Case: Petitioner: Shreya Singhal v/s Respondent: Union Of India
Citation: AIR 2015 SC 1523 - Court: Honourable Supreme Court Of India
Bench/Judge: Justice J.Rohinton Fali Nariman, Justice J. Chelameswar.
Judgment Date: 24th March, 2015
Statues/ Constitution Involved:
Important Sections/ Articles:
- Information Technology Act, 2000,
- Kerala Police Act,
- The Constitution Of India.
- Section 66A,69A,79 Of The Information Technology Act ,2000.
- Section 118(D) Of The Kerala Police Act.
- Articles 14,19,19(1)(A) & 19(2) Of The Constitution Of India.
One of the most important element for a healthy democracy is establishing a
space where citizens can participate completely and effectively in the
decision-making process of the particular country. Significantly, Constitution
of India also guarantees every citizen the Right to freedom of speech and
expression, this right is not only guaranteed by constitution but also through
various international conventions like International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights (ICCPR), Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and
European Conventions on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom.
At the same time, cases regarding hatred, false information and Sensational
reporting of critical issues in order to obtain viewership is also increasing.
Therefore, in order to maintain sovereignty and integrity of country the
Government also imposes some reasonable restrictions, because the right to
freedom of speech and expression under the constitution of India is not
Shreya Singhal vs Union of India
 is a landmark case which has created
significant impact in the history of Indian legal system. This case revolves
around the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed in
Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution.
In this case under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution, Ten criminal and civil
writ petitions were filed in the Honourable Supreme Court of India. These writ
petitions raised concerns mainly about the provisions of Sections 66 A, 69 A, 79
of the Information Technology Act of 2000 and Section 118 (d) of the Kerala
Police Act, with respect to the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed
under the provisions of Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India.
In the year 2012, Mumbai police arrested two girls named Shaheen Dhada and Rinu
Shrinivasan for expressing their displeasure in the Facebook against the Bandh
which was declared by Shiv Sena due to death of the leader named Bal Thackrey in
Mumbai. One of the girl posted a statement by criticizing the bandh and the
other one liked the post on social media. Due to this Mumbai police immediately
took action against them under section 66 A of the Information and Technology
They were arrested by the Mumbai police merely on the purpose of commenting,
liking and by believing that their action created hatred and annoyance in the
minds of the public at large. But after few days the girls were released but the
arrest and the case attracted public protest at large further, media agencies
bought into limelight that the provision of Section 66 A of the Information
Technology Act, 2000 has violated the right to freedom of speech and expression
which was guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
Basically, Section 66 A of IT Act,2000 prescribes the punishment for sending
obnoxious texts or messages through communication services. The offence that is
prescribed under Section 66A [Punishment for sending offensive messages through
communication service, etc] of the IT Act,2000 comes under the nature of
cognizable offences, therefore police officers can arrest the person and start
investigation without any warrant.
Because of this, throughout the country many innocent people who were publishing
any objecting political view or opinion which was termed as 'obnoxious content'
or 'hatred' according to the government were arrested under this section 66 A of
IT Act, 2000. After this incident and protests, in the year 2013 the Union
Government of India issued an notice by stating that no individual should be
arrested without the prior knowledge of the superior officer, who is not below
the rank of Inspector general of police.
Therefore, around ten writ petitions were filed by the people from across the
country by challenging the validity of section 66 A of the Information
Technology Act, 2000 under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution before the
supreme court of India. The filed petitions were clubbed by the Supreme Court of
India into a single Public Interest Litigation. Hence, the case was named as the
Shreya Singhal v. Union of India
. In this case firstly Supreme Court
of India issued an interim measure by prohibiting any arrest pursuant to Section
66A unless such arrest is authorized by senior police officers. Further,
Honourable supreme court in the case addressed the constitutional validity of
the provisions which were challenged.
Arguments raised by Petitioner:
- Whether Section 66A, 69A, and 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000
are constitutionally valid?
- Whether 66A of the IT Act, 2000, violates the Right to freedom of speech
- Whether the Information Technology (Procedure & Safeguards for Blocking
for Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009 and Information Technology
"Intermediary Guidelines" Rules, 2011are constitutionally valid?
- Whether Section 118(d) of the Kerala Police Act is constitutionally
Arguments raised by Respondent:
- The main argument from the side of petitioner was that Section 66 A of
the Information Technology Act was Unconstitutional because, It is violative
of right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19 (1)
(a) of the constitution of India.
- Words like 'annoyance', 'inconvenience', 'danger', 'obstruction',
'insult', 'injury', 'criminal intimidation', 'enmity', 'hatred' or 'ill-
will' are all outside the purview of reasonable restrictions mentioned in
Article 19 (2) of the Constitution of India.
- None of the terms mentioned in this section are defined. Further, they
contended that provisions of this section are vague and uncertain therefore
the innocent persons are being charged under this Section.
- Enforcement of this Section would be an insidious form of censorship.
- It has chilling effect on the freedom of speech and expression.
Therefore, it affects the rights of viewer to access various point of views.
- It discriminates against the users of the internet therefore; it is
violative of Article 14 and 21.
- It suffers from procedural unreasonableness.
- There is no intelligible differentia between the internet and other
mediums of communication (Spoken or written).
- Secondly, Learned counsels for the petitioners contended that Section 69
A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and the Information Technology
(Procedure & Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public)
Rules 2009 are unconstitutional because
- In the rules, no pre-decisional hearing has been provided to the
originator of the information.
- Procedural safeguards which are available in Section 95 and 96 of Code
of criminal Procedure are not available here.
- Confidentiality provision affects the fundamental rights of the
petitioners; therefore it is problematic.
- Thirdly, counsel for the petitioners argued that Section 79 of the IT
Act, 2000 and the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules,
2011 are unconstitutional because it is vague, over broad, and violative of
reasonable restrictions under Article 19 (2). During the arguments counsels
criticized the Rules 3(2) and 3(4) and section 79 (3)(b) on various grounds.
- Further learned counsel contended that Section 118 (d) of the Kerala Police
Act is unconstitutional because it is violative of rights guaranteed under
Article 19(1)(a) and the provisions are outside the purview of Article 19(2) of
the Indian Constitution. Further, they questioned the legislative competence of
the Kerala Government to pass such an Act.
In this case the learned additional solicitor general for the respondent
effectively defended the arguments which were put forwarded by the Petitioners.
- Firstly and most importantly the constitutionality of Section 66 A of
the Information Technology Act, 2000 was defended by the respondent counsel
through the following arguments that:
- The legislature is competent and is in the best position to understand the
needs of the people and appreciate the needs of people. The court cannot
simply strike down any law that was enacted by the legislation. The court
will only interfere when a particular statute is violative of the provisions
of Part III of the constitution of India
- The mere possibility of abuse of the particular provision may not be a
ground to declare a provision invalid.
- Loose language may have been used in Section 66A to protect the people
from those violating through the same medium.
- Vagueness of the provision in itself cannot be a valid ground to declare
a whole statute unconstitutional if it is legislatively competent and
- Relaxed standards of reasonable restrictions should apply on a speech
made using the medium of the internet, as the medium is different from other
mediums of communication.
- Government is committed to the ensure the idea of free speech and it is
assured that the government will not use statutes or provisions to curb free
speech unless and until there was any misuse.
- As enshrined in Article 13 of the constitution of India if the court is
not satisfied with any provision, it may apply the Doctrine of Severability,
to save a part of the particular Section.
- Further the Additional solicitor General defended the validity of
Section 79 of the Information Technology Act,2000 and the Information
Technology Rules, 2011 by arguing that it was a common practice world-wide
for the intermediaries to have user agreements similar to what is stated in
Rule 3(2), i.e. intermediaries will have the discretion to bring down some
information on the basis of their own judgment.
After hearing the arguments from Petitioners and Respondent, the Court first
discussed the most important three fundamental concepts in understanding the
freedom of expression i.e., discussion, advocacy, and incitement. According to
the Honourable Supreme Court, "mere discussion or even advocacy of a particular
cause howsoever unpopular is at the heart" of the Article 19(1)(a). Court
further observed that it is only when such discussion or advocacy reaches the
level of incitement that Article 19(2) kicks in. 
Logical Reasoning with relevant case laws and legal provision:
- The two-judge bench of J. Chelameswar and R.F. Nariman struck down the
Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 in its entirety on the
grounds that it is violative of provisions of Article 19 (1) (a), and not saved
under Article 19(2).
- Court upheld the constitutional validity of Section 69A of the
Information Technology Act, 2000 and the Information Technology (Procedure &
Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009.
- Further, Honourable Supreme court declared Section 79 as constitutionally
valid but subject to Section 79(3)(b) being read down to mean that an
intermediary upon receiving actual knowledge from a court order or on being
notified by the appropriate government or its agency that unlawful acts
relatable to Article 19(2) are going to be committed then fails to expeditiously
remove or disable access to such material.
- Similarly, the Information Technology "Intermediary Guidelines" Rules,
2011 has been held valid subjecting to Rule 3 sub-rule (4).
- Section 118 (d) of the Kerala Police Act, was also struck down by the court
on the grounds that it is violative of the provisions of Article 19 (1) (a) and
not abiding the reasonable restrictions mentioned in Article 19(2) of the
Constitution of India. Further, it has been held that this Act will fall within
Entry 1 List III which speaks of criminal law and would thus be within the
competence of the State Legislature in any case
In a democratic country like India every citizen has the right to express their
views and also have right to criticize. Government policies and initiatives is
also not an exception to it, the citizens have every right to express their
views and criticisms to an extent. Significantly the right to freedom of speech
and expression was guaranteed and protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian
constitution. Even the preamble of the Indian constitution ensures freedom of
thought and expression.
In many of the landmark cases also honourable supreme
court of India upheld the right to freedom of speech and expression. For
example, in one of the oldest and landmark case of Romesh Thappar v. State of
the Honourable Supreme court of India held that "freedom of speech lay at
the foundation of all democratic organizations."
Further in the landmark case
of Bennet Coleman v. Union of India
, it has been held that "freedom of speech
and press is the ark of the covenant of democracy because public criticism is
essential to the working of its institutions." But as an exception to the
right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) ,
Article 19(2) allows the government to impose "reasonable restrictions".
Therefore, as per Article 19(2) state can enact laws to impose reasonable
restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred under Article 19(1)(a) in
the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the
State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or
morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an
offence. But this won't allow the state to completely curtail the right to
freedom of speech and expression.
In many of the landmark cases supreme court of
India has clarified the aspect of reasonable restrictions, for example in the
case of Sakal Papers (P) Ltd. & Ors. v. Union of India
it has been held that
"the right of freedom of speech cannot be taken away with the object of placing
restrictions on the business activities of a citizen. Freedom of speech can be
restricted only in the interests of the security of the State, friendly
relations with foreign State, public order, decency or morality or in relation
to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.
Further that the
State cannot make a law which directly restricts one freedom even for securing
the better enjoyment of another freedom. All the greater reason, therefore for
holding that the State cannot directly restrict one freedom by placing an
otherwise permissible restriction on another freedom." 
In the case of Shreya Singhal vs Union of India
, the supreme court of India has
tried to balance between rights guaranteed in Article 19(1)(a) and reasonable
restrictions under Article 19(2). In remarks of the judgment, the Supreme Court
has rightly and clearly observed that "when it comes to democracy, liberty of
thought and expression is a cardinal value that is of paramount significance
under our constitutional scheme".
Further, most importantly, the Court has
provided the distinction between discussion, advocacy, and incitement and the
court held that reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2) on free speech and
expression may be imposed only in instances where incitement is evident. In this
case constitutional validity of section 66A of the IT Act was mainly challenged
because of its violative nature of right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) and
also it falls outside the ambit of reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2).
In this case court found that section 66A is capable to limit all forms of
internet communications as it doesn't "make any distinction between mere
discussion or advocacy of a particular point of view, which may be annoying or
inconvenient or grossly offensive to some and incitement by which such words
lead to an imminent causal connection with public disorder, security of State
etc". Further, section 66A of IT Act fails to establish a clear proximate
relation to the protection of public order.
In the landmark case of Romesh
Thappar, the term public order has been defined as "a state of tranquillity
which prevails amongst the members of a political society". According to the
Court in Shreya Singhal's case under Section 66A an offence has been committed
by sending a message for the purpose of causing annoyance or insult, but the
same law fails to make distinction between mass dissemination and dissemination
to an individual without requiring the message to have a clear tendency of
disrupting public order.
In this case difference between "Hate Speech and Fair
Speech" was also highlighted and according to the Apex court "any innocent
comment made by anyone whose aim is not to defame or disrespect anyone cannot
fall under the ambit of hate comment." With regards to the vagueness of the
section 66A, the Honourable Apex court in the Shreya Singhal's case referred
judgments given by U. S. Supreme Court, in series of judgments U.S. Supreme
court held that:
"there where no reasonable standards are laid down to define
guilt in a Section which creates an offence, and where no clear guidance is
given to either law abiding citizens or to authorities and courts, a Section
which creates an offence and which is vague must be struck down as being
arbitrary and unreasonable."
Further section 66A is also capable of imposing
chilling effect because the provision fails to define terms like inconvenience
or annoyance therefore "a very large amount of protected and innocent speech"
could be curtailed. Therefore, we can understand that section 66A of the IT Act,
is unconstitutional. Similarly, Honourable supreme court in the case of Shreya
Singhal vs. Union of India also struck down the Section 66A of IT Act and
declared it as unconstitutional.
The court, however, denied the allegation of
the petitioner that there is no intelligible differentia between the medium of
communication through print, live, speech compared to speech on the internet. In
the same case an argument was put forwarded by the petitioner's that Section 66A
was in violation of Article 14 of the Constitution against discrimination but
court rejected the argument and noted that the intelligible difference between
information transmitted through internet and other forms of speech, which
permits the government to create separate offenses related to online
Critical Analysis of the case:
Judgment given by Justice J. Chelameswar and R.F. Nariman in the case of Shreya
Singhal v. Union of India's
is a landmark one in the Indian legal history,
especially after independence, that too in this recent era where the voice of
the common citizens is tried to be silenced! In this case we can definitely say
that the Honourable Supreme Court of India took a remarkable step in quashing
the section 66A of Information Technology Act, 2000 which is essentially a
In this landmark case section 66A was declared as
unconstitutional and this landmark judgment upheld the scope of one's Right to
freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (a) in the Constitution of
India. In this case Apex court not only looked into the constitutional validity
of certain sections but the court also focused on some of the other enlightening
aspects like importance of the requirement of incitement and not just advocacy
This case is an perfect example in which we can understand how
acknowledgment of the gaps in the law by judiciary can lead to better and
non-arbitrary legislations and how it can create a broader scope of enjoyment of
one's rights. By narrowly scrutinizing the arbitrary provisions of the law the honourable Court brought about broader enjoyment of the Right to Freedom of
speech and Expression.
Honestly speaking this is an enlightening judgment which
explains about the various doctrines and relates those doctrine with the freedom
of speech and expression. In this case Doctrine of Reasonable Restriction and
Doctrine of vagueness are mainly used in order to analyse whether the provisions
are constitutionally valid or not. With regards to the Doctrine of severability,
this case is in an perfect and clear example.
In this case, Learned Additional
Solicitor General for the respondent put forwarded the argument that "in the
event of Hon'ble Court not being satisfied about the constitutional validity of
either any expression or a part of the provision, the Doctrine of Severability
as enshrined under Article 13 may be resorted to."
But the learned solicitor
failed to mention which part of section 66A can be saved further, in the case of Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras it has been clearly held that "it is not an
authority for the position that even when a provision is severable, it must be
struck down on the ground that the principle of severability is inadmissible
when the invalidity of a statute arises by reason of its contravening
constitutional prohibitions". 
Therefore in this case of Shreya Singhal vs.
also apex court held that "no part of Section 66A is severable and the
provision as a whole must be declared unconstitutional". Whenever the
landmark case regarding freedom of speech was decided by the Supreme Court its
consequences go far beyond an mere individual judgment.
It is one of the
landmark and rare judgment where the Apex Court has adopted the extreme step of
declaring a censorship law which was enacted by the Parliament as
Unconstitutional. The Court has struck down the unconstitutional provision which
tried to silence the voice of common people.
This landmark decision by the Honourable supreme court of India certainly
expanded the freedom of expression by narrowly interpreting the reasonable
grounds of restricting the right. Definitely we can say that this landmark case
upheld the Right to freedom of speech and expression. But unfortunately there
was a setback in enforcement of supreme court order which was given in this
Because, it has been 7 year since this section 66A was stuck
down. But still now in many states the police are arresting the people under
this section. In this modern era where communication is easy and very fast the
police officers still appear to have no information that section 66A has been
has been struck down by the order of Supreme Court.
For example, two years after
this verdict in march 2017, one Zakir Ali Tyagi, an 18-year-old from
Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh was arrested under the Section 66A of Information
Technology Act, 2000 for posting a comment on Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath
and spent 42 days in UP Jail.  In 2012 Prof. Ambikesh Mahapatra, Chemistry
professor of Jadavpur University, was arrested under Section 66 A of IT Act.
trial in his case is yet going on even though Section 66 A of the IT Act, was
struck down. In October 2018 and in May 2019 also two people were arrested
and the charges were framed under Section 66A of IT Act. The two basic reasons
that can be attributed to such ignorance of the law are the authorities,
including the Magistrates and subordinate court judges are unaware of the recent
developments in law, and unaware of recent judgments of the Supreme Court and
High Courts. And most importantly, the political powers also influence authority
to take steps which are in ignorance of law.
Therefore on January, 2019,
People's Union for Civil Liberties who were one of the real petitioners in the Shreya Singhal Case, approached the Supreme Court by highlighting the study and
applied for directions to ascertain implementation of the Court's original
verdict. PUCL's lawyer argued before the court that prior to the scrapping of
Section 66A, there were 229 pending cases under the section. Since then, 1,307
new cases have been registered, of which 570 are still pending.  In a
counter-affidavit, the Union of India put forwarded comprehensive steps it had
taken to make awareness on Section 66A.
This included a letter the Government
wrote on 11th January, 2019 and then a remembrance on 14th January, 2019 to
different state governments asking them to present data on Section 66A cases and
also asking them to close them. But only some states answered. The Supreme Court
on August, 2021 issued notices to all states, Union territories and registrars
general of High Courts on a plea highlighting continued use of Section 66A of
Information Technology Act even though it was held unconstitutional by the court
"This cannot continue," the court said further. The Centre also said
that both the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeITY) and the
Home Ministry had written to chief secretaries of states, administrators of
Union Territories and DGPs of states and UTs, asking them to sensitise LEAs and
direct the police not to register cases under the quashed provision.
Further, Apex court in this case upheld the constitutional validity of Section
69A of the Information Technology Act. 69A (Power to issue directions for
blocking for public access of any information through any computer resource).
Therefore, in the February, 2021 Ministry of Electronics and Information
Technology (MeitY) ordered blocking of certain Twitter accounts and tweets under
Section 69A of the Information Technology Act.
Before this step by MeitY in
February 2019 itself, Jio users were unable to access certain sites like Indian
Kanoon, Reddit and Telegram because all of which were blocked based on the
government orders under the section 69A. Most importantly in the year 2020, 59
Chinese apps, including TikTok, and Cam Scanner, were blocked under this
section.  But from my aspect and recent incidents chances are there for
misuse of this Section 69A, because it has been and it can be used as a tool to
silence the voice of citizens!
Because of numerous reasons, Shreya Singhal vs. Union Of India
(U.O.I) is one of
the landmark and significant judgment with regards to the freedom of speech and
expression in the history of Indian Legal System. In this case, Honourable
supreme court effectively protected the rights of people as well as safeguarded
the interest of society.
The Judgement given by Honourable Judges J. Chelameswar
and R.F. Nariman not only upheld the fundamental right of citizen to freedom of
speech and expression but certainly expanded the limits for freedom of speech
and expression. In a way we can say that this judgement, is a turning point for
Article 19(1)(a) because everyone has a right to express their political
opinions without any fear of having any arbitrary and unreasonable restrictions.
But even though, Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000 has been struck down by Supreme
Court's Order dated 24th March, 2015 numerous cases has been filed against the
innocent people under Section 66A. Police officers and even subordinate court
judges were not aware of this supreme court's order.
Therefore, state must take
effective actions without merely providing circulars to the Higher officials.
Then only this landmark judgment can be practical and fruitful. Even thousand
culprits can escape, but, one innocent person should not be punished! As a whole
this is one of the enlightening case. And the landmark judgment is really
appreciable and most importantly it upholds and increases the people's trust on
- Shreya Singhal v. Union Of India, AIR 2015 SC 1523.
- Information Technology Act, § 66 A, No. 21, Acts of Parliament, 2000
- Shreya Singhal v. Union Of India, AIR 2015 SC 1523.
- Para 3 of Shreya Singhal vs. Union Of India (U.O.I)[AIR 2015 SC 1523]
- Para 108 of Shreya Singhal vs. Union Of India [AIR 2015 SC 1523].
- Para 27 of Shreya Singhal vs. Union Of India (U.O.I)[AIR 2015 SC 1523].
- Para 3 of Shreya Singhal vs. Union Of India (U.O.I)[AIR 2015 SC 1523].
- Romesh Thappar v. Madras, (1950) S.C.R. 594.
- Bennett Coleman & Co. v. Union of India,  2 S.C.R. 757.
- INDIA CONST. art. 19, cl. 1.
- Sakal Papers (P) Ltd. v. The Union of India, (1962) 3 S.C.R. 842
- Shreya Singhal vs. Union Of India (U.O.I) AIR 2015 SC 1523.
- Para 20, Shreya Singhal vs. Union Of India (U.O.I) AIR 2015 SC 1523.
- Romesh Thappar v. Madras, (1950) S.C.R. 594.
- Shreya Singhal vs. Union Of India (U.O.I) AIR 2015 SC 1523.
- Para 98, Shreya Singhal vs. Union Of India (U.O.I) AIR 2015 SC 1523.
- Para 93, Shreya Singhal vs. Union Of India (U.O.I) AIR 2015 SC 1523.
- Romesh Thappar v. Madras, (1950) S.C.R. 594
- Para 96, Shreya Singhal vs. Union Of India (U.O.I) AIR 2015 SC 1523
- Zakir Ali Tyagi v. State of UP
- Ambikesh Mahapatra &Anr vs State of West Bengal &Ors.
- THE WIRE, https://thewire.in/rights/mamata-banerjee-cartoon-section-66a-it-act,
(March 12, 2022).
- THE INDIAN EXPRESS, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/sc-notices-states-uts-high-courts-section-66a-of-it-act-7434332/,
(last visited March, 12, 2022).
- All about Section 69A of IT Act under which Twitter had withheld several
posts & accounts, THE PRINT, https://theprint.in/theprint-essential/all-about-section-69a-of-it-act-under-which-twitter-had-withheld-several-posts-accounts/597367/,
(last visited March 12,2022).