Citation: AIR 2015 SC 1523
Judges- J. Chelameswar, Rohinton Fali Nariman
It was a landmark case that was argued before the Apex Court of India.
In 2002, two girls, Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan, were arrested by the Mumbai police on the grounds of expressing their resentment towards a bandh that was called by the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra because of the demise of its Chief Bal Thackery. The two girls were accused of posting their opinions on Facebook and liking similar comments, resulting in widespread public protests against the Shiv Sena. The petitioners (Shaheen and Rinu) filed a Writ Petition under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution through a Public Interest Litigation. They claimed that Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000 is violative of their Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression granted under Article 19 of the Constitution of India.
There were mainly three issues that were raised in this case.
Whether Section 66A, 69A and 79 of the IT Act, 2000 are valid under the Indian Constitution?
Whether Section 66A of the IT Act violates the Fundamental Right of Freedom of Speech and Expression granted under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India?
Whether Section 66A is violative of Article 14 and creates a sense of discrimination?
The Petitioners contended that Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000 violates their Right of Freedom of Speech and Expression as enshrined under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. They argued that the causing of disturbance and hassle does not fall under the ambit of "reasonable restrictions" laid down under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India. They also said that Section 66A is vague and does not define the terms correctly, leaving a loophole for everyone to interpret it differently. Thus, the limitation is absent and not laid down by the Section therein.
On the other hand, the Respondents contended that the legislature is in the best position to fulfil the needs of people and the courts may interfere with the legislative process only when "a statute is violative of the rights conferred on the citizen; under Part-III of the Constitution." They said that the Courts could interpret it in the manner they wish to. They further argued that the probability of abuse of a Section could not be a possible ground for declaring the Section as invalid. The vagueness of the Section should not be a ground to declare the statute unconditional when the statute itself is not arbitrary.
The Apex Court observed that the expressions used in 66A are nebulous and are not covered under Article 19(2). Instead of this, the interpretation was held to be subjective. Hence, the court ordered Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000 to be violative of the Fundamental Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression granted under Part III of the Indian Constitution. Further said that it does not fall within the ambit of reasonable restrictions given under Article 19(2), making it invalid in its entirety. However, it also stated that Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000 is, in no way, violative of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. The court further stated that Section 69A is intra-vires to the Constitution of India. The Supreme Court also read down Section 79 and rules under the Section, which held that online intermediaries would only be obligated to take down content on receiving an order from a court or government authority. By applying the Doctrine of Severability, the court has struck down only those sections that were vague and arbitrary.
The Apex Court here cited Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras, , saying freedom of speech lays the foundation of all democratic organisations.
In another concurring judgment, Beg, J. said, in Bennett Coleman & Co. & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors.,  that the freedom of speech and the press is the Ark of the Covenant of Democracy because public criticism is essential to the working of its institutions.
This case broadened the scope of the Fundamental Right of Freedom of Speech and Expression given down under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. In the author's opinion, this landmark case has preserved one of the basic rights of a citizen in a democracy. Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression can be exercised while expressing one's dissent to the government's decisions, and the Apex Court ensured the same in the above case. Every citizen of India has a right to form their political view. If they disagree with the government at any point, they should have a right to express it without the fear of having unreasonable and arbitrary restrictions.