Is Kerala Government's Amendment to Police Act Old Wine in New Bottle? Here's All You Need to Know
Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan | Credit: PTI
The Kerala government has introduced a drastic amendment to the Kerala Police Act, 2011 by making to the expression, publication or dissemination of "threatening, abusive, humiliating or defamatory" content punishable by three years of jail time.
The ordinance was introduced by the LDF government in Kerala with a view to clampdown on defamation and abusive content online
and was approved by the state's governor on Saturday. As a result, a new Section 118A has now been introduced in the Kerala Police Act.
The move has caused huge uproar, with critics claiming the amendment is in contravention of the Supre Court, as it is drastically akin to Section 66 A of the Information and Technology Act, which were struck down by the apex court in the 2015 Shreya Singhal case.
What is Section 118A?
According to Section 118 of the Kerala Police Act, 20000, "Whoever makes, expresses, publishes or disseminates through any kind of mode of communication, any matter or subject for threatening, abusing, humiliating or defaming a person or class of persons, knowing it to be false and that causes injury to the mind, reputation or property of such person or class of persons or any other person in whom they have interest shall on conviction, be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees or with both."
What it essentially means is that the Act empowers Kerala police with sweeping powers to scrutinize social media posts, videos, or text and arrest persons on the basis of vague
The act is being criticised as being similar to the controversial Section 118d of the Kerala Police Act, which the SC had struck down in 2015.
What is Section 66A of the IT Act?
Under Section 66A, the sending of any computerized or digital communication that may be considered "grossly offensive", intended to mislead or misinform or causing "annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or will" was criminalised.
Why was Section 66A struck down?
In 2015, in Shreya Singhal vs Union of India, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the petitioner Singhal who had contested the validity of laws like Sec 66A of IT Act of Sec 118(d) of the Kerala Police Act as violative of constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech. The landmark verdict scrapped both the sections as being unconstitutional and as having a "chilling effect" on free speech.
Why did Pinarayi Vijayan roll back the amendment?
केरल की LDF सरकार द्वारा 'सोशल मीडिया पर तथाकथित आपत्तिजनक पोस्ट' करने के कारण 5 साल की सजा सुनकर स्तब्ध हूं।— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) November 22, 2020
Many have opposed the new amendment, claiming that it resurrects the draconian Kerala Police Act that restricts freedom of speech. Congress leader and chief of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala said that the new amendment would restrict civil liberties and muzzle freedom of speech. Other leaders such as P Chidamabaram have also expressed their dissent.
Following the outrage, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said that the law will not be implemented now. He said that there will be a detailed discussion in the state legislative assembly, opinions of all sides will be heard, and then further secession will be taken.