12 September (ANI): New Delhi, India The Indian Penal Code’s Section 124A, which makes sedition a crime, is being challenged in a number of petitions that the Supreme Court on Tuesday directed to a Constitution bench of at least five justices.
The new Bill (Bharathiya Nyaya Samhita) is still being considered by a standing committee of Parliament, thus a bench consisting of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra refused the Centre’s appeal to postpone assessing the constitutionality of the sedition statute.
Even if the new Bill is passed, the cases involving Section 124A of the IPC would not be impacted, according to a three-judge panel led by the Chief Justice of India. This is because the new criminal code can only be applied going forward.
The highest court concluded in its decision that the new legislation would not eliminate the need for a constitutional determination of the provision’s legality.
The supreme court argued that because a five-judge panel affirmed the clause in the 1962 Kedar Nath Singh decision, it was necessary to send the challenge to the sedition legislation to a bigger bench.
The statement said, “In our opinion, the proper course of action is to instruct the documents to be brought before the Chief Justice of India to determine that the batch of cases may be considered by a bench of at least five judges. In order to make an appropriate administrative decision to create a bench of at least five judges, we instruct the Registry to forward the files to the Chief Justice of India.
Senior attorney Kapil Sibal, who was representing the petitioners, disagreed with the Centre’s plea to postpone the hearing since the new Bill is still being reviewed by the Parliamentary committee because it has a comparable clause that is “far worse.”
The CJI informed Attorney General R Venkataramani that even if the new Bill is passed into law, it can only be applied going forward, and that prior crimes would continue to be prosecuted in accordance with the IPC. As a result, the challenge to Section 124A of the IPC will still be pertinent notwithstanding the new legislation.
The sedition statute would be suspended until the government’s effort to examine the law is finished, the Supreme Court had previously ruled.
It had requested that no Section 124A cases be filed by the Central government or the States.
It had also said that if similar cases were to be filed in the future, the parties would be free to go before the court and that it would have to quickly resolve the matter.
The top court had said that it would be prudent not to employ the provision of law till further re-examination is done, allowing the Central government to re-examine and revisit the terms of Section 124A.
An FIR under Section 124A would only be registered if the area Superintendent of Police (SP) is convinced that the facts of a case involve a sedition offence, the Centre had previously informed the top court. The government cannot prevent police from registering a cognisable offence under the sedition provision, the Centre had said.
Senior attorney Kapil Sibal, who was representing the petitioners, informed the court that Mahatma Gandhi had referred to Section 124A as the most effective tool for silencing government opposition and that then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had called it the most offensive law intended to stiffle dissent.
The Centre had then retorted that this administration was attempting to do what Pandit Nehru was unable to achieve at the time.
The Centre said in the affidavit that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is certain that the burdensome legislation from the colonial era, which have outlived their usefulness, must be repealed within the 75-year period of independence.
In similar vein, it had been reported that the Indian government has during 2014–15 repealed around 1,500 antiquated legislation.
But before that, the Central government said that the 1962 ruling of the five-judge Constitution bench decision, which supported the legality of the sedition crime under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, is binding and continues to be a “good law and needs no reconsideration.”
The 1962 ruling of the Supreme Court’s five-judge bench in the Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar case, which affirmed the legality of Section 124A of the IPC, has been cited as having withstood the test of time and continued to be enforced today in accordance with contemporary constitutional standards.
Numerous petitions contesting the constitutionality of sedition laws were submitted to the highest court. The petitions were submitted by former army general Major-General SG Vombatkere (Retd), former minister Arun Shourie, NGO PUCL, Editors Guild of India, journalists Patricia Mukhim and Anuradha Bhasin, journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha from Manipur, and Chhattisgarh resident Kanhaiya Lal Shukla.
The Central government was questioned by the then-CJI, NV Ramana, over the need for the sedition statute even 75 years after independence, noting that it was colonial law that was applied to freedom fighters.
The supreme court questioned the Centre as to why the sedition statute couldn’t be abolished while pointing out that it had been used against liberation fighters like Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak. It noted that the Centre has revoked a number of outdated legislation and questioned the government’s decision not to consider rescission of Section 124A of the IPC.
The court’s worry about the abuse of such legislation was further stated in the statement.
Use of sedition, according to CJI, is comparable to giving a carpenter a saw to chop a piece of wood, and having him use it to clear the whole forest.
Sedition is a crime under IPC Section 124-A, which is not subject to bail. (ANI)