How the PM and CJI came to see eye-to-eye on outdated laws

PM’s view on ‘colonial baggage’ mirrors CJI’s oral remarks on sedition, but the govt. did not always agree

Updated - May 10, 2022 09:28 am IST

Published - May 09, 2022 10:02 pm IST - NEW DELHI

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana.

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana. | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s belief that the nation should not suffer the “colonial baggage” of “outdated laws” during ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ mirrors oral remarks made by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana on sedition in July 2021.

The CJI, in an unprecedented judicial criticism of the government’s abuse of the sedition provision in the Indian Penal Code, had questioned the government’s reliance on a colonial law, which was once used by the British against Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak, even 75 years after Independence.

“Is this law necessary after 75 years of Independence?” Chief Justice Ramana had asked the Centre in open court in July 2021.

The CJI had asked the government why it had not thrown sedition out along with other stale laws. The top judge had compared the government’s use of sedition to that of “a saw given to the carpenter to cut a piece of wood and he uses it to cut the entire forest itself”. People live in fear, the CJI had said.

The contents of the Home Ministry’s three-page affidavit on Monday, agreeing to “re-consider” the sedition law, seemed to suggest that the Prime Minister and the CJI are on the same page about the role of antiquated colonial laws like sedition in modern India.

The Ministry described how the Prime Minister “believed” that “outdated colonial laws” had no reason to stay on when the country is marking ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ or “75 years since Independence”. The Ministry said the Prime Minister had “periodically, in various forums, expressed his clear and unequivocal views in favour of protection of civil liberties”.

The government said it has removed offences and stale laws which were “mindless hindrances” to the people. This was an “ongoing process”, the Ministry assured. The government also seemed to agree with the CJI when it said in the affidavit that laws which “reeked of a colonial mindset have no place in today’s India”.

But, it seems, the government had not always shared the same viewpoint as the CJI.

In December 2021, merely five months after the CJI’s remarks, the government, in a written reply to the Parliament, had said there was no proposal to scrap sedition from the penal code.

“The Ministry of Home Affairs has informed that there is no proposal under consideration to scrap Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Further, the question of law regarding Section 124A is pending for adjudication before the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India,” Law Minister Kiren Rijiju had said in a written reply in the Lok Sabha. Mr. Rijiju had even argued that observations, like sedition was a “colonial law” and misused by the government, were not part of any judgment or judicial order.

Again, just a few days ago, the government had submitted a written note in the Supreme Court supporting a 60-year-old judgment which had upheld the validity of the sedition law.

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