The Telangana government has declared that crimes falling under sections 506 and 507 of the Indian Penal Code will now be treated as cognisable offences that can be registered without the permission of the Court. Section 506 is concerned with the criminal intimidation of a person while section 507 deals with criminal intimidation by an anonymous communication.
The spokesperson for the CMO stated, “It has been left to the discretion of the state whether or not to take permission of the court before arresting and prosecuting a person under the said sections. So, after careful examination, the state government has decided to declare the sections as cognisable without having to take the permission of the courts,” while confirming that K Chandrasekhar Rao has given his nod to the move.
Opposition parties believe the law will be used by the government to silence valid criticism of its policies and used as a political tool to intimidate the opposition. Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee spokesman Dasoju Sravan remarked that it was a blatant attempt at curbing the freedom of expression of citizens. He said, “There is nothing wrong in taking action if the posts or comments are personal, obscene and abusive. One can always file a defamation suit in such cases. But by seeking to arrest a person and prosecuting him without court permission on the pretext that he made offensive comments is nothing but infringing upon the fundamental rights of the person. G. Kishan Reddy, BJP leader in Assembly, said that the Chief Minister himself should be the first person to suffer the consequences of the changes in the law because he was the first person to use harsh language in public life.
Telangana Joint Action Committee (TJAC) chairman Prof M Kodandaram remarked, “Using of harsh words is a subjective term. There is no specific explanation as to what a harsh word is. The government and the police can interpret the term in any manner. For example, if a person calls KCR a tyrant or a monarch, he may get offended and throw that person behind bars invoking these two sections.”
State governments in the past have regularly used the police and the law department to harass critics and opposition parties. Mamata Banerjee has a particularly infamous reputation. A professor at the Jadavpur University was arrested for sharing anti-Mamata cartoons on Facebook and criticizing the policies of the Trinamool government. The same government filed an FIR against Zee News for its coverage of the Dhulagar riots. In Uttar Pradesh, the Police once arrested a class 11 student for sharing an ‘objectionable image’ of Azam Khan on Facebook. People obviously remember the draconian section 66A which was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015 that had become a tool at the hands of governments to harass its critics.
Given the history of the Indian Republic, where governments have displayed autocratic tendencies several times in the past in its treatment of critics, the most notable being the emergency under Indira Gandhi, it is natural that opposition parties and activists are deeply concerned by the changes made to the sections 506 and 507 by the Telangana government as they fear persecution by government authorities as an act of political vendetta. TJAC chairman M Kodandaram has stated that the TJAC would move the High Court over the issue.