Legal experts Wednesday termed “historic” the Supreme Court order to put on hold the “archaic” colonial-era penal law on sedition till it is reexamined by an appropriate government forum.
Senior lawyers Rakesh Dwivedi, Vikas Singh and Vikas Pahwa hailed the order, opining it was a timely course-correction keeping in mind the abuse of the provision.
“The order is historic. The course-correction is timely. In view of it, now no one can be prosecuted under Section 124A. No new FIR can be registered,” Dwivedi said.
Singh said the 1962 judgement on 124A in the Kedar nath Singh had corrected the shortcomings of the penal provision, but, the police officials did not read the verdict and mechanically lodge case under the provision after using the definition of the IPC.
“It was totally being misused. This is the right course of action (SC’s order), because Parliament has not been willing to do anything and the harassment is going on unabated all across the country, so definitely the court had to step in,” Singh, who is also the SCBA president, said.
Welcoming the order, Pahwa said since the central government has already filed an affidavit acknowledging their reconsideration of the law on sedition, the Supreme Court has rightly passed the direction to keep Section 124A IPC at abeyance till further re-examination is concluded.
Dwivedi said, however, the top court has permitted reconsideration by the Centre for “narrowly tailoring the new law to protect security and integrity of the nation”.
“Recent abuse of section 124A by various governments in India stresses the need for a relook and narrowly tailored law in accordance with the doctrine of proportionality and fundamental nature of personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution,” he said.
Dwivedi said the law is archaic and was inserted in the IPC to deal with fallouts of the 1857 rebellion and its aftermath.
Singh said that the sedition law was drafted by the British and had definite shortcomings.
Those shortcomings were corrected by the Kedar Nath Singh judgement of the Supreme court, which literally rewrote the law’, but Parliament did not do anything to amend the law to bring it in conformity with that judgment, he said.
In the Kedar Nath judgment, the apex court had reasoned that the penalisation of sedition is a constitutionally valid restriction on the right to freedom of expression only when the words are intended to disturb public peace by violence.
So, what was happening was that the police officers would not follow the Kedar Nath judgment but follow the IPC and kept on harassing on the plain reading of the law in the IPC, Singh said.
Pahwa said by keeping the operation of the Section in abeyance, the authorities shall be compelled to examine the matter expeditiously, as the misuse of the offence of sedition was noticed frequently in various states.
The order of restraint passed by the Supreme Court will also facilitate the release of many accused from incarceration, particularly in cases where the offence of sedition was not prima facie made out, he said.
In a path-breaking order, the Supreme Court on Wednesday put on hold the colonial-era penal law on sedition till an appropriate government forum re-examines it and directed the Centre and states to not register any fresh FIR invoking the offence.
Besides the lodging of FIRs, ongoing probes, pending trials and all proceedings under the sedition law across the country will also be in abeyance, a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana ruled.
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