The Supreme Court suspended pending criminal trials and court proceedings under Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code, while allowing the Union of India to reconsider the British-era law.
The SC verdict:
- The interim order issued an absolute order staying all ongoing cases under Section 124A of the IPC where a chargesheet had been filed.
- However, adjudication of other sections of law (if any), would proceed if the court concerned found that the accused would not be prejudiced.
- The court further stated that it hopes and expects the Centre and States to refrain from filing FIRs, conducting investigations or taking coercive actions under Section 124A while the colonial law is being reconsidered.
- The court, however, did not set a timeline for the reconsideration process, recognising that it could include legislative action.
- Persons charged in new cases were free to approach courts, which would review their cases in light of the SC’s judgement and the Union’s clear position that the provision was abused and needed re-examination.
Issues with the verdict:
- The order does not have an effect of absolute stay as it states that if a fresh case is registered the accused would have the liberty to approach appropriate courts.
- It left to the discretion of the subordinate courts by noting that such courts are asked to investigate such instances after taking into account its order and the central government’s position.
- The order may have left room open to the state and central governments to continue filing cases.
- The only consequence of not complying with the request would be that the accused would again be left to the mercy of the court to seek bail or stay of arrest.
Should be removed:
Frequent use: In recent times, the resort to this section is seen as disturbingly frequent.
Curbing dissent: Activists, cartoonists and intellectuals have been arrested under this section, drawing criticism from liberals that it is being used to suppress dissent and silence critics.
Misuse for propaganda: Authorities and the police who invoke this section defend the measure as a necessary step to prevent public disorder and anti-national activities.
Irrelevance: Many of them have also been detained under the National Security Act and UAPA.
There are some tendencies exist even today who wish to overthrow the state apparatus and constitutional scheme of India.
Undue exercise of free speech has led to overture of ordinary dissent into an anti-national insurrection or uprising.
There are areas in the country that face hostile activities and insurgencies created by rebel groups, like the Maoists.
There must be restrictions on expressing unnecessary contempt or ridiculing of the Government beyond certain limits.
- The definition of sedition should be narrowed down, to include only the issues pertaining to the territorial integrity of India as well as the sovereignty of the country.
- Section 124A should not be misused as a tool to curb free speech.
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