station in Bandra, who entered their houses after midnight and took them away apart from confiscating their identity cards, computers, phones and passports. Till date they have written 30 letters, eight of them to senior police officers, but have not received any response.
The two men were arrested for allegedly posting objectionable content in a closed group on social networking sites after which their union rival and former Shiv Sainik and present MLC of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Kiran Pawaskar, wrote a letter of complaint to a senior police officer in July, 2011. Nothing was done till March 2012 when a first information report was lodged at the cyber police station, after which they were arrested on May 10, 2012.
Belatedly, last November, the station filed a complaint against Sagar Karnik, an associate of Mr. Pawaskar and also a trade unionist from Air India under Section 66 A. This was done on a counter complaint on July 3 by Mr. Jaganatharao against Mr. Karnik for posting provocative and threatening messages on social networking websites. No action was taken after the FIR was filed, which says Mr. Karnik had posted derogatory comments on Facebook and Orkut.