Date: Thu, Jul 15, 2021, 12:30
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By Sushil Silvano, Our Special Correspondent. Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO: Just as the human liver regenerates itsef to strengthen the whole body, the Supreme Court, after touching the nadir because of Gogoism and Bobdeism , is regenerating itself to strengthen Indian Democracy as a whole.
July 15 marked yet another milestone on this arduous road of resurgence. For on this day, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana posed a question to the Attorney General of India KK Venugopal during the hearing on a plea challenging the validity of the sedition law: Do we still require the provision for sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code even after 75 years of Independence from Colonial Rule.
“Dispute is that it is a colonial law and was used by British to suppress freedoms and used against Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Is this law still needed after 75 years of independence?” CJI Ramana asked.
He pointed to the “misuse” of the provision and said, “If you see the history of charging under this section, the conviction rate is very low…the enormous power of this section can be compared to a carpenter being given a saw to make an item, (but) uses it to cut the entire forest instead of a tree… That’s the effect of this provision.”
The CJI also clarified that he was not blaming any government but added that the concern was about the “misuse of the law and no accountability of the executive”.
The bench comprising Justices Ramana, A.S. Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy was hearing a petition filed by an Army veteran, Major-General S.G. Vombatkere (retd.) on 24 June, which asserted that Section 124A is “vague” and creates a “chilling effect on free speech”.
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The CJI expressed alarm at the rampant misuse of sedition law in the country. He also expressed reservation at continuing the use of the provision (Section 124A of IPC), inserted during the colonial era in 1870, purportedly to curb dissent.
He indicated that continuation of these type of laws after 73 years of independence is unfortunate. “The Government is taking out many laws, I don’t know why they are not looking into this” he said.
The CJI further clarified that he is not blaming any state or government for misuse of the provision but,
“Unfortunately, the executing agency and particularly the authorities misuse it. Take example of 66A which was struck down but people were arrested. There is misuse of these provisions, but there is no accountability!”
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The Judge illustrated that the powers under Section 124A are so vast that a police officer who wants to fix anybody for playing cards, gambling, etc. can also invoke Section 124 A.
“Our concern is misuse of law and no accountability of executive agencies,” the CJI said.
CJI added that the gravity of the situation is so grim that if some State or a particular party doesn’t want to hear a voice, they will use this law to implicate such groups of people.
The Top Court made all these observations while hearing a petition moved by Army veteran Major-General SG Vombatkere (Retired) challenging the constitutionality of the offence of sedition under Section 124A of IPC for being ‘vague’ and creating a ‘chilling effect on free speech’.
The plea filed through Advocate Prasanna S, submits that Section 124A of the IPC is ultra vires Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, read with Articles 14 and 21, and was upheld, after a partial reading down, in the 1962 judgement of Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar.
During the hearing, the Bench expressed that the Petitioner sacrificed his whole life for protection of the country. “We can’t say this is any motivated litigation.”
Advocate General submitted that the section may not have to be repealed and parameters may be laid down to use the law of Sedition.
“I’ll look into it,” the CJI responded while issuing notice to the Union.
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Solicitor General Tushar Mehta accepted notice on behalf of Union. Next date of hearing will be notified later.
The plea by Vombatkere sought a fresh examination of Section 124A, which was upheld in the 1962 judgment in Kedar Nath Singh v Union of India.
It was contended 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 further said that judgments like that of KS Puttaswamy establish that fundamental rights in the Constitution are not to be read in isolated silos or as water tight compartments; “but are to be read as if the content of each fundamental right animates the other.”
The CJI also called the law “a serious threat” to the functioning of institutions.
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Compiled and Curated By Humra Kidwai