Supreme Court Dismisses Petition Challenging Sedition Law On 9 February 2021, the Supreme Court of India (SC) dismissed a petition challenging the Constitutional validity of a colonial-era provision of sedition under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) based it on being used to stifle freedom of speech and expression of citizens The SC bench comprising of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, Justices...
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Supreme Court Dismisses Petition Challenging Sedition Law
On 9 February 2021, the Supreme Court of India (SC) dismissed a petition challenging the Constitutional validity of a colonial-era provision of sedition under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) based it on being used to stifle freedom of speech and expression of citizens
The SC bench comprising of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian dismissed a plea in the case of Aditya Ranjan & Ors. (Petitioners) v. the Union of India & Ors. (Respondents) stating that there was no cause of action and the petitioners are not the affected parties.
The Top Court observed that a law cannot be challenged without appropriate cause of action. It dismissed the petition and stated that "You are not facing any prosecution under the Section. What is the cause of the action? We don't have any case before us right now. We don't have any case in front of us where somebody is rotting in jail. If someone is in jail, then we will consider."
Senior Lawyer Anoop George Chaudhary appeared on behalf of the petitioners stated that this is a public interest matter and people are being charged under the said provision.
The petition was filed by three advocates Aditya Ranjan, Varun Thakur, V Elanchezhiyan. The petitioners stated that Section 124-A of IPC deals with sedition that was in use by the British against Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
It was contended that the said provision is still stifling the freedom of speech and expression in India if they choose to express dissent against policies of the Governments in power.
The petitioner further stated that the scope of the fundamental right is expanding continuously and we are still following a colonial provision that was enacted to subjugate the subjects of the British crown. The plea stated that this provision should be repealed in a democratic republic.
It was further mentioned in the petition that in 1962 the Constitutional Bench of the Apex Court had upheld the validity of Section 124-A of IPC in the case of Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar, wherein the Court preferred a narrow interpretation of 'sedition' to save the said provision from unconstitutionality.
The plea further reads that there has been six decades when the judgment was passed and hence there is a need for reconsidering the said judgment. It should be reviewed especially in the light of a spate of sedition charges imposed against various persons who expressed their views against the Governments.
The petitioners emphasized that Section 124-A of the IPC has a chilling effect in the present scenario on any dissenting free speech or criticism of the Government. Hence, this provision is in violation of the very essence of democracy.
The advocate petitioners further mentioned in their petition that the continuation of a draconian colonial provision of sedition in the penal code without corresponding safeguards as provided under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) is unreasonable and unwarranted.
It was further stressed that in the said provision neither there is any institutional responsibility on the Police in case of misuse of Section 124-A of IPC nor are any procedural safeguards provided in the Code of Criminal Procedure, unlike UAPA.
The petition said that the provision should be examined considering the changed facts and circumstances. It further mentioned that it should be considered based on the anvil of ever-evolving tests of necessity, proportionality and arbitrariness.
It was highlighted before the Apex Court that Section 124-A of IPC creates a certain chilling effect on the general public at large. Sedition is recognized as a criminal offence and the consequence of committing the said offence are excessive damages that lead to penalties which are substantial punishments.
The fact was emphasized in the petition that a person is called anti-national or anti-government merely if the citizens express their views on the functioning and policies of the Government in India. That the effect of the said provision is anti-democratic, as it prevents them from exercising their fundamental right through legitimate means.
The petitioners referred to the judgment of the SC wherein it decriminalized Section 377 of IPC in 2018 and also scrapped Section 66A of Information Technology Act in 2015, where constitutional provisions were given a re-look.
The plea said that it is the need of the hour that a colonial provision that is being misused frequently and is in contravention of the law laid down may be tested on the anvil of the expanding scope of fundamental rights in the 21st century.