Minister of State for Communication and IT, Milind Deora, has come out in support of the two girls who were arrested over a Facebook post against Mumbai bandh during Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray's funeral, saying they did nothing wrong and have nothing to fear. Speaking to CNN-IBN's Rupashree Nanda, he's also said that the police over-reacted in this case and that he is open to amending the IT Act.
CNN-IBN: The two people who have been arrested have now been released on bail, de-activated their Faceboook accounts and have apologised. Don't you think that this is a shame, that the police overreacted?
Milind Deora: Yes, I do, I think the police grossly overreacted. Not speaking as a legal person, but as a lay person, I don't think what they posted on Facebook and, this is my personal opinion, warrants them to be booked either under 66 A of IT Act, or under the far more draconian sections of IPC. I have already expressed my displeasure about the way in which the police have filed this FIR...whether it was because of pressure, fear, or haste, I can only urge through you, to the Home Ministry of the government of Maharashtra to conduct an enquiry and to expedite the enquiry's findings and check if police has acted in haste. And if so, action must be taken against them.
But, I think that there's a much larger political point that needs to be discussed. It is important for the home ministry and for police of the state government of Maharashtra to assure the people of Mumbai that nobody, no political force, no individual, no political party can take law into their own hands. While we are debating what happened to these young girls, while I express my condolences to them and their families, I would like to tell them that we are with them, they did nothing wrong, and there is no reason to fear. At the same time, I am also concerned about the vandals who went and vandalised private property. We have to give a strong message not only through words, but by action that the city will not tolerate any of these elements who take law into their own hands.
CNN-IBN: Section 66 A of the IT Act is too broadly defined and, therefore open to misuse. Don't you think the time has come to amend that?
Milind Deora: We in the ministry of Communication & IT have to strike a balance. One objective of ours is to ensure that the internet like any other medium, whether it is the medium of TV or whether it is print, should adhere to a set of rules and it should be governed. I am sure you'll also agree that the internet should not be an ungoverned medium. I am not saying 'regulate content 'or 'clamp down on content'...that is not the government's intention. We don't want to decide whether content is good or bad. We only want to say that there should be rules in this medium in the digital space in India just like anywhere in the world that allow an individual or, an aggrieved party to complain against someone who's defamed them, caused grief or harm. But, at the same time we also have to balance having a society and digital space with rules, ensuring that those rules and laws don't get misused by law enforcement agencies especially by state governments. For that if it means re-looking at 66 A, if it is means considering other suggestions that are there in the public domain that are coming from civil society, I am more than open to it. I am approaching this with an open mind. If there is something that can help us plug these loopholes, tighten rules and laws from getting misused, I am all for that.
CNN-IBN: Are you saying you are open to amending the IT law?
Milind Deora: I am open to suggestions...I am always open. No law in this country or anywhere in the world is a law that is locked in for eternity.
CNN-IBN: Would you say that section 66 A is too broadly defined?
Milind Deora: I am not a legal person to comment on that. But I can say that in this particular case as a lay person, certain aspects of 66 A, whether it means menacing content, knowingly putting false content against a person, I don't think these girls have done any of that. As a lay person I can come out in support of them and say that it was wrong for the local police to have booked them under the IT Act.
CNN-IBN: Last question ... these laws are used to clamp down on dissent which is legitimate in a democracy. Parliament has opposition, same things are said by people in different platforms like on television. So why is it criminal on Twitter or Facebook?
Milind Deora: You can't ask me that question because I am not the one who has complained against them. You are preaching to the converted, unfortunately. You should probably ask that question to the Shiv Sainiks who have complained against them. You should probably ask that question from the police who booked them - I am coming out in support of them.