The Centre has told the Supreme Court that the controversial provision in the IT Act under which two girls in Maharashtra were arrested for posting comments on Facebook does not curb freedom of speech and alleged "highhandedness" of certain authorities does not mean that its bad in law.
The Maharashtra Government, which was also asked to make explanation on the episode, said the arrests of girls in Thane district for making comments on the shutdown of Mumbai for the funeral of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, were "unwarranted" and "hasty", which "cannot be justified".
"Under section 41 and 41 A of the Code of Criminal Procedure immediate arrest was not required. The arrests of the accused were hasty and cannot be justified. At the same time, the action was not with mala fide intention," it said.
The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, in its affidavit, defended section 66A of the Information Technology Act under which the two girls from Palghar were arrested by Thane police.
"The alleged highhandedness of certain authorities does not mean that section 66A of the IT Act is bad in law," it said.
It said the provision does not curb freedom of expression and speech guaranteed under Article 19(1) of the Constitution, as it does not provide absolute freedom but imposed certain reasonable restrictions.
The Maharashtra Government said, "In the circumstances aforesaid it is respectfully submitted that the government of Maharashtra has taken a very serious view of the matter relating to the arrest of Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan. The arrests were totally unwarranted.
"The government of Maharashtra respectfully submits that it is cognizant of the chilling effect that such incidents could create and has taken firm action in the matter."
The apex court had on November 30, 2012 sought response from the Centre on the amendment and misuse of section 66A of IT Act and had also directed the Maharashtra government to explain the circumstances under which the 21-year-old girls were arrested.
The section states that any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or communication device, any information that was grossly offensive or has a menacing character could be punished with imprisonment for a maximum term of three years, besides imposing appropriate fine.
The affidavit filed by the Maharashtra Government said the Thane police SP (Rural) has been suspended for arresting the two girls despite the instruction by the Inspector General of Police not to take such action.