The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Centre to file its response by the end of this week on a batch of pleas challenging the constitutional validity of the sedition law. The central government had sought time to file its response, but the top court said that no adjournment would be granted and posted the matter for final hearing on May 5.
Concerned over the enormous misuse of the colonial-era penal law on sedition, a three-judge bench of Chief Justice N V Ramana and justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli in April last year had asked the Centre why it was not repealing the provision used by the British to silence people like Mahatma Gandhi to suppress freedom movement.
Agreeing to examine the pleas filed by the Editors Guild of India and a former Major-General S G Vombatkere, challenging the Constitutionality of Section 124A (sedition) in the IPC, the apex court had said its main concern was the “misuse of law” leading to rise in number of cases.
The debate over the contentious law was revived earlier this year when the Delhi High Court granted bail to Disha Ravi in a sedition case in February. The court remarked that sedition cannot be invoked to minister to wounded vanity of governments.
The plea filed by Vombatkere in July last year demanded to scrap the sedition law. He has contended that the 1962 judgment in the Kedar Nath case upholding Section 124A (sedition) was given at a time when doctrines like ‘chilling effect’ on speech were not developed significantly. The petitioner had submitted that the law criminalises expression based on vague terms such as disaffection towards the government or contempt towards the government.
The court had also clubbed Vombatkere’s petition with the one filed by the Editors Guild of India. Former Union minister Arun Shourie and Common Cause NGO had also filed separate pleas challenging the constitutional validity of the law.
The sedition law, which is known as Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), was prepared by British politician Thomas Babington Macaulay who is also known for shaping the form of English education in India. The Section was included in the IPC in 1870.
The law states that anyone who attempts to excite disaffection/hatred towards the government established by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which a fine may be added or with fine. The law also bars the accused from applying for a government job.