S.G. Vombatkere vs Union of India
S.G. Vombatkere filed a Writ Petition before the Supreme Court of India along with a number of petitioners challenging the constitutional validity of the Sedition law defined under section 124A of the Indian Penal Code,1860. On 11th May, 2022, a Supreme Court Bench comprising of Cheif Justice of India, NV Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli passed an Interim Order and thereby have put section 124A of the IPC in Abeyance. This interim order was passed by Supreme Court in consideration of the writ petitions filed by different petitioners along with S.G. Vombetkere who happens to be a retired Army General, The Editor guild of India, TMC MP Mahua Moitra, former union minister Arun Shourie.These writ petitions were filed with the object, so as to cause Supreme Court to address the misuse and misapplication of section 124A.
The bench of the judges said “We hope and expect Centre and State Governments will refrain from registering any FIR, continuing investigation, or taking coercive steps under Section 124 A IPC when it is under reconsideration. It will be appropriate not to use this provision of law till further re-examination is over”
The sedition law that is defined under section 124A of IPC has been considered as a black law and arbitorious since ages, as it is very often used by the Central and state governments to supress the voices of people that criticize the government even if the criticism follows a lawful manner.Time and again it’s constitutionality has been challenged by different High Court’s at differen times.
Interim Order Issued by the Supreme Court holding Section 124A in Abeyance
- The Supreme Court asked the Central and state governments to avoid registering any new cases with regards to section 124A. SC directed that section 124A shall be kept in Abeyance until the Central Government reconsider the provisions of the section.(No new F.I.R’s, no continuing of investigations etc.)
- All the pending trials, appeals, proceedings pending with respect to charges under 124A shall be kept in abeyance until the Central Government completes the re-examination of the aforesaid section.
- S.C also said that, it shall not be appropriate to continue with the usage of section 124A ,until the re-examination of the same.
- The Central Government shall direct the state Governments to stay abstain from registering any new cases with the charges of sedition, until reconsideration of the section is done by the Centre.
- If any new case is registered for the offence of sedition, then the affected party can move to the court and seek relief.(The Centre has submitted a proposal to the Supreme Court and suggested that the Supritendent of Police can register the new cases of Sedition with the reasons recorded in writing ,for doing so.)
- Those who are already in jail under section 124A can apply for bail.
- These directions shall be valid till further progress in this matter.
- Note:Those charged only under section 124A shall the benifit the temperory relief provided by SC.
What is Sedition Law?
The definition of sedition law is provided under section 124A of IPC. It lays down, “Whoever either by words spoken or written, or by signs ,or by visual representation, or otherwise, bring ,or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or incites or attempts to incite disaffection towards the government established by law in India, shall be punished with an 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.”
In Simple words it means,that if any person by words spoken or written or by any other act promotes hatred among the people against the government and thereby cause people to go against the government and consequently public disorder or violence is created, or any person who causes disaffection (feelings dofisloyalty or enimity) among the people against the goverment, then such person can be said to have committed a seditious act.
History of Sedition Law
Sedition law under section 124A was incorporated in IPC in 1870, 10 years after the Act came into force. The Black law was introduced by the Britishers with the motive to supress the members of the “Madrasa Darul-U-Loom, Deoband” as they issued a fatwa against the British rule in India and revolted to overthrow their rule from the country. This movement is also known as the “Wahabi Revolt”. And later, time and again ,this law was used as a tool by the colonial government to combat every that person who said or wrote against the Britishers or their policies in the colonized India including Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Azad, Annie Besant etc.
Why the law still continued to be even after Independence?
There was a discussion about the law in the Constituent Assembly, that it should be struck down as it was introduced by the Britishers only to use it against the Indian freedom fighters. But finally it was decided to continue with the law in order to deal with the rising separatist movements in India and also it was felt that there is a need of such law because people should respect and obey the government for a smooth functioning of democracy.
Punjab and Haryana High court in 1951 and Allahabad High Court in 1959 struck down the sedition law declaring it unconstitutional as it infringes with the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.Article 13 of the constitution says that any law which contradicts with the provisions of the Constitions shall be considered void, hence unconstitutional.
Kedarnath v/s State of Bihar. (1962)
In this case the Constitutional Bench of five judges discussed about the issue of Article 19 (1)(a). Court upheld the constitutionality of section 124A ,but limited its scope so as to avoid any misuse of the same. The Court laid down some important points in this case.
- Every person has a right to say or write about the government either commentarily or critically provided it should not encourage people to resort violence or create public disorder.
- Only if criticism is accompanied by an incitement or call for violence, it can ammount to sedition. Mere words or writing or even sloganeering without a threat to public order would not ammount to sedition.
- The Court distinguished between the Government formed democratically and the person for the time being engaged in carrying the administration. Means personally criticizing the Prime Minister or Cheif Minister doesn’t means criticizing the entire Government.
- Even if the speech has the element of hatred ,contempt or disaffection towards the government, but still is not likely to create public disorder then such speech shall not qualify to be seditious.
Misuses Of The Sedition Law.
Before Independence, Britishers would use this law against the freedom fighters and after Independence the Central and State governments started using this law as a weapon to encounter the voices raised against the policies of the Government.
Examples of Misuse and Misapplication of this law by different Government.
Sedition law was charged on thousands of people in Tamil Nadu who protested against the Nuclear Power Plant 1in 2012-13.
In 2017,the sedition charges were imposed on thousand of farmers in Jharkhand who refuse to give their lands for the developmental projects.
Hundreds of sedition charges were imposed on those who participated in the Anti CAA protest including actors like Sushant Singh and Farhan Akhtar.
Sedition charges were imposed on a 17 year old girl for saying goodfaith slogans for a country with which India has strained relationship.
An F.I.R was filed against Late Veteran journalists Vinod Dua for committing sedition against the Central Government , when he questioned them about Covid-19 crisis management.
Sedition is a Cognizable offence, to get bail was not an easy task for a person booked under this section before such Interim Order. Conviction rates are so low in these cases, just to tackle with the discontent governments slap Sedition charges on anybody who talks against the government policies . Out of all the sedition cases registered since 2015, only in 2% of the cases conviction was drawn. Later people may get acquitted but long trials are itself equal to punishments. Hopefully this Interim Order provides relief to those affected by this section.