Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar

Author: Mallika Kapoor, The Department of Law, Aligarh Muslim University

CASE NAME: Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar, AIR 1962 SC 955

COURT: Hon’ble The Supreme Court of India

JURISDICTION: Appellate (Criminal)

CASE NO.: Cr. A. No. 445 of 1955

BENCH: Bhuvaneshwar Prasad Sinha, C.J., A.K. Sarkar, J.R. Madholkar, N. Rajagopala Ayyangar, and S.K. Das, JJ

APPELLANT: Kedar Nath Singh

RESPONDENT: State of Bihar

DECIDED ON: 20/01/1962

Introduction:

In his case, the Supreme Court for the first time in the history of independent India had to consider the legality of the colonial law on sedition mentioned in Section 124A IPC in relation to the newly created fundamental right to free speech under Article 19 of the Constitution. Additionally, the question before the Hon’ble Supreme Court was regarding the constitutional validity of Sections 124A and s. 505 of the Indian Penal Code with particular reference to the maintenance of security of the State and public order.

Moreover, while examining the impugned sections of the Indian Penal Code by referring to the judicial history, the Court had to encounter two directly conflicting interpretations of Section 124A concerning the same issue. While one of these judgments was pronounced by the Federal Court, the other contradicting affirmation was made by the Privy Council.

The judgment that was given by the Federal Court in the case of Niharendu Dutt Majumdar v. The King (1942) F.C.R. 38, asserted that the impugned sections shall fall within the ambit of reasonable and permissible legislative restrictions on the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression. On the other hand, in the case of King-Emperor v. Sadashiv Narayan Bhalerao I.L.R. (1947) IndAp 89, the Privy Council held that the impugned sections are liable to be quashed as unconstitutional in view of Article 19(1) (a) read along with Article 19(2).

Facts of the case:

1.      The Appellant Kedar Nath Singh, who was a member of the Forward Communist Party in Bihar, used various offensive terms against the officers of C.I.D and the Indian National Congress by terming them as “dogs” and “Goondas” respectively. He further added that his party has always believed in the revolution, which would come and would engulf in its flames, the capitalists, zamindars and the Congress leaders of India, who according to him have made it their profession to loot India, would be reduced to ashes and a Government of the poor and downtrodden people of India shall be established on these ashes. Furthermore, he also targeted Vinobha Bhave by calling him an agent of the Congress Government and labeled his attempts to redistribute land as being illusionary and fraudulent.

2.  Consequently, the learned Trial Magistrate convicted Kedar Nath Singh under Section 124 A (Sedition) and 505(b) (Public Mischief) of the Indian Penal Code and sentenced him to undergo rigorous imprisonment for one year.

3.      On the pretext of this, the convicted persons preferred an appeal to the High Court of Judicature at Patna, wherein a Single Judge Bench comprising Justice Naqui Imam upheld the conviction and accordingly dismissed the appeal. In his judgment, the learned Judge observed that the charge against the appellant was nothing but vilification of the Government, the speech taken as a whole was certainly seditious and was full of incitements. It is not a speech criticizing any of its measures.

4.  On further appeal, the matter was placed before a Division Bench of the Supreme Court but since the question was pertaining to the constitutional validity of the Sections 124-A 505 of the Indian Penal Code, the matter went to a Constitution bench.

Arguments Advanced by the Appellant:

Janardan Sharma appearing on the behalf of the appellant affirmed that the Sections 124A and 505 of the Indian Penal Code under which the conviction has been done are ultra vires as they transgress the provisions of enshrined under the Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India. He further expounded that even a speech that may not disturb the public order has been made punishable under Sections 124A. He further stated that this section hits speeches of both varieties: permissible as well as impermissible. In a democratic set up a citizen is entitled to criticize the Government with a view to change it. He further referred to the judgment of the Allahabad High Court in the case of Ram Nandan vs State AIR 1959 All 101, as being the correct law. The Hon’ble Court, in this case, had held that provisions of Section 124A have become void with the enforcement of the Constitution.

Arguments Advanced by the Respondent:

R. C. Prasad, appearing for the respondent referred to the decision in Ramji Lal Modi v. State of U. P. [1957] S.C.R.860 wherein it was held that the actual incitement of violence was not a necessary ingredient of Section 124A and the speeches made by the accused in this case, possess a tendency to incite hatred, contempt or dissatisfaction towards the Government established by law within the common populace.

Issues Raised:

  1. Whether Sections 124A and 505 of the Indian Penal Code are ultra vires in view of Article 19(1)(a) read with Article 19(2) of the Constitution?
  2. Whether the intention or tendency to create disorder, or disturbance of law and order, or incitement to violence is required to constitute the offense of sedition.

The Judgment of the Court in Brief:

In this case, the Court enunciated that Article 124 A is intra vires to the Constitution of India in view of Article 19 (2) while upholding such a restriction as being necessary for promoting and ensuring the safety and integrity of the country. But the Court also affirmed that the application of the impugned Section of the Indian Penal Code shall only be restricted to the acts involving an intention or tendency to incite violence, by disturbing the public order and law and order of the state. Subsequently, the criminal appeal was dismissed and the accused was discharged as the statements made by him weren’t found to be seditious.  

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