NEW DELHI: Expressing concern over the rampant misuse of the colonial sedition law, the Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Centre why it has not got rid of the legislation when several other old laws have been repealed. The observation came when a bench headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana was hearing a plea by retired Major-General S G Vombatkere, who challenged the Constitutional validity of Section 124 A (sedition) of the IPC on the grounds that it causes a chilling effect on free speech.
“Dispute is that it is a colonial law and was used by British to suppress freedoms and used against Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Is this law still needed after 75 years of Independence?” Justice Ramana wondered.
Pointing towards its misuse, the CJI said, “If you see the history of charging under this section, the conviction rate is very low. The enormous power of this section can be compared to a carpenter being given a saw to make an item, (but) uses it to cut the entire forest instead of a tree. That’s the effect of this provision.”
The CJI also clarified that he was not blaming any government but added that the concern was about the “misuse of the law and no accountability of the Executive”. According to Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code, those who attempt to create hatred or contempt against the government shall be punished with imprisonment or fine or both. The offence is not bailable.
In 1962, the Supreme Court had upheld it in the Kedar Nath Yadav versus the State of Bihar case. “The government has taken out a lot of stale laws, I don’t know why they have not looked into this,” Justice Ramana told Attorney General K K Venugopal. The latter suggested that instead of repealing the section, parameters and guidelines could be laid down.
However, CJI Ramana once again emphasised the “gravity of the situation” and said “if a party does not want to hear the voice of the other party, they may use this type of law and implicate other people”. The court, then, issued notice to the Centre and tagged it with other pending cases. Former Union minister Arun Shourie, too, has approached the Supreme Court challenging the sedition law.
Sedition case count
(2014 to 2019)