New Kerala law may not pass muster as SC struck down a similar one in 2015

New Kerala law may not pass muster as SC struck down a similar one in 2015

NEW DELHI: Kerala’s new ordinance promulgated purportedly to protect women and children from cyber attacks is similar to Section 118(d) of the Kerala Police Act which the Supreme Court had struck down in 2015 in the Shreya Singhal case, terming it to be in breach of right to free speech.
The introduction of Section 118A in the Kerala Police Act and its inclusion in the existing Section 125 of the Act makes offences under the new provision cognisable, though bailable. However, it gives the police unlimited power to arrest anyone whom it suspects would continue to make statements in all kinds of media “threatening, abusing, humiliating or defaming” any person or a class of people.
Anyone found guilty under Section 118A will be punished with imprisonment up to three years or a fine up to Rs 10,000, or both.
Section 118A does not make any specific reference to rising crimes against women or children, a ruse given by the LDF government for bringing the new law through an ordinance. It also does not talk of inadequacy in existing provisions under IPC or Information and Technology Act to deal with such crimes.
The overarching ambit of Section 118A, when it says “whoever makes, expresses, publishes or disseminates through any kind of mode of communication” will bring under its purview speeches made on the roadside or public platforms, a telephone call or a social media post, an article in a newspaper or a web portal, and programmes on TV channels.
Compared to Section 118A, its earlier avatar, Section 118(d), appears milder. The latter provided that police could arrest any person “who causes annoyance to any person in an indecent manner by statements or verbal comments or telephone calls or calls of any type or by chasing or sending messages or mails by any means”.
The milder Section 118(d) had evoked strong critique from the SC in the Singhal case. Striking it down, it had said, “Information that may be grossly offensive or which causes annoyance or inconvenience are undefined terms which take into the net a very large amount of protected and innocent speech. A person may discuss or even advocate, by means of writing disseminated over the internet, information that may be a view or point of view pertaining to governmental, literary, scientific or other matters which may be unpalatable to certain sections of society.
“It is obvious that an expression of a view on any matter may cause annoyance, inconvenience or may be grossly offensive to some. A certain section of a particular community may be grossly offended or annoyed by communications over the internet by ‘liberal views’,” the SC had said..
Providing an additional reason for quashing Section 118(d), it had said, “We, therefore, hold that the section is unconstitutional also on the ground that it takes within its sweep protected speech and speech that is innocent in nature.”

Asia