Former Union minister Arun Shourie on Thursday moved the Supreme Court seeking that the sedition law be declared unconstitutional as it has come to be “heavily abused” and cases are being filed against citizens for “exercising their freedom of speech and expression”.
Significantly, the petition was filed on the day when a bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana expressed concern over “enormous misuse” of the law and asked the Centre why it was not repealing the provision used by the British to “silence” people like Mahatma Gandhi to suppress freedom movement.
The bench agreed to examine the pleas filed by Editors Guild of India and a former major general, challenging the constitutionality of the law, and said its main concern was the “misuse of law”.
The Section 124-A (sedition) under the IPC is non-bailable provision and it makes any speech or expression that “brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India” a criminal offence punishable with imprisonment up to three years to a life term and fine.
Shourie’s petition claimed that “the definition of sedition (Section 124-A of IPC) was vague and incapable of accurate appreciation by the common citizen and the law enforcement agencies/ police”.
The petition, filed by advocate Prashant Bhushan on behalf of Shourie and NGO Common Cause, claimed that sedition was a colonial law which was used expressly to suppress dissent by the British in India.
“Sedition has come to be heavily abused with cases being filed against citizens for exercising their freedom of speech and expression on the basis of the literal definition that is available to law enforcement authorities on the statute books,” it said.
The petition said that the interpretation accorded to Section 124-A of Indian Penal Code, by the Supreme Court in ‘Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar’ matter in 1962 was “not understood or appreciated by the police which continues to register cases against citizens who are exercising their right to freedom of speech and expression”.
“By the time the courts step in to apply the interpretation of Kedar Nath to the facts of the cases, the citizens have already been deprived of their liberty,” the petition said.
It added that after India became a democracy, this law was challenged as being violative of fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India in Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar matter in 1962.
Even though the provision was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1962, the position of law has hence changed and the matter requires reconsideration, it said.
“In such circumstances, it is submitted that this court needs to revisit the judgment of Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar, and strike down Section 124 A of Indian Penal Code, as being violative of Articles 14 (equality before the law), 19(1)(a) (freedom of speech and expression) and 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the Constitution of India,” the petition said.
It sought a direction “declaring Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code as unconstitutional”.
“Alternatively, direct that strict action as per law be taken against concerned public servants and complainant/ informants in cases where the accused is discharged in a case of sedition and lay down guidelines for the same,” it said