Significance of the Kedar Nath Singh Judgment on Sedition

Synopsis:

The significance of Kedar Nath Singh judgment for sedition cases was once again highlighted in the recent Vinod Dua sedition case. The 1962 judgment upheld Section-124A of the Indian Penal Code, but it significantly narrowed down the provision.

Background:
  • The SC struck down a sedition case filed under Section-124 A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against journalist Vinod Dua.
    • The case was filed over Dua’s comments on his YouTube channel in which he criticized the government. 
    • He was charged under sections 124A (sedition), 268 (public nuisance), 501 (printing matter known to be defamatory) and 505 (statements conducive to public mischief) of the IPC.
  • The SC ruled that every journalist is entitled to protection under the Kedar Nath Singh judgment and thereby dismissed the sedition charges.
What is Section 124A of IPC?
  • Sedition is defined as any action that brings or attempts to bring contempt or hatred towards the government of India. Sedition cases are punishable with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
  • It was inserted into IPC in 1870. The section was introduced initially to deal with increasing Wahabi activities between 1863 and 1870. These activities posed a challenge to the colonial government.
Facts of Kedarnath Singh v State of Bihar (1962) case:
  • Kedar Nath was booked for sedition for a seditious speech during his rally at Begusarai.
  • In his speech, he equated elected congress representatives with local goondas (goons). He called for taking back the rule through a general revolution and reducing capitalists, zamindars and Congress into ashes. The aim was to establish a government of the poor and the downtrodden people of India.
  • He was convicted for sedition by a lower court, and later he appealed in SC over the constitutional validity of Section 124A. As per the appeal, Section-124A violated the right to free speech under Article 19 of the constitution.
SC’s ruling in Kedar Nath case:
  • It upheld the constitutional validity of Section-124A however it restricted its scope for misuse.
  • What constitutes sedition? – It said that any act which has an effect of subverting the Government by violent means or creating public disorder would come within the definition of sedition.
  • What is not sedition? – However, mere disapproval of the measures of government with a view to demanding their improvement or alteration by lawful means is not sedition. 
  • Right to criticize: the Court agreed that a citizen has a right to say or write whatever he likes about the Government, or its measures, by way of criticism or comment.
    • Limitations: Provided it does not incite people to violence against the Government established by law or with the intention of creating public disorder.
  • The court deduced that Kedarnath’s speech gave a general reference to revolution and the element of inciting violence against the government was absent. Therefore, he was acquitted of sedition charges.

Source: The Indian Express 

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