Sedition law will be re-examined Centre tells Supreme Court
STATE TIMES NEWS
New Delhi: The Centre on Monday said it has decided to “re-examine and re-consider” the sedition law by an appropriate forum , in a change of stance just two days after stoutly defending the colonial era penal law, and also urged the Supreme Court not to “invest time” in examining the validity of its provisions once again.
The Union Ministry of Home Affairs in an affidavit filed before the apex court said the decision was in tune with the views of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on shedding colonial baggage , noting he has been in favour of protection of civil liberties and respect of human rights and in that spirit, over 1,500 outdated laws and over 25,000 compliance burdens have been scrapped.
The PM believes that at a time when the country is marking ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ (75 years since independence), we need to, as a nation, work even harder to shed colonial baggage that has passed its utility which includes outdated laws, colonial laws and practice, it said. Various offences which were causing “mindless hindrances” to people have been decriminalised, it added.
Asserting that it was cognizant of various views and concerns about civil liberties, the Centre at the same time said it was committed to protecting the sovereignty and integrity of this great nation .
In the earlier written submissions on May 7, the Centre had defended the sedition law and the 1962 verdict of a Constitution bench upholding its validity, contending that it had withstood “the test of time” for about six decades and the instances of its abuse would never be a justification for a reconsideration.
“Instances of the abuse of provision would never be a justification to reconsider a binding judgment of the Constitution bench. The remedy would lie in preventing such abuse on a case-to-case basis rather than doubting a long-standing settled law declared by a Constitution bench for about six decades,” according to the submissions filed before the top court through Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
A bench of Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli on May 5 had said it would hear arguments on May 10 on the legal question of whether the clutch of pleas challenging the sedition law be referred to a larger bench for reconsidering the 1962 verdict of a five-judge constitution bench in the Kedar Nath Singh case.
The top court, in 1962, had upheld the validity of the sedition law while attempting to restrict its scope for misuse. It had held that unless accompanied by incitement or a call for violence, the criticism of the government cannot be construed as a seditious offence.
Agreeing to examine the pleas filed by the Editors Guild of India and former Major General S G Vombatkere, the court had said its main concern was the “misuse of law” leading to the rising number of cases.
The Centre’s affidavit filed by Mritunjay Kumar Narayan, Additional Secretary of the MHA, said there are divergence of views expressed in public domain by various jurists, academicians, intellectuals and citizens in general.
The Government, being fully cognizant of various views being expressed on the subject of sedition and also having considered the concerns of civil liberties and human rights, while committed to maintain and protect the sovereignty and integrity of this great nation, has decided to re-examine and re-consider the provisions of Section 124A of the IPC which can only be done before the appropriate forum, it said .
The provisions have come under intense public scrutiny in the recent months for its alleged misuse which had led the CJI to ask if the sedition law, which was used to persecute freedom fighters, was still needed after 75 years of Independence.
The Law Commission had also called for a re-think or repeal of the sedition law way back in 2018, contending that every irresponsible exercise of right to free speech and expression cannot be termed seditious.
Civil rights activists have often highlighted the alleged abuse and misuse of the offence of sedition as a tool to curb dissent by the powers that be, irrespective of ideological and political leanings. The colonial aims of sedition law and its chilling effect upon the right to freedom of speech and expression were also flagged.
In its reaction, the Congress said the Modi government is trying to “course correct” as it seems to have realised that its alleged “misuse” of the legislation is about to be quashed by the Supreme Court.
Senior advocate Mohit Mathur said that while it falls within the court’s domain to test the constitutionality of a legal provision whenever a challenge is raised before it, the Centre may be given an opportunity to examine the issue at its end.
Mathur, however, emphasised that such a re-consideration has to be real re-consideration and not a dilatory thing .
“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 in [India], shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine, reads section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code(IPC). The section was introduced in 1870 during the British rule.
The Centre’s affidavit filed on Monday urged the top court that in view of the decision to reconsider the law, this court may not invest time in examining the validity of section 124A once again and be pleased to await the exercise of reconsideration to be undertaken by the Government of India before an appropriate forum where such reconsideration is constitutionally permitted.
The affidavit noted that concerns have been raised about the application and abuse of sedition law for the purposes not intended by the provisions.
The Prime minister has been cognizant of various views expressed on the subject and has also periodically, in various forums, expressed his clear and unequivocal views in favour of protection of civil liberties, respect of human rights and giving meaning to the constitutionally cherished freedoms by the people of the country, it said.
The affidavit noted that the prime minister has repeatedly said one of India’s strengths is the diverse thought streams that beautifully flourish here.
It said the public at large including jurists agree about the need of statutory provisions to deal with serious offences of divisive nature affecting the very sovereignty and integrity of the country.
Requiring a penal provision for such purposes is generally accepted by everyone in legitimate State interest.”
Concerned over the enormous misuse of the penal law on sedition, the top court in July last year had asked the Centre why it was not repealing the provision used by the British to silence people like Mahatma Gandhi to suppress the freedom movement.