Sedition Law: What The Court Did, What The Government Said
In an unprecedented turn of events, the Supreme Court of India has effectively put a stay on the sedition law till the time the Union government reviews it. This is probably the first time in India’s post-independence history that the Supreme Court has stayed a criminal law.
Supreme Court’s Observations: In his order, Chief Justice N V Ramana said, “The case of the petitioners is that this provision of law dates back to 1898, and pre-dates the Constitution itself, and is being misused. The Attorney General had also, on an earlier date of hearing, given some instances of glaring misuse of this provision, like in the case of the recital of the Hanuman Chalisa. Therefore, we expect that, till the re-examination of the provision is complete, it will be appropriate not to continue the usage of the aforesaid provision of law by the governments.”
The court added that “if any fresh case is registered under Section 124A of IPC, the affected parties are at liberty to approach the concerned courts for appropriate relief. The courts are requested to examine the reliefs sought, taking into account the present order passed as well as the clear stand taken by the Union of India.”
It expressed “hope and expectations” that state governments will refrain from registering any FIR, continuing investigation, or taking coercive steps under Section 124 A IPC when it is under reconsideration.
Government’s Stand: The Union government had indicated intent to review Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code in the light of its mission to do away with outdated colonial laws that were meant to cause hindrance to people’s lives.
In its affidavit to the court, it had made it clear that sedition law is under reconsideration and re-examination as it would take the views and opinions of stakeholders.
It urged the court to wait for the outcome of the exercise and not proceed with the hearing on the petition.
The affidavit said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had expressed clear and unequivocal views in favour of protecting civil liberties, and respect for human rights and believed that outdated colonial laws had no place in the country celebrating its 75th year of independence.
The Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta, informed the court that the Centre is preparing a proposed draft direction since a cognisable offence cannot be prevented from being registered.
He also pointed out that some of the pending cases related to sedition may have a ‘terror angle’ or involve money laundering.
Bottom line: The government of India is taking the misuse of the sedition law seriously. It has shown intent to discuss the validity of Section 124A of IPC with a wide range of stakeholders. Yet, the Supreme Court’s haste in putting the law in abeyance may be a means to highlight its own position on the matter, considering it was the 1962 constitutional bench which had upheld the constitutional validity of Section 124A.
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