Sedition Law needed to combat Anti-National elements

SEDITION LAW NEEDED TO COMBAT ANTI-NATIONAL ELEMENTS

Author: Ms. Jyoti Jha, JEMTEC, School of Law

Recently, while addressing an election rally at Vilobi ground in Lakhi the Union home minister Rajnath Singh said: “Sedition law will be made more effective if BJP regains power”. There is a tussle between two governments regarding sedition laws in India.

The section 124A of the Indian Penal Code is a pre-independence provision, which covers sedition charges against the government. A legal opinion was sought by the Union Government on a Law Commission report on the Sedition law i.e. Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code. The ‘sedition’ under Sec 124A is interpreted and re-examined in light of Article 19(1)(a) to strike a balance between the right to free speech and expression and power of State to impose reasonable restrictions (Article 19(2)).

The arrest of JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar, on charges of sedition inciting violence through ‘unlawful’ and ‘anti-national’ speech, allegedly, created waves not only across India but internationally as well as students, teachers and academicians the world over speak out in support of JNU students and against their treatment by the government. 

As per Section 124A of IPC, Sedition is an act 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 by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise. As per this Section, a person is liable to be punished with imprisonment for life or imprisonment for up to three years with fine. The section further provides “Comments expressing disapprobation of the meas­ures of the Government and admin­istrative or other action of the Government  with a view to obtaining their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.”

Last year, the Law Commission stated that the country should not be quoted as an example of one using such draconian laws. Hence, Section 124A should be invoked only in cases where the intention behind any act is to disrupt public order or to overthrow the government with violence and illegal means.

In 1962, the Supreme Court in Kedar Nath Singh vs. State of Bihar upheld Section 124A and held that it struck a “correct balance” between fundamental rights and the need for public order.

Various verdicts in Romesh Thappar, Kanahiya Kumar case re-defined a seditious act only if it had essential ingredients as:

  • Disruption of public order,
  • Attempt to violently overthrow a lawful government,
  • Threatening the security of State or of public

I feel there is a difference in interpretation keeping in mind the current global context. In the case of Dr. Binayak Sen v. State of Chhattisgarh (2007), Dr. Sen was charged for sedition for allegedly aiding Naxalites, and sentenced to life imprisonment at the Session Court in Raipur.

According to me, the guidelines of the SC must be incorporated in Section 124A as well by an amendment to IPC so that any ambiguity is removed. A private member bill was introduced in 2015 to amend this section. The Bill suggested that only those actions/words that directly result in the use of violence or incitement to violence should be termed seditious.  The state police must be sufficiently guided as to where the section must be imposed and where not. There is a need to include provisions where the government can be penalized if it misuses the section. This will ensure that section 124 A of IPC strikes a balance between security and smooth functioning of state with the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression.

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