NEW DELHI : In a historic development, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered that the 152-year old sedition law under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code should be effectively kept in abeyance till the Union Government reconsiders the provision. In an interim order, the Court urged the Centre and the State governments to refrain from registering any FIRs under the said provision while it was under re-consideration.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed all proceedings in sedition cases and directed the centre and states to not register any fresh FIR invoking sedition charges until the government re-examines the colonial era penal law. A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said all pending cases, appeals and proceedings with respect to charges framed for sedition should be kept in abeyance.
The controversial sedition law will be paused while the government reviews it, the Supreme Court said in a Historic order that impacts hundreds charged under the colonial-era relic. Those jailed for sedition can approach courts for bail.
No new FIRs will be filed for sedition and all pending cases will be on hold while the government reconsiders the law, the Supreme Court said, referring to petitions that challenged the law alleging its misuse in cases like in Maharashtra, where it was invoked over the chanting of the Hanuman Chalisa.
“It will be appropriate not to use this provision of law till further re-examination is over. We hope and expect that centre and state will desist from registering any FIR under 124 A (sedition law) or initiate proceeding under the same till re-examination is over,” said CJI.
If any fresh cases are filed, those charged can approach the court. “The Union of India is at liberty to pass directives to states to prevent misuse of the law,” the Chief Justice added.
Meanwhile, In a sharp reaction, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said: “We respect each other, the court should respect government, legislature and the government should also respect the court. We have clear demarcation of boundary and that Lakshman Rekha should not be crossed by anybody.”
On Monday, the government, in a major turnaround, announced its decision to review the sedition law that was once used against Mahatma Gandhi and Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak by the British. The law allows arrest without a warrant if a person is accused of anti -government activities.
The government argued today that while it reviews the law, it should not be paused. For now, it suggested, a police officer of the level of Superintendent or above could decide whether a sedition charge should be filed.
“There has to be a layer of scrutiny, where a responsible officer is there to scrutinise the gravity of the situation and there of course would be judicial forums,” the Centre’s lawyer, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, said, adding that a law cannot be stayed on the basis of a PIL (Public Interest Litigation).
Pending cases, the government said, were already before courts and should be decided by them. “We do not know the gravity of offences pan-India. There may be other terrorism charges too in these cases. These pending cases are not before police or government. But they are before Court. So, we should not guess the wisdom of Courts,” Mr Mehta said.
Petitioners opposed the government’s stand and urged the court to pause the sedition law until the government’s review of the colonial-era legislation is over. To which, the Solicitor General said: “We cannot undermine respect for the judiciary of the country.”Senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, representing the petitioners, said there were over 800 cases of sedition across India and 13,000 people were in jail.
Earlier the union government on Monday had said it is ready to reconsider and re-examine the validity of Section 124A of the IPC on sedition. The Ministry of Home Affairs today submitted an affidavit saying that in the spirit of the ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unequivocal views in favors of protection of civil liberties and human rights, the government has decided to re-examine and re-consider the sedition law. The Centre has also urged the apex court to not invest time in examining validity of sedition and wait for the outcome of its re-consideration. It also assured the top court that a competent forum would re-examine and reconsider the sedition law.
(Bureau Report with media inputs).