Monday, the Centre informed the Supreme Court that consultations for “re-examining” IPC Section 124A, which deals with sedition, are “substantially advanced.” As a result, the court adjourned proceedings on petitions challenging the provision until the second week of August.
In its order adjourning the proceedings, a bench composed of Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud and Justice J B Pardiwala recorded Attorney General R Venkataramani’s statement.
“The learned Attorney General states that in accordance with the order dated 11 May 2022, the government has initiated the process of re-examining the provisions of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, and consultations are well advanced. In light of the above statement and at the Attorney General’s request, we order that these proceedings be posted during the second week of August,” the Bench said.
What is the sedition law, and why is the Supreme Court’s recent directive significant?
AG Venkataramani informed the Bench that the process was underway, and “once it is finalised before it goes to Parliament, they will likely get back to me about the precise nature of the upcoming provision.”
As the Bench consented to postpone the hearing to ascertain the government’s position, the Attorney General asked that it be rescheduled for August, stating that “the government is also very eager to push it as soon as possible” and “during the monsoon session, something may happen.”
Earlier during the hearing, some of the petitioner’s attorneys stated that the court may have to refer the case to a seven-judge constitution bench in light of the 1962 Kedar Nath Singh decision. In that case, while upholding Section 124A, a five-judge majority of the Supreme Court attempted to prevent its misuse by defining what constitutes sedition and what does not.
In May 2022, in response to petitions challenging the sedition law, the Centre informed the apex court that it is “fully aware of the various views” on the matter and “has decided to reexamine and reconsider the provisions of Section 124A.” It urged the bench to postpone the hearing on petitions challenging the constitutionality of the law until “before an appropriate forum” In addition, it urged the court to delay the hearing until the exercise is concluded.
Taking the government’s position on record, a three-judge bench presided over by the then CJI N V Ramana had on 11 May 2022 put on hold all sedition cases pending before courts across the country until the government completes its promised exercise “to re-examine and re-consider the provisions of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code” governing the offence.
Referring to the government’s position, the court order stated, “It is clear that the Union of India agrees with the prima facie opinion expressed by this court that the rigours of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code are out of step with the current social milieu and were intended for a time when this country was under the colonial regime. In light of this, the Indian Union may reconsider the aforementioned legal provision.”
The court stated that it is “aware of both the security interests and the integrity of the state and the civil liberties of its citizens.”
“It is necessary to strike an equilibrium between both sets of considerations, which is a difficult task. “The petitioner’s argument is that this provision of law dates back to 1898, predating the Constitution itself, and is being abused,” the document stated.
The bench noted that the then-Attorney General K K Venugopal had “on an earlier date of hearing, given some examples of glaring misuse of this provision, such as in the case of recital of the Hanuman Chalisa (slapping sedition charges against two legislators in Maharashtra for the recital of the prayer)”.
“Therefore, we expect that, until the reexamination of the provision is complete, governments will refrain from using the aforementioned provision of law,” the May 11 order stated.