Centre tells Supreme Court it has initiated process of re-examining sedition law

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NEW DELHI: The Central government on Monday told the Supreme Court that it has initiated process of re-examining Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code which criminalises the offence of sedition.

Attorney General for India, R Venkataramani, appearing for the Centre, said that consultations on review of Section 124A are at an advanced stage. He urged the bench to post the matter for hearing after the monsoon session of Parliament. A bench of Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud and Justice J B Pardiwala took note of the submissions of the Attorney General and posted the matter for hearing of pleas challenging Section 124A for hearing in August.

“Attorney General states that the government has initiated the process to re-examine 124A and consultations are at an advanced stage. In view of this statement and AG’s request, we keep this in second week of August”, the court said in its order.

Last year, the AG had told the top court that the issue is engaging the attention of relevant authorities and some changes in relation to the sedition law may happen in the winter session of Parliament in 2022. The apex court was hearing a batch of pleas challenging Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code which criminalises the offence of sedition.

Earlier, the Supreme Court had ordered that sedition law will be kept in abeyance till the government’s exercise of reviewing the law is complete. It had asked Central government and states not to register any cases under Section 124A. It had added that if such cases be registered in future, the parties are at liberty to approach court and court has to expeditiously dispose of the same.

Allowing the Central government to re-examine and reconsider the provisions of Section 124A, the apex court had said that it will be appropriate not to use the provision of law till further re-examination is over.

Earlier, the Centre had told the top court that government cannot prevent police from registering a cognisable offence under sedition provision, but an FIR under Section 124A will be registered only if area Superintendent of Police (SP) is satisfied that facts of a case involve sedition offence.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for petitioners, had told the bench that the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had termed Section 124A as most obnoxious provision aimed at stifling dissent and Mahatma Gandhi had termed this as most potent weapon to silence opposition to govt.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had then replied that this government is trying to do what Pandit Nehru could not do then. In the affidavit, the Centre had said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is of firm view that baggage of colonial era laws, which outlived their utility, must be scrapped during the period of ‘Azadi Ka Marti Mahotsav’ (75 years of independence). In that spirit, the government of India has scrapped over 1,500 outdated laws since 2014-15, it had stated.

However, before that, the Central government took a stand that the 1962 verdict of the five-judge Constitution bench, which upheld the validity of the offence of sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, is binding and continues to be is a “good law and needs no reconsideration”. It had said that the judgment of the top court in Kedar Nath Singh v/s State of Bihar case, which upheld the validity of Section 124A of IPC, has stood the test of time and applied till date in tune with modern constitutional principles.

Various petitions were filed in the apex court challenging the constitutional validity of sedition law. The pleas were filed by former army officer Major General S G Vombatkere (retd), former Union minister Arun Shourie, NGO PUCL, Editors Guild of India, journalists Patricia Mukhim, Anuradha Bhasin, Manipur-based journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha and Kanhaiya Lal Shukla from Chhattisgarh.

The then CJI N V Ramana had questioned the Central government on requirement of sedition law even after 75 years of independence and observed that it was colonial law that was used against freedom fighters. While pointing out that sedition law was used against freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the apex court had asked Centre why it can’t be repealed. It had observed that Centre has repealed many stale laws and enquired why the government is not looking into repealing Section 124A of the IPC.

It had further said that the court was concerned about the misues of such laws. The CJI had said “use of sedition is like giving a saw to the carpenter to cut a piece of wood and he uses it to cut the entire forest itself”. Section 124-A (sedition) under the IPC is a non-bailable provision. (ANI)

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