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Will relook at sedition, you defer hearing: Centre tells SC

Will relook at sedition, you defer hearing: Centre tells SC

New Delhi: The Centre on Monday told the Supreme Court not to invest time in examining the validity of sedition law as it has decided to go for re-consideration of the provisions by a competent forum.

The Centre also said it was cognizant of various views, and concerns about civil liberties while being committed to protecting the sovereignty and integrity of this great nation.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, in an affidavit, referred to the views of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on shedding colonial baggage and said he has been in favour of the protection of civil liberties and respect of human rights, and in that spirit, over 1500 outdated laws and over 25,000 compliance burdens have been scrapped.

It said the Prime Minister has said that India, as a nation, has to work even harder to shed colonial baggage that has passed its utility which includes outdated laws and practices.

A bench of Chief Justice of India N V Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli on May 5 had said it would hear arguments on May 10 on the legal question of whether the pleas challenging the colonial-era penal law on sedition be referred to a larger bench for reconsidering the 1962 verdict of a five-judge constitution bench in the Kedar Nath Singh case.

The affidavit, filed by Mritunjay Kumar Narayan, Additional Secretary of the MHA, said there are divergences of views expressed in the public domain by various jurists, academicians, intellectuals, and citizens in general.

The government, being fully cognizant of various views being expressed on the subject of sedition and also having considered the concerns of civil liberties and human rights, while committed to maintain and protect the sovereignty and integrity of this great nation, has decided to re-examine and re-consider the provisions of Section 124A of the IPC which can only be done before the competent forum, it said.

The government urged the top court that in view of the decision to reconsider the law, this court may not invest time in examining the validity of Section 124A once again and be pleased to await the exercise of reconsideration to be undertaken by the Government of India before an appropriate forum where such reconsideration is constitutionally permitted.

The government said concerns have been raised about the application and abuse of sedition law for purposes not intended by the provisions.

The Prime Minister has been cognizant of various views expressed on the subject and has also periodically, in various forums, expressed his clear and unequivocal views in favour of protection of civil liberties, respect of human rights, and giving meaning to the constitutionally cherished freedoms by the people of the country, it said.

It said Modi has repeatedly said one of India's strengths is the diverse thought streams that beautifully flourish here.

"The PM believes that at a time when the country is marking 'Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav' (75 years since Independence), we need to, as a nation, work even harder to shed colonial baggage that has passed its utility which includes outdated laws colonial laws and practice," it said.

Various offences which were causing mindless hindrances to people have been decriminalised, it said.

It added that the public at large including jurists agrees about the need for statutory provisions to deal with serious offences of divisive nature affecting the very sovereignty and integrity of the country.

Requiring a penal provision for such purposes is generally accepted by everyone in legitimate State interest, the affidavit said.

In another written submission, filed earlier, the Centre defended the penal law and the 1962 verdict of a constitution bench upholding its validity, saying they have withstood "the test of time" about six decades and the instances of its abuse would never be a justification of reconsideration.

"Instances of the abuse of provision would never be a justification to reconsider a binding judgment of the constitution bench. The remedy would lie in preventing such abuse on a case-to-case basis rather than doubting a long-standing settled law declared by a constitution bench for about six decades," the earlier written submission said.

The reply also raised the issue of Corum and opposed the submissions of senior advocate Kapil Sibal that in a changed fact situation a bench of three judges can also test the validity of the sedition law, saying no reference, therefore, would be necessary nor can the three-judge bench once again examine the constitutional validity of the very same provision".

The top court, in 1962, upheld the validity of the sedition law while attempting to restrict its scope for misuse.

The top court has been hearing a clutch of pleas challenging the validity of the law on sedition which has been under intense public scrutiny for its alleged misuse to settle political scores by various governments that had led the CJI to ask if the colonial-era law, which was used to persecute freedom fighters, was still needed after 75 years of Independence.

"Whoever, 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], shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine, reads Section 124A (sedition) of the IPC.

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