Should section 124 be amended

Note4Students

  1. Section 124A was challenged in the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. In its celebrated judgment in the case of Kedarnath vs State of Bihar, the Supreme Court explained the scope of sedition law. It ruled that “vigorous words in writing and very strong criticism of measures of government or acts of public officials, would be outside the scope of Section 124A”.It has been in news very frequently due to its frequent misuse.A large number of op-eds have been written on this issue in recent years.UPSC also asked a similar kind of question (Hate speech) in UPSC mains 2014. Therefore it’s necessary to prepare both arguments in favour and against Sedition law.

Introduction

  1. The section 124A of Indian Penal Code is a pre-independence provision which covers sedition charges against government. 
  2. Section 124A of the IPC defines sedition and says:
    • 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, the government established by law; or
    • Whoever by the above means excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law, has committed the offence of sedition.

 

  1. Figures of the National Crime Records Bureau reveal that in the two years preceding the Jawaharlal Nehru University case, there were a total of 77 sedition cases, of which only one resulted in conviction.
  2. Human rights activists and supporters of free speech argued that this section is draconian and should be got rid of.

 

Arguments in favour of Sedition Law

 

  1. In 1962, the Supreme Court in Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar upheld Section 124A and held that it struck a “correct balance” between fundamental rights and the need for public order.
  2. The court has reduced the scope of Sedition law to only those cases where there is incitement to imminent violence towards overthrow of the state. 
  3. The Court held that it is not mere against government of the day but the institutions as symbol of state. 

 

Argument against section 124A

  1. It stifles the democratic right of people to criticize the government.
  2. In the Menaka Gandhi case, the Supreme Court had held that  freedom of speech and expression is not confined to geographical limitations and it carries with it the right of a citizen to gather information and to exchange thought with others not only in India but abroad too.
  3. Thus, criticism against the government policies and decisions within a reasonable limit that does not incite people to rebel is consistent with freedom of speech and expression.
  4. In the Kedarnath Singh case, the Supreme Court has warned against the arbitrary use of sedition law because such arbitrary use would violate the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution.
  5. The police might not have the “requisite” training to understand the consequences of imposing such a “stringent” provision.
  6. It has been used arbitrarily to curb dissent. In many cases the main targets have been writers, journalists, activists who question government policy and projects, and political dissenters.
  7. The draconian nature of this law—non-bailable, non-cognisable and punishment that can extend for life, has a strong deterrent effect on dissent even if it is not used.
  8. The press should be protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government
  9. Legislation exists to deal with unlawful activities and armed movements. There is no need to criminalize words spoken or written.

 

Way Forward

  1. India of the 21st century does not require a law used by the colonial government to suppress India’s voice.
  2. The guidelines of the SC must be incorporated in Section 124A as well by amendment to IPC so that any ambiguity is removed.
  3. This will ensure that section 124 A of IPC strikes a balance between security and smooth functioning of state with the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression.

 

Questions

  1. What do understand by sedition? Should it be deleted? Critically comment
  2. “The arbitrariness of the sedition charges imposed on various situations makes for a test case on the validity of Section 124A” Critically examine

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