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175 viewsAll GS PapersGS Paper 2
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Approach:

  1. Intro stating recent SC verdict on Sedition law.
  2. Define the provision of Sedition law.
  3. Refer cases where it has been challenged.
  4. Discuss the reasons for its dangerousness, mentioning its inconsistency with international laws.
  5. Conclusion

Section 124 A of the IPC – the Sedition law – has remained under question for the right reasons. Following this, in a landmark verdict, the SC has put on hold the controversial law stating, “all pending trials, appeals & proceedings w.r.t charges framed under Section 124A of IPC should be kept in abeyance till the central government reviews its provisions”. The Central government has promised to review & reconsider the law.

Section 124A of IPC reads, “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 jail terms ranging from three years to life imprisonment, and fines.”

The sedition law has been repeatedly challenged in courts – the 1st such case in independent India being Ram Nandan vs State of Uttar Pradesh (1958), then, Kedar Nath Singh vs Union of India (1962), and subsequently a barrage of cases followed. The Kedar Nath Singh case is particularly important since it spelled out that a person cannot be prosecuted for sedition unless his acts cause incitement to violence and/or cause public disorder. Despite this, there has been indiscriminate use by law enforcement agencies.

The Peril: The law’s main threat arises from its anti-democratic character restraining fundamental rights to freedom of expression. Also, the entire gamut of IPC sections 121 – 124A relate to “waging war against the state”, that gives enough leg room to indict a person under ‘effective sedition’. The NCRB’s statistics for 2010 – 2020 shows 168 cases of sedition were invoked in Bihar alone. Thus, the law enforcement agencies without expressly invoking 124A, can resort to additional charges under Section 121-124. Such add-ons can make it difficult for an accused to have protection because of the prohibitions.

The Supreme Court has failed to provide relief in 324 sedition cases registered b/w 2014 – 2019. Again, acquittal is a 6 year struggle; while the SC effectively protects a small group of persons, it could not provide reprieve to more than 500 persons slapped with sedition charges, since they have charges under other sections 121-124.

Also it is incompatible with international laws. The UNGA’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 says that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, caveated by either breach of reputation of others, or question of public morality, national security and public order. Similarly, the European Court of Human Rights concluded that any activity won’t attract arbitrary dismissal of freedom of expression unless the state can prove that no other alternative remedies were available other than registering a criminal case against the person.

Jawaharlal Nehru strongly opposed this law describing it as “highly obnoxious”. Considering its wide misuse to silence criticism against government, many advocate that the law should now fade into oblivion. The SC’s verdict offers a ray of hope, acknowledging its colonial vestige and indicating the court’s disagreement with it.

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