Context:

The Chief Justice of India indicated that Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code may have passed its time asking the government what was the need for the ‘colonial law’ of sedition after 75 years of Independence.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance (Judiciary, Important Judgements, Constitutional Provisions – Fundamental Rights, Government Interventions and Policies, Issues arising out of the design and implementation of Government Policies)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the recent judgment on Sedition law
  2. Low convictions in Sedition cases
  3. Kedar Nath Singh ruling, 1962

Click Here to learn What is Sedition and also about Sedition laws in India and their criticism

About the recent judgment on Sedition law

  • Chief Justice of India, in what may be an unprecedented judicial criticism of the way the sedition law is used by the government to crush liberties, asked why a colonial law used against Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak continued to survive in the law book after 75 years of Independence.
  • This judgement sends a strong message to the government that the Supreme Court is prima facie convinced that sedition is being misused by the authorities to trample upon citizens’ fundamental rights of free speech and liberty.
  • The CJI has made it clear that the court is sensitive to the public demand to judicially review the manner in which law enforcement authorities are using the sedition law to control free speech and send journalists, activists and dissenters to jail, and keep them there.
  • This is a step away from the court’s own Kedar Nath judgment of 1962 which had upheld Section 124A but read it down to mean any subversion of an elected government by violent means.
  • The CJI’s reference to low conviction rates under the sedition law resonates with a petition highlighting the “dramatic jump in charging a person with the offence of sedition since 2016”.

Low convictions in Sedition cases

  • In 2019, 93 cases were on the ground of sedition as compared to the 35 cases that were filed in 2016 (a 165% increase).
  • Of these 93 cases, chargesheets were filed in a mere 17% of cases and even worse, the conviction rate was an abysmally low 3.3%.
  • National Crime Records Bureau reports show that in 2019, 21 cases of sedition were closed on account of no evidence, two were closed being false cases and six cases held to be civil disputes.

Kedar Nath Singh ruling, 1962

  • The SC upheld the constitutional validity of the sedition law and also attempted to restrict its scope for misuse in the 1962 Kedar Nath Singh case.
  • According to the SC guidelines in the 1962 judgement, unless accompanied by an incitement or call for violence, criticism of the government cannot be labeled ‘sedition’.

Key principles of the ruling

  • The SC ruled that the expression ‘the Government established by law,’ in the Sedition law, has to be distinguished from the persons engaged in carrying on the administration for the time being. It said that the ‘Government established by law’ is the visible symbol of the State.
  • Any acts within the meaning of Section 124-A which have the effect of subverting the Government established by law, or creating disaffection against it, would be within the penal statute.
  • Comments on Government actions, however strongly worded, would not be penal, without exciting those feelings which generate the inclination to cause public disorder by acts of violence.
  • Sedition is limited only to such activities that come within the ambit of the observations of the Federal Court, which also covers “activities involving incitement to violence or intention or tendency to create public disorder or cause disturbance of public peace.”

-Source: The Hindu

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