Wednesday, 20 July 2022

ANALYSIS OF USAGE OF SEDITION LAW IN INDIA

    ANALYSIS OF USAGE OF SEDITION LAW IN INDIA 



INTRODUCTION

In year 2021 the Supreme Court protected a political leader and six senior journalists from arrest in multiple sedition FIRs registered against them.

Sedition laws date from the 17th century in England, when politicians believed that only positive government beliefs should be allowed to exist, as negative opinions were harmful to the government and monarchy. Thomas Macaulay drafted the law in 1837, but it was mysteriously erased when the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was implemented in 1860. When it saw the necessity for a particular section to deal with the offence, Section 124A was inserted in 1870 by an amendment sponsored by Sir James Stephen. It was one of several severe laws implemented at the period to silence any voices of protest.

As per IPC section 124A  defines sedition as an offence committed when "any person by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India".


PUNISHMENT FOR THE OFFENCE OF SEDITION

Sedition is a non-bailable offence. Punishment under the Section 124A ranges from imprisonment up to three years to a life term, to which fine may be added.A person charged under this law is barred from a government job.They have to live without their passport and must produce themselves in the court at all times as and when required.



MAJOR SUPREME COURT DECISIONS ON SEDITION LAW

The SC highlighted debates over sedition in 1950 in its decisions in Brij Bhushan vs the State of Delhi and Romesh Thappar vs the State of Madras.

In these cases, the court held that a law which restricted speech on the ground that it would disturb public order was unconstitutional.It also held that disturbing the public order will mean nothing less than endangering the foundations of the State or threatening its overthrow.Thus, these decisions prompted the First Constitution Amendment, where Article 19 (2) was rewritten to replace “undermining the security of the State” with “in the interest of public order”.


In 1962, the SC decided on the constitutionality of Section 124A in Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar. The case  upheld the constitutionality of sedition, but limited its application to “acts involving intention or tendency to create disorder, or disturbance of law and order, or incitement to violence”.It distinguished these from “very strong speech” or the use of “vigorous words” strongly critical of the government.


In 1995, the SC, in Balwant Singh vs State of Punjab, held that mere sloganeering which evoked no public response did not amount to sedition.

 

ARGUMENTS IN SUPPORT OF SECTION 124A

  1. Section 124A of the IPC has its utility in combating anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements.


  1. It protects the elected government from attempts to overthrow the government with violence and illegal means. The continued existence of the government established by law is an essential condition of the stability of the State.

ARGUMENTS AGAINST SECTION 124A

  1. Section 124A is a relic of colonial legacy and unsuited in a democracy. It is a constraint on the legitimate exercise of constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression.


  1. Dissent and criticism of the government are essential ingredients of robust public debate in a vibrant democracy. They should not be constructed as sedition.


  1. The terms used under Section 124A like 'disaffection' are vague and subject to different interpretations to the whims and fancies of the investigating officers.



CONCLUSION

India is the world's largest democracy, and the right to free speech and expression is a necessary component of that democracy. Sedition should not be considered when someone expresses or thinks something that contradicts the current government's policy. Section 124A should not be utilised to stifle free expression. The Supreme Court's caveat on prosecution under the statute, which was issued in the Kedar Nath case, can help to prevent its abuse. It must be scrutinised in light of changing facts and circumstances, as well as against the backdrop of ever-changing standards of necessity, proportionality, and arbitrariness.


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