‘Defamatory remarks’ against Sharad Pawar: Report sought from cops for applying scrapped section against actress

The senior officers of Maharashtra Police have sought a report from officers responsible for applying scrapped section 66 A of the Information Technology Act against Marathi actress Ketaki Chitale, who was arrested for allegedly making defamatory remarks against NCP chief Sharad Pawar. Apart from 66A, she was also charged under sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including defamation.

A total of 22 FIRs and four non-cognisable complaints have been registered against Chitale in connection with her alleged Facebook post.

The senior officers have asked for a report after the National Commission for Women (NCW) in Delhi pulled up the Maharashtra police for applying the scrapped section in addition to other aspects of the case. While Chitale was on Thursday granted bail in an atrocities case registered against her by Rabale police in 2020, she is still behind bars in connection with another FIR registered by Kalwa police station in connection with the alleged Facebook post.

Section 66 A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015 after it was challenged through a PIL on the ground that it was being misused.

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A senior officer of Maharashtra Police said, “We have sought a report from the officers investigating the case to find out why they applied section 66A of the IT Act which has been scrapped by the Supreme Court. There have been repeated reminders sent to the officers asking them not to use it.”

The official added that this was also one of the issues that was raised by the National Commission of Women (NCW), which summoned the Maharashtra DGP on Friday. Milind Bharambe, IG (law and order), Maharashtra Police, appeared before the commission on behalf of the DGP.

In a press release issued by NCW post hearing on Friday, it stated, “During the hearing, the commission sought (an) explanation from Shri Bharambe on different points including, why provision of defamation was invoked in the FIR and who was the complainant, why action was taken only against Ms. Ketki despite the poem being shared by multiple people previously and whether legal procedure as enumerated in section 41A of CrPC was followed before arresting her.”

“The commission also sought (an) explanation on what action was taken by the police against the female NCP leaders who attacked Ms Ketaki outside a police station, why section 66A, already struck down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court, was invoked in this particular matter and the proceedings initiated by Maharashtra police in several other cases that have been recently reported to have taken place due to political vendetta,” it added.

It further stated, “The Commission issued further directions to Shri Bharambe for immediate compliance, including sending an explanation on why arrest was made even before doing a preliminary investigation. As per Section 41 A of CrPC, the police is supposed to give a notice to the accused before arrest and prior permission is to be taken from the magistrate in non-cognisable cases. However, the police failed to comply with this mandatory provision of law.”

The women’s panel further observed that in non-cognisable cases, the police cannot make an arrest without a warrant but in this case, no warrant was issued. It also directed that the police should not act on the basis of political vendetta but proceed in an unbiased manner in every matter.

An officer, who was part of the investigation in the case, said 66A will be removed. “It appears to be an oversight. Even if the section is taken off, the other sections still remain valid,” he said.

Chitale was arrested on May 14 by the Thane police following which her custody was taken by the Navi Mumbai police in connection with the case registered against her. She also approached the Bombay High Court seeking to quash the FIR registered against her at Kalwa police station for which she is currently behind bars.

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