New Delhi [India]: On Monday, the Central government informed the Supreme Court that it has decided to re-examine and reconsider the provisions of Section 124A which criminalises the offence of sedition and requested it not to take up the case till the government examines the matter.
In a fresh affidavit, the Centre said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi believes that the baggage of colonial-era laws, which outlived their utility, must be scrapped during the period of ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ (75 years of independence). In that spirit, the government of India has scrapped over 1,500 outdated laws since 2014-15, it said.
“It has also ended over 25,000 compliance burdens which were causing unnecessary hurdles to the people of our country. Various offences which were causing mindless hindrances to people have been de-criminalised. This is an ongoing process. These were laws and compliances which reeked of a colonial mindset and thus have no place in today’s India,” the Centre said.
“The Centre 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 reexamine and reconsider the provisions of Section 124A of the IPC which can be done only before the competent forum,” the affidavit said while requesting the apex court to await the outcome of the Centre’s exercise to re-examine Section 124A.
On the other hand, the Central government on Saturday told the Supreme Court that the 1962 verdict of the five-judge Constitution bench case 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”.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, in the written submissions on Saturday said that the 1962 five-judge bench judgement 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.
“It is a settled position in law that a judgment which withstood the test of time and has been followed not mechanically but in the context of changing circumstances cannot be easily doubted,” the Central government had submitted.
It said the 1962 verdict is a good precedent and that it requires no consideration and isolated instances of misuse cannot be a ground to uproot the precedent that has withstood the test of time for over six decades.
The Centre further submitted that a three-judge bench cannot hear a legal challenge to the Constitutionality of Section 124A.
Only a bench of co-equal strength of Kedar Nath Singh can pose any doubts on the verdict, the Centre stated while adding that thus, for reconsideration of Kedar Nath Singh judgement, the matter will have to be referred to a bench of five judges or more.
“The Kedar Nath Singh judgement has been the law of the land for more than six decades. The judgment balances constitutional rights and principles viz. needs of the State, to provide a reasonable interpretation,” it had added.
The response of the Central government was filed on a batch of pleas challenging the constitutional validity of the sedition law.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana had said that it will first decide the issue of whether the petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Section 124A will be referred to the larger bench or not.
The bench had posted the matter for hearing on May 10 for arguments on referrals of the petitions to the larger bench and had also granted the last opportunity to the Centre to file its affidavit on the pleas.
Earlier, Attorney General of India KK Venugopal had told the Supreme Court that the sedition law should not be struck down but there is a need for guidelines on this section. What is permissible and what is impermissible and what can come under sedition need to be seen, said the Attorney General.
Venugopal while defending the constitutional validity of Section 124A and the Kedar Nath Singh judgement said that it is a well-thought-out one and needs to be upheld.
Venugopal had argued that the misuse of sedition law has been brought under control.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for one of the petitioners, submitted that many people are in jail due to the provision and it needs to be struck down since it was a colonial law to protect their rule in India.
He had added, “We are in free India and we are not serving any masters. Each day a journalist or someone else spends time in jail due to this then how is it fair? We are not subjects of the crown anymore.”
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 SG Vombatkere (Retd), former Union minister Arun Shourie, NGO PUCL, Editors Guild of India, and Journalists Patricia Mukhim and Anuradha Bhasin among others.
Last year, CJI Ramana questioned the Central government on the 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 Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, why it can’t be replaced.
It had observed that the Centre has repealed many stale laws and enquired why the government is not looking into repealing Section 124A (which deals with the offence of sedition) of the IPC.
It had further said that the court was concerned about the misuse of such laws.
Chief Justice of India had also said that the apex court will look into the plea challenging the Constitutional validity of section 124A while adding that the “situation on the ground is grave… if one party does not like what the other is saying, Section 124A is used… It is a serious threat to the functioning of individuals and parties.”
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”.
The top court had further told Attorney General that the conviction rate under Section 124A is very low.
Major-General Vombatkere (Retd) challenged the Constitutional validity of the sedition law on the ground that it causes a “chilling effect” on speech and is an unreasonable restriction on free expression, a fundamental right.
Arun Shourie sought direction to declare the sedition law unconstitutional arguing that it is “heavily abused”. Shourie in his plea had said that cases are being filed against citizens for “exercising their freedom of speech and expression”.
Section 124-A (sedition) under the IPC is a non-bailable provision.
Earlier, a different bench of the top court had sought a response from the Centre on a plea challenging the Constitutional validity of sedition law, filed by two journalists — Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha and Kanhaiya Lal Shukla — working in Manipur and Chhattisgarh respectively. (ANI)