The Centre told the Supreme Court on Monday that it has decided to “re-examine and re-consider” the provisions of Section (sedition law) 124A of the Indian Penal Code, claiming that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is aware of diverse viewpoints raised on the statute.
“The Government of India, fully cognizant of various views being expressed on the subject of sedition, as well as concerns about civil liberties and human rights, has decided to re-examine and re-consider the provisions of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which can only be done before the competent forum,” the Centre said in an affidavit filed in the top court.
The three-page affidavit, filed on the eve of a crucial hearing before a three-judge Bench led by CJI NV Ramana to consider whether petitions challenging the validity of sedition laws should be referred to a seven-judge Bench, urged the Supreme Court not to waste time reexamining the validity of Section 124A – which was upheld by a five-judge Constitution Bench in Kedar Nath Singh’s case in 1962 – and
“At a time when our nation is commemorating ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ (75 years since Independence), the Hon’ble Prime Minister believes that we must work even harder as a nation to eliminate colonial baggage that has outlived its usefulness, including outmoded colonial laws and practises.”
Since 2014-15, the Indian government has repealed nearly 1500 old legislation in this spirit. It also removed over 25,000 compliance obligations that were generating unnecessary hardships for our country’s citizens. Various offences that were causing people unnecessary hardships have been decriminalised,” the affidavit stated.
“These were laws and compliances that reeked of a colonial mindset and so had no place in today’s India,” the Centre said, describing the process as “ongoing.”
“The Hon’ble Prime Minister of India has been cognizant of various views expressed on the subject and has also expressed his clear and unequivocal views in favour of protecting civil liberties, respecting human rights, and giving meaning to the constitutionally cherished values,” according to the affidavit ,freedoms by the people of the country. He has emphasised many times that one of India’s strengths is the diversity of thinking streams that bloom in our society.”
The Centre aimed to draw attention to the fact that various jurists, academicians, intellectuals, and people expressed differing viewpoints in public.
“While they agree on the need for statutory provisions to deal with serious crimes affecting the country’s sovereignty and integrity, acts leading to the destabilisation of the government established by law through means not authorised or prohibited by law, requiring a penal provision for such purposes is widely accepted by everyone in the legitimate State interest.” However, concerns have been raised about its use and abuse for purposes not permitted by law,” the report stated.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had on Saturday told the Supreme Court that a three-judge can’t reconsider the ratio of a Constitution Bench judgment without referring the matter to a larger Bench. Describing the Kedar Nath Singh verdict as “well-balanced”, Attorney General KK Venugopal had earlier said, “It balanced free speech and national security… It does not call for reconsideration. The court needs to put in place certain guidelines… what’s permissible and what’s impermissible.”
A three-judge Bench led by CJI NV Ramana had on Thursday decided to examine if petitions challenging the validity of sedition law under Section 124A of the IPC needed to be referred to a seven-judge Bench as a five-judge Bench had upheld its constitutionality in Kedar Nath Singh’s case in 1962.
It had requested that the Centre submit written submissions on the question of reference and scheduled a hearing on May 10.
Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code states that a person commits sedition if he or she incites or seeks to incite hatred or contempt for the government constituted by law in India. It can be expressed by words (spoken or written), signs, visible representation, or other means. It specifies a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Sedition was not included in the original IPC, which went into effect in 1862. It was added to the Code in 1870, and its scope was increased in 1898 with the goal of suppressing liberty movement.
The Chief Justice of the United States had asked the Attorney General in July 2021 to clarify if this statute was still necessary after 75 years of independence. He had remarked that the British had exploited the sedition statute against Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and that it was again being misused with no responsibility from the government. “A number of legislation have been abolished by the administration… I’m not sure why you’re not investigating it “The Chief justice had inquired.
Editors Guild of India and former Major General S G Vombatkere, former union minister Arun Shourie, and journalists Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha from Manipur and Kanhaiya Lal Shukla from Chhattisgarh were among the petitioners challenging the legality of Section 124A of the IPC.