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India's top court has struck down a law that gave authorities powers to jail people for offensive online posts, a verdict praise as a victory for free speech in the world's largest growth market for the internet.

Judges ruled on Tuesday that found the Section 66A of the country's Information and Technology Act  "hit at the root of liberty and freedom of expression".

The legislation was challenged in the Supreme Court by law students, bloggers, writers and rights groups following arrests across the country for statements posted on social media sites.

The petitioners argued the "draconian law" introduced in 2008 by the last government was misused by politicians to hound critics.

Facebook, Twitter and Google did not immediately comment on the ruling but the Internet and Mobile Association of India, a trade body, said the ruling protected consumers and businesses.

"This judgment will herald a new phase in the growth and evolution of the Internet in India," the group said in a statement that also hailed a separate part of the judgement that makes it harder to force websites to take down content, the Reuters news agency reported.

Both local and foreign Internet companies have in the past faced pressure for hosting content deemed offensive in India, which Google predicts is scheduled to overtake the US as having the world's largest number of web users by 2018.

Last week, police in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh picked up a 16-year-old boy from his school for allegedly posting an insulting remark about a powerful regional politician, the latest victim of a law that was also used to jail a cartoonist in Mumbai.

Source: Reuters