Judicial Reforms

[op-ed snap] Sedition annoyance

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Sedition law - misuse

Context

A case of sedition was registered against 49 prominent citizens at a police station in Bihar for writing an open letter. 

The letter

  • The appeal asks for steps to stop lynching and other hate crimes, especially in the name of religion.
  • There is nothing that even vaguely made an attempt to promote disaffection or any prejudice to national integration. 
  • Criminal proceedings are initiated against the film-makers, artists, and writers such as Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Aparna Sen and Ramachandra Guha for signing the open appeal on a matter of public concern. 
  • A chief judicial magistrate had taken this complaint on file and directed the police to register an FIR. 

Misuse of the law and procedure

  • The Supreme Court in Lalita Kumari vs. Uttar Pradesh (2013), laid down that registration of an FIR is mandatory if information received by the police discloses a cognisable offence. 
  • In some cases, a preliminary inquiry may be conducted before the FIR is registered. 
  • In this case, it is surprising how the court or the police could conclude that the contents were seditious or indicative of any other offence.
  • Private complaints targeting public figures are not unusual. 
  • The disregard for public opinion against the indiscriminate use of the sedition provision is disappointing.
  • Supreme Court judgments say sedition is attracted only if there is an incitement to violence and does not apply to statements that contain mere opinions, howsoever strong they may be.

Way ahead

  • Courts should not indulge the motivated outrage of litigious complainants. 
  • Superior courts do intervene to quell attempts by those claiming to be offended by some remark or public statements. The lower judiciary should stop acting reflexively on frivolous complaints.
  • Patna High Court should put an end to this attempt to use the judiciary for political ends, and also examine how its supervisory powers can be used to sensitise the magistracy to the constitutional provisions protecting free speech.
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