Supreme Court of India
Supreme Court of India

'Cognisant of civil liberties of citizens': SC puts sedition law on hold till review

New Delhi, May 11, 2022

The Supreme Court on Wednesday said it is cognisant of the integrity of the state on the one hand and the civil liberties of citizens on the other as it put on hold the colonial-era penal provision of sedition.

It also asked the Centre and state governments to refrain from registering any FIRs under the sedition provision, Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, till a review of the law by Centre is complete.

A bench, headed by Chief Justice N. V. Ramana and comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, noted petitioners' contention that this provision of law dates back to 1898, and pre-dates the Constitution itself, and is being misused. It also considered Attorney General K. K. Venugopal's submissions citing glaring misuse of this provision, like in the case of recital of the Hanuman Chalisa (by the Rana couple in Maharashtra).

The bench said that all pending trials, appeals and proceedings with respect to the charge framed under Section 124A of IPC be kept in abeyance.

"Adjudication with respect to other sections, if any, could proceed if the courts are of the opinion that no prejudice would be caused to the accused," it added.

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs, in an affidavit, had said the top court may not invest time examining the validity of Section 124A once again, and rather wait for the exercise of reconsideration to be undertaken by the government before an appropriate forum where such reconsideration is constitutionally permitted.

The bench noted that it is cognizant of security interests and integrity of the state on one hand, and the civil liberties of citizens on the other. "There is a requirement to balance both sets of considerations, which is a difficult exercise.

"Therefore, we expect that, till the re-examination of the provision is complete, it will be appropriate not to continue the usage of the aforesaid provision of law by the governments."

In the interest of justice, the bench said: "We hope and expect that the state and Central governments will restrain from registering any FIR, continuing any investigation or taking any coercive measures by invoking Section 124A of IPC while the aforesaid provision of law is under consideration."

It added that if any fresh case is registered under Section 124A of IPC, the affected parties are at liberty to approach the courts concerned for appropriate relief.

"The courts are requested to examine the reliefs sought, taking into account the present order passed as well as the clear stand taken by the Union of India," said the bench.

It said the Centre will be at liberty to issue the directive to the state governments/UTs to prevent any misuse of Section 124A of IPC, and the above directions may continue till further orders are passed.

The top court has scheduled the matter for further listing in the third week of July.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, contended that the interpretation of the top court's judgment in Vinod Dua v. Union of India (2021) ought to be scrupulously followed and adhered to.

He added that an FIR involving the Section 124A will be registered only if an officer not below the rank of Superintendent of Police is satisfied and records his satisfaction in writing that the offence alleged, involves Section 124A as analysed by the top court in Vinod Dua judgment.

The top court order came on a batch of pleas filed by Major General S.G. Vombatkere (retd) and the Editors Guild of India and others, challenging the constitutional validity of Section 124A which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The MHA, in its affidavit, added: "The government of India, being fully cognisant of various views being expressed on the subject of sedition and also having considered the concerns of civil liberties and human rights, while committed to maintain and protect the sovereignty and integrity of this nation, 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 Prime Minister of India has been cognizant of various views expressed on the subject and has also periodically, in various forums, expressed his clear and unequivocal views in favour of protection of civil liberties, respect for human rights and giving meaning to the constitutionally cherished freedoms by the people of the country. He has repeatedly said that one of India's strengths is the diverse thought streams that beautifully flourish in our country," it added.

IANS

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