Sedition law poses serious threat to individual freedom, says SC

Underlining its “enormous power of abuse,” the Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Center why it should not repeal the colonial sedition law that was once used to oppress leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

The government’s top lawyer, Attorney General KK Venugopal, argued that the law as a whole did not need to be overturned and that the court could establish strict guidelines in order for the provision to fulfill its legal purpose.

The court observed that the indiscriminate use of Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) is like a saw in the hands of a carpenter who cuts down the entire forest instead of a tree.

“Unfortunately, keeping this law after 75 years … This government has repealed many outdated laws. We do not know why they are not looking at this law? Maintaining this law is a serious threat to the functioning of institutions and the freedom of individuals, ”said a bench led by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana.

Warning the central government against a series of petitions that pushed for the cancellation of Article 124A (sedition) of the IPC, the court stressed that it was concerned about “the abuse of the law and the lack of accountability of the executive and the investigator. agencies “.

The court’s comments come amid an increase in the number of sedition cases. Between 2016 and 2019, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau, the number of such cases increased by 160% to 93. But in 2019, the conviction rate in such cases was only 3.3%.

“There is no doubt that this is colonial law and was used by the British to suppress freedom and was used against Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Is this law still necessary after 75 years of independence? Do you have to keep it in the statute book? ”Venugopal asked the bench, which also included Justices AS Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta asked for time to record the Centre’s response.

The penal provision is punishable by imprisonment ranging from three years to life imprisonment, with or without a fine.

On Wednesday, the judiciary asked the attorney general for help ruling on a petition filed by SG Vombatkere, a former army officer. This petition questioned the constitutional validity of Section 124A and called for a directive to quash all ongoing section proceedings with police and courts across the country.

As the case began on Thursday, Venugopal pointed out that there were at least two more cases on the validity of Section 124A pending before other Supreme Court benches and, therefore, the CJI bench. could hear all of this stuff together. At this point, lead lawyer Shyam Divan argued that the Editors Guild of India also filed a petition to quash the sedition law and their petition should also be clubbed.

The judiciary then agreed to hear all these questions together.

“If you see the history of this section, the conviction rate is very low. The enormous abuse power of this section can be compared to a carpenter given a saw. Instead of cutting down a tree, he cuts down the entire forest, ”the bench said.

“Take the 66A IT Act: thousands of cases have been recorded even after its cancellation. If the police want to fix someone, they can also invoke 124A. Everyone is a little afraid when this section can be invoked. These are all questions that must be considered … If a political party wants to suppress dissenting voices, it can use this law to reserve others, ”said the judiciary, adding that it would examine all these cases on the section 124A after two weeks. .

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