Supreme Court Asks Centre: Is There a Need for a Colonial Sedition Law Even After 75 Years of Independence?

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Concerned over the rampant misuse of sedition law provided under Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Hon’ble Supreme Court asked the Centre if a colonial-era sedition law, which was used to silence Mahatma Gandhi, Tilak etc., and suppress freedom, was needed even after 75 years of Independence.

Background of the Case

The petitioner, Major General S.G. Vombatkere (Retd.), filed a writ petition challenging Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (Hereinafter referred to as IPC), which deals with the offence of sedition on the ground that it is ultra vires Article 19 (1) (a), 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India.

Similar petitions have been filed by two journalists and Sashi Kumar, founder of Asianet challenging the constitutional validity of Section 124-A of IPC. The matter was heard on 12th July 2021 by a bench headed by Justice U.U. Lalit and the Supreme Court had issued a notice to the Centre seeking their views on striking down Section 124-A of IPC. Thereon, the matter was listed to be heard on 27th July 2021.

Arguments before the Court

The petitioner contended that the reasoning used to uphold the constitutional validity of Section 124-A of IPC in Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar (1962) was overruled by a larger Constitutional Bench in R.C. Cooper v. Union of India (1970) and it was reaffirmed in the cases of Raj Narain (1975) and Puttasawmy (2017).

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According to the petitioner the legal and constitutional landscape pertaining to the offence of sedition had changed; hence “the provision ought to be unequivocally and unambiguously struck down.

The petitioner contended that “a statute criminalizing expression based on unconstitutionally vague definitions of disaffection towards Government, contempt, feelings of enmity etc., was an unreasonable restriction on the fundamental rights and that it had a chilling effect on free speech.”

The petitioner prayed for the issuance of a writ of mandamus or an order or a direction declaring Section 124-A of IPC as void and inoperative.

Observations of the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court observed

It is a colonial law, it was meant to suppress the freedom movement, the same law was made used by British to silence Mahatma Gandhi, Tilak etc. Still is it necessary after 75 years of independence?

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The Court highlighted the misuse of sedition law as well.

Supreme Court Issues Notice to Centre

The Court issued a notice to the Centre seeking its view regarding the need to retain the British era sedition law. Additionally, the Court held that it would look into the constitutionality of the sedition law.

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