The Supreme Court on Thursday said that the sedition law is misused by police to fix persons who speak against the government.
“Sedition provision Section 124A of IPC is a colonial era which was used to silence dissent or protest against British and was used against Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Does the government want to retain it after 75 years of independence,” a SC bench led by CJI N V Ramana said. The SC said “like 66A of I-T Act, quashed before it was abused to arrest thousands for airing their views, sedition law is misused by police to fix persons who speak against the government. There is no accountability for slapping sedition charge”.
Surprisingly, the Centre through attorney general K K Venugopal appeared to agree with the concerns of the apex court and said that the SC can lay down fresh guidelines to restrict the use of the sedition provision only for protection of nation and democratic institutions, a view aired by the CJI.
The SC was hearing a plea by a former army officer challenging the Constitutional validity of the sedition law on the ground that it causes “chilling effect” on speech and is an unreasonable restriction on free expression, a fundamental right.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta told the SC that once the Centre files its counter affidavit to the PIL by retired major general S G Vombatkere, the court’s task will be easier, thus indicating that the Centre is more or less on the same page as the SC, which frowned at the misuse of section 124A.
CJI Ramana said that the situation on the ground is of concern. If a state government does not find the voice of opposition palatable, it slaps section 124A to implicate those groups of persons who raise their voice against government.
The attorney general conceded it is a serious issue and said the apex court can lay down more filters for use of Section 124 A apart from those specified by the SC in 1962 Kedar Nath verdict. Petitioner Vombatkere said that freedom of speech has gained substantial ground and sedition should not be slapped for dissent.
On attorney general’s request, the CJI said pending petitions challenging validity of Sec 124A of IPC would be tagged together. It issued notice to the Centre on Vombatkere’s petition and said the petitioner has served the country long and well in army and his plea cannot be said to be motivated.
The plea, filed by major-general S G Vombatkere (Retd) submitted that Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with the offence of sedition, is wholly unconstitutional and should be “unequivocally and unambiguously struck down”.
“The petitioner contends that a statute criminalising expression based on unconstitutionally vague definitions of ‘disaffection towards Government’ etc. is an unreasonable restriction on the fundamental right to free expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) and causes constitutionally impermissible ‘Chilling Effect’ on speech”, the plea said.