Shreya Singhal v. UOI

Bench: Justice Chelameswar, R.F. Nariman

Appellant : Shreya Singhal

Respondent : UOI

Citation : Writ petition (Criminal) No. 167 of 2012

Issue :
  • Constitutionality of Section 66A
  • A girl posted a Facebook status in Palghar, Maharashtra, insinuating that Mumbai had shut down in fear, rather than out of respect for the funeral procession of a certain political leader.
  • The girl and another girl along who had “liked” the post, were arrested under the Indian Penal Code Section 295A and the notorious Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
  • The arrested girls were released later and it was decided that the criminal cases against them would be dropped, yet their arrests pulled in protest across the country.
  • It was assumed that the police abused their authority by invoking Section 66A at the same time as it constitutes a violation of the fundamental right of speech and expression.
  • A petition was filed by the applicant in public interest, pursuant to Article 32 of the Constitution of India, seeking to make Section 66A, 69A and Section 79 unconstitutional on the basis that the phraseology used in Section 66A, 69A and Section 79 of the IT Act, 2000 is so broad and vague and, at the same time, unable to be evaluated on objective standards that it is susceptible to abuse.
Appellant’s contentions:
  • Petitioners argued that s.66A was unconstitutional because its intended protection against annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, or ill-will falls outside the purview of Article 19(2), which is a proviso clause to Article 19(1)(a).
  • They argued that the law was unconstitutionally vague as it failed to specifically define its prohibitions.
  • It was also contended that the law had a “chilling effect” on the right to freedom of expression.
Respondent’s contentions :
  • The defendants argued that the legislature is in the best position to fulfill the needs of people and courts may interfere with legislative process only when “a statute is clearly violative of the rights conferred on the citizen under Part-III of the Constitution.”
  • The government contended that mere presence of abuse of a provision may not be a ground to declare the provision as unconstitutional.
  • According to the defendants, vagueness could not be a ground to declare a statute unconstitutional “if statute is otherwise legislatively competent and non-arbitrary”.
Final Decision:

The Court invalidated Section 66A of IT Act in its entirety as it violated the right to freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.

It held that s.66A is capable of imposing chilling effect on right to freedom of expression because the provision fails to define terms, such as inconvenience or annoyance.

Court followed the U.S. judicial precedent which holds that where no reasonable standards are laid down to define guilt in a Section, that Section must be struck down as being arbitrary and unreasonable.