Free speech battle to go on even after SC settles sedition case
The Supreme Court’s decision to reject the request by the Union government to defer hearing on petitions challenging the sedition law has brought the focus back on this colonial era legislation.
The Supreme Court’s decision to reject the request by the Union government to defer hearing on petitions challenging the sedition law has brought the focus back on this colonial era legislation. The government had argued that the sedition law was on its way out as the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), or the new Indian Penal Code, is already in the process of being passed by parliament. The court, however, held that the BNS will come into force prospectively and not retrospectively. Hence, in order to decide the fate of all those who have already been booked under the sedition law, it was imperative for the court to decide on its constitutionality. It gave a clear indication of its stand last year when it asked the government to hold the sedition law in abeyance and to not file any new FIR under the IPC’s Section 124(A), which includes the offence of sedition.
The highest court’s rejection of Centre’s request to postpone hearing in the case is a clear reiteration of the judicial pushback against the law. The battle against the draconian provisions under Section 124(A) will continue to be fought long after the Supreme Court’s decision on its constitutional validity. This is because all the offences listed under Section 124(A) find mention under Section 150 of the newly-framed BNS. The term sedition is not mentioned in the new bill, but the definition of “acts endangering sovereignty, unity and integrity of India” has been broadened and the punishment made more stringent. The government has made it clear that it does not wish to let go of the sedition law.
The Law Commission had recommended against a complete repeal of the sedition law. In its 279th report tabled earlier this year, the commission suggested that the sedition law be retained with some amendments. The government has followed the commission’s advice. But the Supreme Court, under Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud, is clearly not on the same page on this issue. The government’s plea for deferment was an attempt to postpone the matter to a later date, when the court would be more amenable to its reasoning. At stake here is the citizens’ right to free speech and their freedom to question the government in power.