The Bombay High Court on Tuesday stayed the Maharashtra government’s controversial August 27 circular on sedition till the State files a reply to two petitions challenging its constitutional validity.
Hearing the petitions of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi and advocate Narendra Sharma, a Division Bench of Justices V.M. Kanade and Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi restrained the government from acting on its circular and directed the State to file a reply by October 20.
The circular says that criticism of a politician or a public servant, in the form of words, signs or representations, can attract sedition charges under Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) if it shows them as representatives of the Union or the State governments.
The petitions sought to quash the circular on the ground that it violated the constitutional rights of people and was liable to be misused in the absence of training to police personnel about the circumstances in which sedition could be invoked.
The government told the court that in view of the controversy generated it would consider withdrawing the circular or replacing it with a new one.
In 2012, Maharashtra arrested Mr. Trivedi on the charge of sedition for his political cartoons published online, sparking widespread outrage. Facing flak from civil society and the High Court, the government later dropped the charges against him.
The government issued the circular following a direction from the Bombay High Court in March which had taken suo motu cognisance of Mr. Trivedi’s arrest.
Mr. Trivedi’s lawyer Mihir Desai argued that some clauses of the circular were vague and ran contrary to the legal positions laid down by the High Courts and Supreme Court.
The petitioners also contended that a political personality is not an administrative figure and some clauses of the circular were not clear on the specific nature of written and spoken material which could constitute sedition.