The Supreme Court on Wednesday put a stay on the sedition law and ruled that no new FIRs will be registered under this sedition law until the Centre reexamines the provisions of this law.
“We expect that till re-examination of S 124A is complete, it will be appropriate not to continue its usage by governments. We expect that the state and central governments will restrain from registering any FIR, continuing any probe or taking any coercive measure by invoking it till then,” the top court said.
A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said all pending cases, appeals and proceedings with respect to charges framed for sedition should be kept in abeyance. Reliefs granted to the accused by courts would continue, it said and fixed the third week of July for hearing pleas challenging the validity of the provision; by then, the Centre would have the time to undertake the exercise to re-examine the provision.
The Court also held that those already booked under Section 124A IPC and are in jail can approach the concerned courts for bail.
Solicitor General said pending sedition cases can be reviewed during the re-examination process of the provision by the Centre for early grant of bail to those booked under Section 124A IPC.
Yesterday, the top court asked the Centre to inform it if the registration of future cases for sedition can be kept in abeyance till it completes the reconsideration process with respect to sedition law. It had also asked the Central government what it proposes to do about pending and future sedition cases as the Centre decided to re-examine the validity of Section 124A.
On Monday while filing a fresh affidavit, the Centre told the apex court that it has decided to re-examine and reconsider the provisions of Section 124A and requested it not to take up the case till the matter is examined by the government.
During the hearing yesterday senior advocate, Kapil Sibal appearing for petitioners told the bench that the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had termed Section 124A as the most obnoxious provision aimed at stifling dissent and Mahatma Gandhi had termed this as a most potent weapon to silence opposition to govt.
Solicitor General Mehta replied that this government is trying to do what Pandit Nehru could not do then.
“What the government headed by Nehru Ji could not do, we are doing it now,” Solicitor General had said.
In the affidavit, the Centre said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is of the firm view that the baggage of colonial-era laws, which outlived their utility, must be scrapped during the period of ‘Azadi Ka Marti Mahotsav’ (75 yrs of independence).
In that spirit, the government of India has scrapped over 1500 outdated laws since 2014-15, it said on Monday.
However, on Saturday the Central government 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”.
It had said that the 1962 five-judge bench judgement of the top court in the 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 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 Constitutionality of Section 124A and only a bench of co-equal strength of Kedar Nath Singh can pose any doubts on the verdict.
Earlier, the bench had said that it will first decide the issue of whether the petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Section 124A to be referred to the larger bench or not.
Attorney General of India KK Venugopal had on an earlier occasion told the Supreme Court that sedition law should not be struck down but there is a need of guidelines on this section. What is permissible and what is impermissible and what can come under sedition need to be seen, said Attorney General.
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 had 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 repealed. 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.
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.
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. (With inputs from ANI)