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Law Commission’s recommendation on ‘Sedition Law’

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    10th Jun, 2023

Context

The 22nd Law Commission has presented its report on ‘Sedition law’ to the government mentioning that, Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) needs to be retained but certain amendments could be made for greater clarity regarding its usage.

What is sedition?

  • Sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organization that tends toward rebellion against the established order.
  • Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent toward, or insurrection against, established authority.
  • Sedition may include any commotion, though not aimed at direct and open violence against the laws.
  • A seditionist is one who engages in or promotes the interest of sedition.

Background

  • The Home Ministry has asked law commission for a study of the usage of the provision of Section 124A and suggests amendments.
  • The Law Commission said the existence of laws such as Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the National Security Act (NSA) does not by implication cover all elements of the offence envisaged under Section 124A of the IPC.

Highlights of the report:

  • The Law Commission has analysed that sedition being a ‘colonial legacy’ is not a valid ground for law repeal but in view of the misuse of Section 124A.
  • The panel has recommended that the Centre should issue model guidelines to curb any misuse.
  • They also suggested that a provision analogous to Section 196(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 may be incorporated as a proviso to Section 154 of CrPC, which would provide the requisite procedural safeguard before filing of an FIR with respect to an offence under Section 124A of IPC.
  • They also mentioned that in absence of a provision like Section 124A of IPC, any expression that incites violence against the government would invariably be tried under the special laws and counter-terror legislation, which contain much more stringent provisions to deal with the accused.

What does Section 124A of IPC says?

  • The sedition law is enshrined in Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
  • Thomas Macaulay, who drafted the Indian Penal Code, had included the law on sedition.
  • Key provisions:
    • According to the section 124A, the charges could be put on whomever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India.
    • He/she shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which a fine may be added; or, with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which a fine may be added; or, with fine.”
    • The provision also contains three explanations:
    • The expression “disaffection” includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity;
    • Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section;
    • Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.

Additional Information:

  • The first application of the law was the trial of newspaper editor Jogendra Chandra Bose in 1891.
  • Other prominent examples of the application of the law include the trials of Tilak (1897) and Gandhi (1922).
  • Jawaharlal Nehru, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, and Abul Kalam Azad were also charged with sedition.

Legal challenges to the existing provision for sedition:

  • As early as 1950, the Supreme Court in Romesh Thapar v State of Madras held that “criticism of the government exciting disaffection or bad feelings towards it, is not to be regarded as a justifying ground for restricting the freedom of expression and of the press.
  • Subsequently, two high courts— the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Tara Singh Gopi Chand v. The State (1951), and the Allahabad High Court in Ram Nandan v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1959) — declared that Section 124A of the IPC was primarily a tool for colonial masters to quell discontent in the country and declared the provision unconstitutional.
  • However, in 1962, the issue came up before the Supreme Court in Kedarnath Singh v State of Bihar.

Other interpretations:

  • In August 2018, the Law Commission of India published a consultation paper recommending that it is time to re-think or repeal the Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code that deals with sedition.
  • In its 39th Report (1968), the Law Commission had rejected the idea of repealing the section.
  • In its 42nd Report (1971), the panel wanted the scope of the section to be expanded to cover the Constitution, the legislature and the judiciary, in addition to the government to be established by law, as institutions against which 'disaffection' should not be tolerated.
  • In the recent consultation paper on the sedition, the Law Commission has suggested invoking 124A to only criminalize acts committed with the intention to disrupt public order or to overthrow the Government with violence and illegal means.
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