The recent petitions in SC may set the tone for what would be a comprehensive reconsideration of a section that has been frequently and wrongfully used.
- Four petitions are currently in the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the sedition law; the latest was filed by the PUCL on July 16.
- In wake of this, the Supreme Court has questioned the government, ‘Why does Section 124A continue in the statute book even after 75 years of independence?’
Why should it be abolished?
- It is misused for settling political scores, curbing free speech (article 19), and press freedom. It is a convenient tool for under-performing governments to use against critics.
- The Uttar Pradesh government filed sedition cases against journalists for merely tweeting that a farm protestor had died in police firing, while the autopsy later indicated he had likely died in an accident.
- In Haryana, a hundred agitating farmers have been charged with sedition for attacking and vandalising government vehicles, particularly the one carrying Assembly Deputy Speaker Ranbir Singh Gangwa in Sirsa.
- It is driven by colonial tendencies, which were useful for Britishers to curb the freedom movement. However, such laws have no place in a democracy where citizens are the real sovereign.
- The recent reports show that the number of cases of sedition under Section 124A increased by 160%. Whereas the rate of conviction dropped to 3.3% in 2019 from 33.3% in 2016.
- The Kedarnath Judgment laid down an ambiguous test, where the speech is measured on the parameter of its “tendency” to result in public disorder. However, it does not clarify how the tendency of a speech was to be gauged. This leads to even higher misuse.
- The U.K. abolished the offense of sedition in 2010. Whereas, India is still retaining the law given by the British Empire.
- Similarly, in Australia also, following the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) the term sedition was removed and replaced with references to ‘urging violence offenses’.
- In 2018, the Law Commission of India questioned how far it is justified to retain Section 124A. It suggested a cautious reconsideration of the section or complete repeal.
- The recent petitions in SC may set the tone for what would be a comprehensive reconsideration of a section that has been frequently and wrongfully used.
- For instance, subjecting sedition to the Brandenburg standard would answer the problems emanating from the 1962 test.
- It calls for expressions to be penalised only where there is incitement to “imminent lawless action”.
- It is the ultimate standard to protect speech and has already been adopted as the threshold for upholding the right to free expression by the SC in Indra Das (2011) and Shreya Singhal (2015).
- Similarly, the government can use tough IPC sections against rioting, obstructing public servants on duty, etc. instead of sedition.
- While issuing fresh guidelines and safeguards is one way of quelling the potential for its misuse, it will be more helpful if Section 124A is struck down altogether.