Welcoming the Supreme Court's decision to quash Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000, on Tuesday, Communications and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said people in power should be tolerant and liberal towards criticism.
"We welcome this decision by the Supreme Court. The government is committed to free speech. India is a democratic country and free flow of ideas should be respected. We do not seek to curtail any right," Prasad told reporters in a press meet in New Delhi.
The minister, however, said it was important to have self-regulation as well when expressing thoughts in social media.
"There are lakhs of people in India indulging in social media. I am a supporter of self-regulation and would like to say it is important to have self-regulation," he said.
He said social media platforms should also practise some 'self-restraint'.
Earlier in the day, he said the government did not favour gagging dissent or honest criticism on social media.
Prasad said: "We respect communication of ideas on social media, not in favour of curtailing honest criticism, dissent on social media."
Earlier, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 66A violates Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech.
"Section 66A of the IT Act is struck down in its entirety," said the apex court bench of Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman.
"Our Constitution provides for liberty of thought, expression and belief. In a democracy, these values have to be provided within constitutional scheme. The law (Section 66A) is vague in its entirety," said Justice Nariman pronouncing the judgment.
The minister said the government absolutely respects the right to freedom of speech and expression on social media and has no intention of curbing it.
"Only reasonable restrictions apply on social media, as they do in routine normal day to day life in the physical world under Article 19(2) of the constitution of India. We will have to understand that we cannot set a different standard of public morality for speech & expression in cyberspace from speech in other mediums and in the public domain," the minister added.
The Supreme Court has "read down" Section 79(3)(b) of the IT Act which states that "upon receiving actual knowledge, or on being notified by the appropriate government or its agency that any information, data or communication link residing in or connected to a computer resource controlled by the intermediary is being used to commit the unlawful act, the intermediary fails to expeditiously remove or disable access to that material on that resource without vitiating the evidence in any manner".
Taking a dig at the earlier United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, Prasad said: "When the UPA Govt came out with draconian provisions under 66A, BJP in opposition firmly opposed it and said that '66 is unacceptable in current form'. BJP resolutely stood up against the censorship and blocking on social media done by UPA government."
"Once in government, it took its opposition to the draconian provisions of 66A on record in Court Proceedings. New Affidavits filed by NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government in Hon'ble Supreme Court clearly show the marked difference in the approach from UPA Govt.," he said.
"NDA government, in what can be dubbed as a landmark moment in India's Internet history, has accorded the same amount of freedom of speech and expression that a citizen of India is granted in normal life under our constitution by our founding fathers," Prasad added.
Written with agency inputs.