Hoist by its own petard, the Kerala Government has been forced to make a hasty retreat on the contentious amendment to the state Police Act. With the avowed aim of preventing cyber attacks against women and children, the state cabinet had decided last month to beef up the Act by recommending the addition of Section 118-A, which stipulates imprisonment for up to five years or a fine of up to Rs 10,000 or both to those who ‘produce, publish or disseminate content through any means of communication with an intention to intimidate, insult or defame any person through social media.’ Facing a barrage of criticism from various quarters over its alleged attempt to muzzle freedom of speech, the CPM-led government has now announced to put the debatable ordinance, which was signed by the Governor on Saturday, on hold.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said a detailed discussion on the matter would be held in the Assembly. This should have been done in the first place rather than adopting the unilateral ordinance route. Putting the cart before the horse is fast becoming the new normal. The backlash against the Centre over the three farm laws, which were also initially promulgated as ordinances and later enacted as Acts, should have alerted the state government to desist from ramrodding a legislation through without any democratic consultation. However, the ruling party kept defending the indefensible till it found itself cornered on all fronts, with even the CPM’s central leadership expressing reservations over the draconian provision.
The Kerala Government is already grappling with a credibility crisis over the gold smuggling case and other scams. If the ordinance was intended to be a diversionary ploy, as claimed by the state’s Opposition, it has eventually proved to be counterproductive. The fears that the amendment can be used as a tool to unleash political vendetta can’t be brushed aside. As far as cybercrime control is concerned, better policing, not a gag order, is the way forward.