Re-examination of sedition law in motion, consultations in final stage, Govt informs SC

The court recorded Mr. Venkataramani's submission that the consultations on the colonial-era Law were at a "substantially advanced stage"

Updated - May 01, 2023 07:40 pm IST

Published - May 01, 2023 03:32 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Supreme Court. File

Supreme Court. File | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

The government in the Supreme Court on May 1 said it has initiated the "process of re-examination" of Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code and consultations are in its "final stage".

Also Read | In abeyance of Section 124A, a provisional relief

Appearing before a Bench led by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, Attorney General R Venkataramani said the government is "very keen".

He indicated that a "final shape" may be given to the exercise ahead of the next Parliament session.

The court recorded Mr. Venkataramani's submission that the consultations on the colonial-era Law were at a "substantially advanced stage". It posted the case for hearing next in the second week of August 2023.

In May last year, the court, in an interim order, had suspended the use of Section 124A, stalling pending criminal trials and court proceedings under Section 124A across the country.

However, in October 2022, the petitioners had alleged in the apex court that arrests and prosecutions under Section 124A were continuing despite the freeze.

As on May 1, the Union Government had, also on October 31 last year, assured the court that it was re-examining the colonial provision and "something may happen" in the then Winter Session of the Parliament.

The Centre had further told a Bench led by then Chief Justice U.U. Lalit (retired) that no "transgressions", as claimed by the petitioners, had come to its attention.

On April 26, lawyers for petitioners, including senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, advocates Kaleeswaram Raj, P.B. Suresh, Vipin Nair and Prasanna S. urged the court to take up the case and strike down the provision of Section 124A.

Mr. Raj said the May 2022 order had only kept Section 124A in abeyance, the provision required to be struck down immediately rather than occupy space in the statute book indefinitely.

For now, the court has deferred its decision on whether the case needs to be referred to a Constitution Bench of either five or seven judges on the strength of the Attorney General's submission.

A judicial decision on the question of striking down Section 124A may require an examination of a 1962 Constitution Bench judgment in the Kedar Nath Singh case.

This six-decade-old verdict of a five-judge Bench had upheld the legality of Section 124A though limiting its applicability to "activities involving incitement to violence or intention or tendency to create public disorder or cause disturbance of public peace".

However, petitioners who include senior journalists and prominent bodies and personalities have argued that the provision has been rampantly misused by the government to curb fundamental rights of life, dignity, personal liberty and the freedom to protest and dissent.

In an earlier hearing, senior advocate Kapil Sibal argued that there had been a “sea-change” in the law post the 1962 judgment. Mr. Sibal had said how the right to protest and the right to dissent were choked by the sedition law.

He had said the court should look beyond the Kedar Nath judgment and take judicial account of how the law of sedition was used by the state to snuff out the right to life and right to equal treatment.

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