It's official. The controversial Kerala Police Act amendment has been withdrawn with Governor Arif Muhammed Khan promulgating a 'withdrawal' ordinance forwarded by the CPM-led state government.
The government, headed by CM Pinarayi Vijayan, was forced to introduce the withdrawal government as it faced flak from different corners for the amendment which sought to give power to the police to prosecute persons on charges of disseminating content deemed to be defaming.
The Kerala Police Act Amendment ordinance was signed by Governor Arif Mohammad Khan on Saturday. In two days, the government decided to put on hold the notification issued thereafter as the move was widely deemed to be an assault on freedom of expression and media.
The decision to scrap the amendment was taken by a special meeting of the state cabinet on Tuesday.
The Cabinet had agreed upon withdrawing the ordinance which was resorted to insert Section 118A in the Act so that police could be given wide powers purportedly in a bid to curtail defamatory content against women on social media.
A new amendment to prevent cyber bullying would be introduced but only after detailed deliberations. On Monday, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had announced the government has decided not to implement the contentious provision.
The amendment envisaged providing for up to three years jail term to those behind defamatory social media posts.
The Chief Minister's U-turn seems to have been forced by the stern stand taken by the top leadership of the CPM. Even while leaders in Kerala continued to defend the what has been unanimously called a draconian piece of legislation, the CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury told the media on November 23 that the amendment went against the ideals of the CPM.
Politburo members like M A Baby also, even if indirectly, hinted that the decision to promulgate an ordinance was made without consultations within the party.
The official version was that the amendment was brought in to prevent cyber bullying of women and children. As it turned out, the amendment gave blanket powers to the police to take suo motu action against anyone expressing or publishing anything that would humiliate, abuse or defame a person or a class of persons.
The expressions used in the amendment, it was felt, was highly vague and as open-ended as those in Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Section 66A was thrown out by the Supreme Court in 2015 for being "vague" and "over-broad". Legal experts said the same fate would have befallen the Kerala amendment.
More disturbing was the the fact that the new amendment allowed the police to take action even if the offending material was not even published or disseminated.