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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Validity of sedition law: SC refers pleas to 5-judge larger Constitution bench

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New Delhi: Supreme Court, in its order on Tuesday, referred to at least a five-judge Constitution bench in the batch of petitions challenging the sedition law 124-A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, led by CJI Dr Dhananjaya Yeshwant Chandrachud, referred the batch of pleas to at least a five-judge larger bench for a detailed hearing and to effectively deal with the constitutional validity of 124-A of the sedition law.

The Apex Court also took into record the submissions and arguments by the AG and SG that, at this stage, it was appropriate to defer reference to the five-judge bench having regard to the fact that parliament is in the process of reenacting the law. The court, however, in its order, said that we are not inclined to defer the consideration.

The Atrorney General (AG) of India, R Venkataramani, the top law officer representing the Union of India, argued that the new law is there and has been sent to a parliamentary standing committee. “The parliamentary standing committee is looking into it,” Venkataramani said.

Senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, for one of the petitioners, opposed it and told the Top Indian Court that the new law is much worse and the prosecutions will go on.

He said in 1973, this section 124-A was made a cognisable offence. Prior to that, it wasn’t cognisable. Therefore, they started arresting people invoking this section.

Sibal, while narrating Section 124-A, said , “disaffection towards the government”. As far as 19(1)(a) [Right to freedom of speech and expression], is concerned, it refers to “state”, not government.

“What is fundamentally wrong is disaffection towards the government is not disaffection towards the state; the state is not the government, and the government is not the state,” Sibal said.

We have to decide on this law as it stands today. We can’t wait for the parliament to decide on this, Sibal said.

To this, the Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta argued that, at the highest level, it was being seriously considered. And it is done now. But the government stated that let all parties be referred to in this context; let us wait for the government. It is at the highest level of being reconsidered; it has now been reconsidered.

In May last year, the court, in an interim order, suspended the use of Section 124-A, staying pending criminal trials and court proceedings under Section 124A across the country.

The Editors Guild of India (EGI), Major General (Retd) S.G. Vombatkere, former Union minister Arun Shourie, and the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), along with others, have filed a batch of petitions against the penal provision in the Supreme Court.

The petitions contended that the law causes a “chilling effect” on free speech and is an unreasonable restriction on free expression, a fundamental right.

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