Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why Section 66 A of the must be scrapped by the apex court.

            The recent arrest of Shaheen Dhada and Renu Srinivasan, in Mumbai, for expressing their dissent over the shutting down of normal activity in the metropolis has provoked anger. While the police action has given rise to a demand that Section 66 A of The Information Technology Act, 2000, is scrapped forthwith, there is a view that it is sufficient to qualify the section with adequate checks against its indiscriminate use. Those arguing for a mere qualification and opposed to the scrapping the section outright rest their case on the manner in which Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code was defined as Constitutional by the Supreme Court in the Kedarnath case.
            It is idle to argue, on this day, that Section 124A is not abused. Binayak Sen, apart from hundreds of poor adivasis, whose only crime is that they stand up in defence of the Constitutional scheme as outlined in the Fifth Schedule, are facing charges under this law. And so are many hundreds of our citizens in Idinthakarai in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere. All these are happening even after the Supreme Court laid down the extant of Section 124A as early as in 1961: That the law shall apply only where an expression is clearly intended to, or having the tendency, to create disorder or disturbance of public peace by resort to violence. That Dr.Sen obtained bail, after a couple of years in the Raipur jail while the several hundred poor and patriotic men and women are still in jail should convince that draconian laws must be scrapped forthwith than qualified.
            Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000, incidentally was an afterthought (and inserted into the act by an amendment in December 2008). This was also the case with Section 124A of the IPC. A provision to this effect was there in the IPC as proposed in 1860 but Lord Macaulay argued against it. He had succeeded too. However, it was inserted into the code only a decade after the Code came into existence (by an amendment act in 1870) and invoked against Bal Gangadar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi by the British administration. And even after Kedarnath Singh was acquitted in 1962, abuse of the provision continues to be the norm until now.
            Section 66A of the IT Act, meanwhile, does not belong to the same class as Section 124A of the IPC which is archaic and brought in by the colonial regime then under siege. The 2008 amendment to criminalise dissent in the virtual domain was enacted by those who are known to celebrate the advances in the IT sector as the greatest liberating tool in the history of modern democracy. Those at the helm in our times are indeed fans of Thomas Friedman’s conclusion that the world wide web has rendered the world flat. In his celebrated book, brought out in 2005, Friedman argues, without much depth, that this process of flattening had rendered the world into a democracy more than any other development of the past.
            Even if one considers Friedman’s work as bereft of analysis, the fact is that the majority in Parliament that passed the 2008 amendment to the IT Act are known to celebrate the work and its conclusion. Manmohan Singh and his colleagues, as much as a majority in the opposition are strong votaries of the ICT revolution has strengthened democracy position and that the world is far freer than it was. And yet, if Section 66A was inserted, which criminalized any act of sending messages through the internet that is `grossly offensive’ or `has menacing character’, was inserted into the act, the intention was clearly to curb dissent.
The legislators were not innocent of the purpose too given the timing of its passage. In the couple of years after 2005, when different State Governments signed MoUs with miners (both national and foreign), the internet was indeed facilitating spread of specific information regarding the drain of our natural resources. And that was also the time when P.Chidambaram had decided to unleash the Greyhounds and the Scorpions in a war against the people of India. Section 66A was indeed meant to hound those who campaigned, using the internet (when the space for such campaigns had shrunk in the mainstream print and TV media), against the deals that were struck in clear violation of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution.
Given this context, it is only proper that the provision is scrapped; not just qualified and its use restricted by checks and balance. To expect the elected representatives do that is like waiting for godot. The only option left, hence, will be a judicial decision striking down the provision. The apex court, in the past, has expanded the scope of many of the human rights by interpreting laws as well as by annulling decisions by Parliament and the Executive and helped in making the world a better place for the poor. And it is not necessary that someone goes to the apex court with an appeal. We have had judges who took up cases suo mottu to do that. Justice Altamas Kabir may decide to do that and strengthen the democracy and ensure that the Republic lasts.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

An Open Letter to Jaipal Reddy

Dear Mr. Reddy,
                I am certain that you had followed the discourse in the national media during the past week and particularly the issues raised over your exit as Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gases. Being someone who knows you, reasonably well, I do have strong reasons to believe that you were moved out because you refused to bow down to one Mr. Mukesh. Let me add that you are not the only one to have met this fate in our short history.
                You know, as much as I do, that this man’s father, who is no more, found the late V.P.Singh’s actions as Union Finance Minister a hurdle in his path and did manage to rake up a storm. His reach and clout in the corridors of power, were such that Singh as Union Finance Minister was forced to engage Fairfax, a private investigating agency in the US, to probe into the affairs of the company that he held. You were a stormy petrel member in the opposition benches then and will recall how this Mukesh’s late father had managed to attack V.P.Singh and his band of honest officers for having done that.
The fact is that the step to engage a private agency from the US was forced upon them to ensure that the late Dhirubhai did not get to scuttle the probe; the officers were certain that the Enforcement Directorate could not be entrusted with the investigation because the agency was in the pockets of that industrialist. You are aware of all these and had, along with the late Madhu Dandavate, spoken up for V.P.Singh in the Lok Sabha when he was attacked by such henchmen as Dinesh Singh and K.K.Tewari.
You were also a key player in the Janata Dal, a party that the late Dhirubhai hated from the bottom of his heart. It is un-necessary to dwell into all the details about how your old party was decimated and some of us have known the role played by that industrial house even in that process. [i]I am not suggesting that the party is what it is today only because of that person’s machinations. The fact is that he too contributed to the decimation and I am sure you will agree.[ii]
The fallout of the death of the Janata Dal was that you returned to the Congress party; you followed your leader, the late Brahmananda Reddy in this regard. I must hasten to add that I do not equate with him in many ways. Unlike him, you remained in opposition to the Congress during the 1980s when the Janata Party was a pale shadow of what it was and those were times when four out of five MPs in the Lok Sabha belonged to the Congress. You returned to the Congress only when it appeared to be the only force against the BJP in the electoral sense and after the TDP too had teamed up with the BJP.
You may have followed the path that Madhu Limaye had chosen in similar conditions and indulged in reading and writing. But when you decided to join the Congress, the party was still in the opposition and you cannot be accused of shifting parties for ministerial positions and the trappings that come with it. And even as a Union Minister since 2004, you have stayed clear of any charge of making money and in that sense refused to join the company of such others in the cabinet as A.Raja, Dayanidhi Maran, Subodh Kant Sahay or Salman Khurshid. And more importantly, one hears from all over the place that you stood up to an influential Mukesh and refused to pander to his interest.
As someone who has known you for a reasonable length of time and as someone who counts you as an exception to the general rule – that those wielding power in our democracy are invariably there to make money for themselves, their children and grand children – and thus a ray of hope, however bleak that ray is, I want to know if there is any truth in all this. To be honest, I expect an answer in the affirmative. In other words, please make it clear as to what exactly did Mukesh want from you and whether you refused to please him; and in that event, why you did that?
I recall discussing Bertrand Russel with you and hence consider it apt to cite him in this correspondence with you. Even when he joined the Labour Party agreeing to put up with the idea of socialism in exchange for peace, Russel held that he will retain a certain suspicion of governmental action even when in power. And he had this clarion call: ``For my part, I consider that whatever is good or bad is embodied in individuals, not primarily in communities’’.
And Sir,  you know the best way to state the truth without violating the oath you took before becoming a minister: If you resign from the cabinet, you have the right to make a statement where you can elaborate the reasons as to why you resigned when Parliament meets next for the Winter session. Rule 199 of the Rules of Procedure & Conduct of Business in the Lok Sabha allows this Sir!
Yours Sincerely,
V.Krishna Ananth