MUMBAI: Under attack from opposition and activists, the Maharashtra government has withdrawn its controversial circular on sedition law, which was seen as an instrument aimed at 'stifling' criticism and dissent.
Two months after the Devendra Fadnavis government issued the circular on August 27, it informed the Bombay High Court today that it has been withdrawn. State's Advocate General Srihari Aney told a division bench of the court comprising V M Kanade and Shalini Phansalkar Joshi that it stood withdrawn following a high-level meeting chaired by Chief Minister Fadnavis.
The circular contained guidelines to police with regard to invocation of IPC Section (124-A). It said sedition clause can be invoked against "whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representation, is critical of politicians, elected representatives belonging to the government." Though it clarified that the section will not be invoked against those trying to bring change in government through legal means without hatred and contempt, the opposition was up in arms against it, saying it reflected an "Emergency-like" situation.
After the court's poser about how the circular was issued in the first place, the Advocate General said the government would conduct an exercise to ascertain how it happened. Facing vehement criticism from the opposition and activists alike, the government had last month claimed it was an old circular prepared when Congress-NCP combine was in power but had got "lost in translation". It had then said a new version will be brought later.
Today, however, the AG did not say whether the government will come out with a fresh circular. The high court had earlier restrained the government from acting on the circular. The court is hearing two petitions, including one by cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, who had himself been arrested on sendition charges, against the circular. According to the petitioners, the circular was unconstitutional and violated fundamental rights of citizens. Trivedi was arrested on September 8, 2012, on an FIR under section 124A (sedition) and other provisions of IPC for cartoons published on 'India Against Corruption' website.
However, on a PIL, the Bombay high court had granted him bail. Later, the state government, on the advice of the Advocate General, had dropped the charge though the case under other provisions of IPC continued against him.