Anti Sedition Law to Continue

In the Winter Session of Parliament, Kiren Rijiju informed the house that the government has no intention to scrap the anti- sedition law in the Indian Penal Code. This comes as a reply in reference to a recent instance where the Supreme Court termed the sedition law as colonial and observed that it has been misused. The Minister also informed that the matter regarding question of law under section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 is pending before the Supreme Court.

The Minister said the top court, in a writ petition (criminal) issued notice to the government,  to declaring Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 as void and unconstitutional

Contentious history

• Sedition law was inserted by the British in the year 1870, and almost dropped from the Constitution in 1948

• The word “sedition· disappeared from the Constitution on November 26, 1949 and Article 19 (1)(a) gave absolute freedom of speech and expression. However, Section 124A continued to stay in IPC.

• In the year 1951, Jawaharlal Nehru brought in the first amendment of the Constitution to limit the freedom under Article l9(l)(a) and enacted Article 19(2) which empowered the State to put curbs on exercise of right to free speech in the form of “reasonable restrictions·

• In the Kedar Nath case of 1962, a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the sedition law. The bench held that this Section 124A only penalised those words that reveal an intent or tendency to disturb law and order or that seem to incite violence. Therefore, this definition has been taken as precedent for all matters related to section 124A.

• According to the NCRB data, uploaded on its website, cases of sedition and under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act showed a rise in 2019, but only 3% of the sedition cases resulted in convictions.

What is the Sedition Law?

Sedition has been made a punishable offence under section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860

Definition:

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

Punishment:

If found guilty, the convict may undergo a sentence which may range from imprisonment for life along with fine, or imprisonment which upto three years along with fine, or  a fine depemding upon circumstance.

Landmark Judgments

P. Alavi vs State of Kerala (1982)

In this case, the court held that sloganeering, criticising of Parliament or the judicial set-up did not amount to sedition

Balwant Singh & Anr vs State Of Punjab (1995)

The Supreme Court in this matter held that raising some slogan (“Khalistan Zindabad”) a couple of times … which neither evoked any response nor any reaction from the public cannot attract such punishment

Arguments in favour of Anti Sedition Law (Section 124A)

  • It has its utility in combating anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements.
  • It acts as shield for the elected government from attempts to overthrow the government  by using violence and illegal means.
  • If contempt of court invites penal action, contempt of government should also attract punishment.
  • Helps in controlling Maoist insurgency

Arguments against Section 124A

  • It is a restriction on the legitimate exercise of constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression.
  • Criticism & dissent of the government is essential ingredients of robust public debate in a vibrant democracy. They should not be constructed as sedition.
  • The Britishers who introduced this sedition law to suppress Indians have themselves abolished the law in their own country.
  •  The language used is vague, and it is subject to different interpretations
  • IPC and Unlawful Activities Prevention (Amendment) Act 2019 have penalised  the act   of “overthrowing the government with violence and illegal means” or “disrupting the public order”
  • Internationally,  protection of freedom of expression has been recognised as right under  the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which India is a party and has ratified the convention in 1979.

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This post was last updated on January 7th, 2022 at 10:33 am

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