GS Paper 2
Syllabus: Functions and Responsibilities of the Union and the States
Context: The Law Commission of India has recommended the retention of the 153-year-old colonial law on sedition in India.
The Sedition Law in India:
Section 124A of the IPC:
- It deals with Sedition – a non-bailable offence and was drafted by TB Macaulay and included in the IPC in 1870.
- Whoever (by words/signs/visible representation) brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India shall be punished.
Punishment under Section 124A: Punishment under the law varies from imprisonment up to three years to a life term and fine.
Need of Section 124A: To effectively combat anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements.
Criticism of Section 124A:
- It is designed to suppress the liberty of the citizens (Gandhiji).
- It is highly objectionable and the sooner we get rid of it, the better it is (Jawaharlal Nehru).
- Not in tune with the current social milieu, and was intended for a colonial regime.
- Often misused to muzzle dissent.
- Low conviction rate.
In SC’s view:
- In Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar (1962), the top court upheld the validity of Section 124A, but also attempted to restrict the colonial-era law’s scope for misuse.
- Invoking the sedition clause requires the existence of a harmful intent to promote violence and the penal provision cannot be utilised to restrict free speech.
- The government could not put citizens behind bars simply because they chose to disagree with the state policies.
- Views, which are dissent and different from the opinion of the government cannot be termed seditious.
- In 2022, the SC effectively put on hold the colonial-era penal provision, and asked the Centre/states to desist from arresting/prosecuting people under the contentious provision.
- The Union government recently informed the top court that the legislative process of reviewing/reforming the sedition law was in the “final stages”.
The Law Commission of India on sedition law:
- The sedition law is a reasonable restriction on the right to free speech.
- Repealing the legal provision can have serious adverse ramifications for the security and integrity of the country.
- Mere fact that a particular legal provision is colonial in its origin does not validate the case for its repeal.
- Jurisdictions like the US, UK, etc., have actually merged their sedition law with counter-terror legislations.
Recommendations – Amend Section 124A of the IPC:
- To bring about more clarity in the interpretation, understanding, and usage of the provision and to align it with the SC’s 1962 verdict.
- To replace mere inclination to incite violence or cause public disorder with proof of actual violence or imminent threat to violence.
- To enhance the alternative punishment to “7 years”, giving the courts greater room to award punishment in accordance with the gravity of the act.
- Procedural safeguards to minimise the abuse. For example, Section 154 of the CrPC could be amended to hold that a FIR under Section 124A would be registered only after a police officer conducts a preliminary inquiry.