New Delhi | Jagran News Desk: In a historic development, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered that Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code which criminalises the offence of sedition be kept in abeyance till the government's exercise of reviewing the law is complete.

A bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli also asked the Central government and States not to register any cases under Section 124A. It added that if such cases are registered in future, the parties are at liberty to approach the court and the court has to expeditiously dispose of the same.

The apex court also said that those already booked under Section 124A IPC and are in jail can approach the concerned courts for bail. "It would be appropriate to put the provision on abeyance," the bench ordered.

Allowing the Central government to re-examine and reconsider the provisions of Section 124A, the apex court said that it will be appropriate not to use the provision of law till further re-examination is over. The bench now posted the hearing of a batch of pleas challenging the constitutional validity of the sedition law, in July.

What is Sedition Law?

The Sedition Law can be defined as "the use of words or actions that are intended to encourage people to be or act against a government". In the Section 124A of the Constitution of India, the colonial-era law is defined as, “Whoever, 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 shall be punished with im­prisonment for life, to which fine may be added…”.

The provisions of the law are further explained in three points in the Constitution, which state:

- 1 The expression “disaffection” includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity;

- 2 Comments expressing disapprobation of the meas­ures of the Government with a view to obtaining their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section;

- 3 Comments expressing disapprobation of the admin­istrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.

When did Sedition Law originate in India?

The Sedition Law was first drafted by British Historian and Politician Thomas Babington Macaulay. Though the law was made in 1860, it was not included in the code enacted in that year and was added as an offence under section 124A IPC through the Special Act XVII in 1890. Sedition law was aimed at curbing political dissent against the British regime in India during its independent movement. The Britishers also invoked Sedition against celebrated freedom fighters including Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Annie Besant, Mohammad Ali and Maulana Azad.

Sedition cases in the last 6 years:

Between 2015 and 2020, 356 cases of sedition -- as defined under Section 124A of the IPC--were registered and 548 persons were arrested, according to data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). However, just 12 persons arrested in seven sedition cases were convicted in this six-year period.

What SC's stay on Sedition means?

The SC was hearing a batch of pleas filed by several journalists and TMC MP Mahua Moitra seeking that the Sedition law be referred to a larger bench for reconsidering the 1962 verdict of a five-judge constitution bench in the Kedar Nath Singh case.

The top court's stay on Sedition is crucial as if the SC decides to strike down the law even after the re-examination of the law by the Centre, it will have to overrule the Kedar Nath ruling and uphold the rulings of the High Courts that were liberal on free speech.

If the law is repealed, then the pending cases will also stand invalid and the court will decide the future course for the accused in those cases. The stay by the top court will also restrict the Central and State governments from filing new cases under the Sedition charges. The SC has also allowed the accused imprisoned under Sedition charges to file for bail until the government comes up with the review.  

SC's 1962 Kedar Nath Ruling on Sedition:

The top court, in 1962, upheld the validity of the sedition law while attempting to restrict its scope for misuse. It had held that unless accompanied by incitement or a call for violence, the criticism of the government cannot be construed as a seditious offence. The top court had stated that a speech would only be considered seditious if it is made to incite "public disorder". It had also issued several guidelines describing when a speech cannot be termed seditious.

"...not all speech with disaffection, hatred or contempt against the state, but only speech that is likely to incite public disorder would qualify as sedition", the top court had stated. The court further said that only sloganeering, that too, without any threat to public order would not qualify as sedition. 

Posted By: Talibuddin Khan