The Kerala chief minister is responsible for the amendment (118A) to the Police Act to replace Article 66A of the IT Act, which appears to be a dubious attempt to prevent people questioning fraud at the highest level of the state bureaucracy.
The amendment calls for suitable “punishment for making, expressing, publishing or disseminating anything that is threatening, insulting or defamatory.” So the amendment empowers the police to file cases against anyone since it can be interpreted in any way. Chief Minister Pinaray Vijayan said his government had “repeatedly received complaints against the misuse of social media, especially by certain online channels.” The ordinance
Earlier, section 118D was quashed by the Indian Supreme Court on the grounds that it was contrary to the freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 19 (1) (a) of the constitution. This coincided with the repeal of 66A of the Information Technology Act in 2015 in the case of the Shreya Shringal v. Union of India. In that case, it was suggested that there was a situation where a case could not be filed against those who post insulting posts on social media.
So the move by the Kerala government, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), is an attempt to keep the mouths of all media shut, creating restrictions of the kind seen during the Emergency.
As Prof. Sunil P. Ilayidom, a public intellectual, put it, “The measures should not be taken in such a way as to undermine freedom of expression and freedom of the press. The new amendment contains provisions that could be so abusive and counterproductive. The government should look into it and make the necessary corrections.”
The opposition has expressed concern over this amendment to the Kerala Police Act, saying it gives the police excessive power and potentially curtails the freedom of the press.
“This will in no way be used against free speech or impartial journalism,” Vijayan said in the face of the such criticism.
Critics say the state government's amendment to Section 118A of the Police Act, intended to prevent cyberattacks, is also likely to be misused. Critics point out that this poses a greater challenge than Section 118D, which the Supreme Court repealed.
In this situation, no doubt the chief minister is to blame. But then the ordinance is only a continuation of practices pushed in the north of the country. While this may be a liability to the chief minister, it will encourage the Indian federal government.
The CPM will now be aware of a tightening knot. The amendment will not be easy to withdraw. But there is no other way but to do that. All the agencies are worried about what needs to be done first. Of course, people's privacy and personal liberty must be protected. But again, how?
The opposition was swift to express its concern, with the Congress' Shashi Tharoor, the member of parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram, called it “troubling” and pointing out that the ordinance was “so loosely drafted it could also be used against political opponents.”
According to Tharoor, “This law can and will be challenged in the courts, because any political attack on social media against a party or ‘class of persons’ (eg ‘Sanghis’ or ‘libtards’) could attract its provisions. It must be revised to narrow its application to flagrant cases of abuse and threats only.”
the other hand,
MP V Muraleedharan from
the Bharatiya Janata Party says,
“By imposing curbs just on social media and mainstream media, CPM
proves that they are autocratic and not suited for democracy.”
Now, facing opposition from even their closest allies, the Kerala government is under pressure to delay the implementation of the act till it is further scrutinized in the state assembly.