Sedition Law-The Hindu-01-10-2022
Sedition Law-The Hindu-01-10-2022
The government has asked the SC to defer the hearing on Sedition law.
The Home Minister has asked the Supreme Court to defer the hearing on petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the Sedition law.
The minister has conveyed that let an appropriate forum, presumably the Parliament will eventually decide the fate of Sedition law in accordance with democratic ethos.
What is section 124A?
Section 124A defines sedition as: “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added…”
The provision also contains three explanations:
1- The expression “disaffection” includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity;
2- Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section;
3- Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.
Incorporation: The provision was incorporated in its current form in the penal code (IPC) in 1898, nearly four decades after the IPC was introduced and has withstood the test of constitutionality since.
Issues with the sedition law
Opponents of the law say that the provisions of the law are sweeping in nature and have been misused by the different governments.
They also contend that the punishment prescribed i.e., life imprisonment with an added fine or an additional jail term of three years is irrational for a just society.
The authority to identify and distinguish genuine expression of speech from seditious speech is the police which is not well trained to examine the case at first stance.
It has been observed that the Magistrates who are the first defenders of citizen’s rights in the judiciary often allow the pleas of the state without appropriate scrutiny.
Concerned citizens along with civil society activists and eminent jurists have opined that subsequent governments have used the law in an unjustified manner to curb the opponents; members of the oppositions, journalists, social activists etc.
Courts’ validations of the law since Independence
Punjab and Allahabad High Courts in 1950s struck down the sedition law as an exception to free speech.
Subsequently, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court in Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar (1962) gave the law a constitutional validity.
But the apex court cautioned the state to move ahead with the law in a just manner and use it only in cases where seditious speech tended to incite ‘public disorder’.
However, the phrase ‘public disorder’ is nowhere in the provisions of the law but was used by the Court in the judgment.
After upholding the law in 1962 judgment, the Supreme Court’s decision to revisit the constitutional validity of this colonial provision is an important juncture for the future of Section 124A.
While the Supreme Court was about to decide on the petitions pertaining to the constitutional validity of the law recently, the Home Ministry asked the court to defer it.
Earlier, the government said that the Kedarnath judgment that upheld the validity of sedition law is established law, no reason to revisit and the bench of three judges cannot reconsider the ratio of a constitution bench without referring the matter to a larger bench.
But soon after the matter was set for listing, the Home Minister assured the court that a competent forum, presumably Parliament will deliberate on the law and will give it a logical conclusion.
The affidavit by the government said that it is committed to maintaining and protecting the sovereignty of the nation as well as removing outdated colonial laws.
It is a welcome move by the government especially after defending the law initially.
Reinforcing the commitment given by the Home Minister, the Prime Minister recently at the eve of ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, said that India needs to shed the colonial baggage as the country marks 75 years since independence.
Other countries and sedition laws
The sedition law became obsolete in the UK in the 1960s and was finally repealed in 2009. The opponents of the law argue that when the country who imposed the law on India has already repealed the given law then why India is continuing with it.
Singapore too like India inherited the Sedition law from Britain but it repealed it stating that a set of new laws can sufficiently address issues that were under the ambit of the sedition law.
Every irresponsible exercise of the right to free speech and expression cannot be termed seditious. While it is essential to protect national integrity, it should not be misused as a tool to curb free speech.
Dissent and criticism are essential ingredients of a robust public debate on policy issues as part of a vibrant democracy. Therefore, every restriction on free speech and expression must be carefully scrutinised to avoid unwarranted restrictions.
The government should walk the talk and should go ahead to arrive at a logical conclusion.
The changed stance of the government should not be meant for foreclosing the prospect of judicial review and setting aside the reforms.