The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Monday informed the Supreme Court of its decision to “re-examine” and “re-consider” the sedition law in the background of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s belief that the nation should work harder to shed “colonial baggage”, including outdated laws, while celebrating 75 years of Independence under the banner of ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’.
“The Government of India, being fully cognisant of various views being expressed on the subject of sedition and also having considered the concerns of civil liberties and human rights, while committed to maintain and protect the sovereignty and integrity of this great nation, has decided to re-examine and re-consider the provisions of Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code, which can only be done before the competent forum,” a seven-paragraph affidavit said.
The Home Ministry urged the court to wait till the government completes the exercise of reconsideration of the law before the “appropriate forum”.
The affidavit has been filed just a few days after the government submitted a note in the Supreme Court supporting a 60-year-old Supreme Court judgment upholding the validity of the sedition law. The government note had urged the court to accept its 1962 verdict on sedition law as a “binding precedent”. The Centre had advised a case-to-case examination of the abuse of sedition law instead of upending it entirely.
Attorney General of India K.K. Venugopal, called in to assist the apex court in the capacity of his office, too had upheld the six-decade-old case law as the “last word on the law of sedition”.
Giving an insight into its rather radical shifting of position, the Ministry on Monday referred to the “clear and unequivocal” views expressed by the Prime Minister in favour of “protection of civil liberties, respect for human rights and giving meaning to the constitutionally cherished freedoms by the people of the country”.
“He (Prime Minister) has repeatedly said that one of India’s strengths is the diverse thought streams that beautifully flourish in our country,” the affidavit, filed through the Ministry’s Additional Secretary Mrityunjay Kumar Narayan, pointed out.
The affidavit referred to the Prime Minister’s push to shed the colonial load.
“The Honourable Prime Minister believes that at a time when our nation is marking ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ (75 years since Independence), we need to, as a nation, work even harder to shed colonial baggage that has passed its utility, which includes outdated colonial laws and practices,” the government affidavit noted.
The affidavit drew attention to how the government got rid of offences which created “mindless hindrances” to people and had scrapped 1,500 outmoded laws since 2014-15.
“This is an ongoing process,” the Ministry assured, “These were laws and compliances which reeked of a colonial mindset and thus have no place in today’s India.”
The government acknowledged the concerns raised in the public domain about the application and abuse of the sedition law.
It said that while everyone agreed on the need for laws to protect “legitimate State interest” and sovereignty and integrity of India from divisive offences and Acts meant to destabilise the government established by law, the Union could not ignore the divergence of opinion about Section 124A expressed by jurists, academicians, intellectuals and citizens in general.
The affidavit, in a way, mirrors the oral remarks made by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana in 2021.
The CJI had asked the government in open court whether it was “still necessary to retain this colonial law which the British used to suppress Gandhi, Tilak etc., even after 75 years of Independence?”
The case is listed on May 10 before the three-judge Bench led by the CJI, which is scheduled to examine whether the clutch of petitions challenging the constitutionality of the sedition law need to be referred to a Constitution Bench of five or seven judges.