Thiruvananthapuram: Even as the Left Democratic Front Government (LDF) is squirming over its hasty move to amend the Kerala Police Act and deciding to revoke it within two days, it has emerged that Delhi-based legal experts were engaged by the higher-ups in the state police force to draft the contentious content for the ordinance that came to evoke widespread censure by the civil society over its likely threat to free speech.
The draft of the amendment was prepared without required consultations and without eliciting the opinion of the legal experts based in Kerala. The file was sent to Cabinet with the permission of Principal Secretary (Home) Sanjay Kaul, while Additional Chief Secretary (Home) T K Jose was on leave. (The former was posted in the home department only recently.) Subsequently, it was approved without any discussion.
The expressions used in the amendment, it was felt, was highly vague and as open-ended as those in the now-scrapped Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Section 66A was junked by the Supreme Court in 2015 for being "vague" and "over-broad". Legal experts said the same fate would have befallen the Kerala amendment.
The official version was that the amendment to incorporate Section 118A in the Act was brought in to prevent cyberbullying of women and children. As it turned out, the provision 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 amendment also envisaged providing for up to three years jail term to those behind defamatory social media posts.
Motive for emergency measure
The government had directed the police to register cases when news appeared in certain websites against the family members of a few powerful people in the government. In response the police officials pointed out the drawbacks in the existing law. Subsequently, the government decided to bring an ordinance urgently.
The home and law departments approved the draft ordinance without considering the amendments proposed by the police department. It was done in this manner because this was a matter of interest to the government.
The file recommending vigilance probe against opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala was also sent to the Governor in a similar fashion.
A Cabinet meet here on Tuesday had agreed upon withdrawing the ordinance. The repeal ordinance, which will bury the controversial amendment, will now be sent to the Governor for approval. A new amendment to prevent cyberbullying would be introduced but only after detailed deliberations.
On Monday, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had announced the government's decision not to implement the contentious provision.