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Outdated, Harsh & Redundant…

On the basis of the 1947 Indian Independence Act, the Parliament of the UK partitioned British India into the two new Independent dominions, namely India and Pakistan. However, India has been using some Laws and Penal Codes enacted by the British Imperialist Government for the last 75 years. One of them is the Sedition Law that was once used against the freedom fighters by the British Government.

The Supreme Court (SC) of India recently triggered a debate on the necessity of that law even seven decades after Independence. During the hearings of multiple petitions challenging the Constitutional Validity of the Sedition Law, the Apex Court has said if the “law which was used by the British to silence Mahatma Gandhi was still needed after 75 years of Independence”. A SC Bench, led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) N V Ramana, recently issued a notice to the Government of India, saying: “This was the law used by the Britishers to silence Mahatma Gandhi. Do you think this law is still necessary? The enormous power of misuse of Section 124-A is like giving a carpenter a saw… he cuts down the forest. That’s the power of misuse of this law.

Supreme Court of India

The SC Bench, comprising Chief Justice N V Ramana, Justice A S Bopanna and Justice Hrishikesh Roy, also raised concern over the (mis)use of Sedition Law, stressing that there was no accountability. “There is no accountability. Once you see Section 124-A in FIR, everyone gets scared.” It may be noted that the First Information Report (FIR) is a document prepared by the Police Departments in South Asian and Southeast Asian countries, including Myanmar, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, when they receive information about the commission of a cognisable offence. The Bench also wondered at the continuance of the Colonial-era penal law on Sedition in statute book for last 75 years, stating: “We do not know why the Government is not taking a decision. Your Government has been getting rid of stale laws.

Meanwhile, Senior Advocate Shyam Divan has backed the Editors Guild of India’s move to challenge the validity of Section 124-A (Sedition) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), saying that the Honourable SC should check the Constitutional Validity of Section 124-A (Sedition) on grounds that it causes a “chilling effect” on Free Speech and allows the Government to impose unreasonable restriction on Free Expression, a Fundamental Right.

Sedition Law in India

According to legal experts, the Elected Authoritarian Government of PM Narendra Modi in New Delhi is harassing its critics with the help of Sedition Law. As per the Section 124-A, 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 to which fine may be added or with fine. The imprisonment may be either for life or may extend to three years.

Interestingly, the words “Government established by law in India” have been brought within their ambit, both the Federal Government and the Provincial Governments. As law and order is a provincial subject, the Provincial Governments, in the normal course, are called upon to opine in a particular case, whether an action brought into hatred or contempt or excited disaffection towards the Federal Government, irrespective of whether the Federal agencies have a different view on it.

In actuality, the Provincial Governments are guided by the Federal Government’s informal advice on the matter, and sometimes, may be proactive without such advice, just to please the ruling party in New Delhi. Whatever the compulsion, the Government of India should absolve itself from the consequences of wrongful use of the Sedition Law.

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