New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday questioned the Union government on the utility of having "colonial-era" penal law on sedition even after 75 years of independence and sought response of the government on pleas including the one filed by the Editors Guild of India challenging the validity of the provision.
The Court also expressed its concern on sedition law being misused by police against persons who speak against the government. A bench headed by Chief justice N V Ramana said the main concern was about the "misuse of law", and asked as to why the Centre, which is repealing stale laws, was not getting rid of this provision.
Saying that Sec 124 A is a colonial law used by the British to silence Mahatma Gandhi, Tilak Chief Justice N.V. Ramana told Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, "I am indicating, what I am thinking".
CJI also asked whether the law is necessary even after 75 years of independence.
The bench cited the example of continued usage of section 66A of the IT Act, which was quashed, and emphasized the abuse of the law to arrest thousands for airing their views.
The top court pointed out that sedition law is also not immune to misuse by police against persons who speak against the government. "It is like you give a saw to a carpenter, he will cut the entire forest. This is the impact of this law", said the Chief Justice.
He further elaborated that police officer even in a village can invoke sedition law, and all these issues are required to be examined. "My concern is the misuse of the law. There is no accountability of executing agencies. I will look into it", said the Chief Justice.
The Chief Justice told AG, the government has already taken out several stale laws, "I don't know why you are not looking into this law". Venugopal replied that he completely understands the concern of the top court.
He submitted that the top court could lay down fresh guidelines to restrict the use of the sedition provision only for the protection of the nation and democratic institutions. Venugopal defending the validity of the law said to lay down parameters on its usage instead of taking out the entire law.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that once the Centre files its counter-affidavit on the PIL by retired major general S.G. Vombatkere, the court's task will be easier.
The top court's observations came on a fresh plea by Mysuru-based Major General S.G. Vombatkere challenging the constitutional validity of Section 124A (sedition) of the IPC on grounds that it causes a "chilling effect" on speech and is an unreasonable restriction on free expression, a fundamental right.
On Monday (July 12), another bench headed by Justice UU Lalit had heard a plea, as well as Intervention Applications, challenging the constitutional validity of Section 124A of the IPC. On 30 April, the Court had issued a notice in the plea filed by two journalists working in the States of Manipur and Chhattisgarh.
The top court sought response from the Centre and Attorney General and adjourned the matter to July 27. Two weeks have been granted to the Respondents to file their responses.