SEDITION: A CONTROVERSIAL LAW

SEDITION: A CONTROVERSIAL LAW

This Article is written by Rahul Negi pursuing BB.A. LL.B. (Hons.) from Law College, Dehradun (Uttaranchal University).

INTRODUCTION

The Law Commission in its Consultation Paper on Sedition has quoted that “India-largest democracy of the world, considering that right to free speech and expression is an essential ingredient of democracy.” As for a vibrant democracy to burgeon, criticism acts as its guiding path so to vanquish ambiguities in its functioning. 

The term Sedition is conspicuous acts or speech encouraging insurrection against the elected government. The performance of specified acts which results in contempt, disaffection, or hostility towards the established government is Sedition as was held in the case of Bilal Ahmed Kaloo v. State of Andhra Pradesh by the Apex Court.

The wide concept of sedition is a criminal offence and has been defined under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 which acts as a reasonable restriction over the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression provided under Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution if the act is scornful apropos the government.

HISTORY

The concept of Sedition came to India with the advent of the British crown after the revolt of 1857 against the East India Company. The evolution of Sedition Laws in India can be divided as:

Pre-Independence:

13th Century: The concept of sedition introduced in Britain from where it was later extended to its other colonies.

1837: Macaulay’s Draft Penal Code recommended the introduction of the sedition related laws.

1858: After the revolt of 1857, the power over colonial India was transferred to the British crown from East India Company.

1860: Indian Penal Code, 1860 was introduced in India by the British but it does not contain the concept of sedition.

1870: The concept of sedition was introduced in India under Section 124A of the India Penal Code, 1860 through the Special Act XVII of 1870.

1898: The Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Act, 1898 was brought which provided punishment for transportation of life.

1891: The first case under Section 124A was registered against the newspaper Bangobasi as it criticized the Age of consent Bill.

1907: The British Parliament prohibited the public meetings with the introduction of the Prevention of Seditious Meetings Act, 1907 which was repealed by the Prevention of Seditious Meetings Act, 1911.

1922: Mahatma Gandhi was booked under Section 124A for criticized the British government.

April 1947: The Constituent Assembly debated the provisions related to Sedition.

Post-Independence:

1948: The constituent Assembly passed an amendment to omit the word from the constitution Sedition so as the unreasonable restrictions over the right of freedom of speech and expression can be waived off.

1949: The word Sedition was omitted from the constitution but it remained the same under Section 124A of Indian Penal Code, 1860.

1950: The Section 124A was challenged before the Apex court in Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras where it was held that unless the rights granted under Article 19(1)(a) threatens to overthrow the state or security of the state it will not be deemed to be the reasonable restriction under the Article 19(2).

1951: Section 124 A was held unconstitutional by the Punjab High court in the case of Tara Singh Gopi Chand v The State. Also, the Parliament in the 1st Constitutional Amendment added ‘public order’ and ‘friendly relation with foreign countries’ as reasonable restrictions within Article 19(2).

1959: Section 124A was held ultra vires upon the right of freedom of speech and expression by the High court in the case Ram Nandan v. State of U.P.

1962: Section 124 A was held intra vires, valid and certain guidelines regarding Sedition were laid down by the Apex Court in the case of Kedarnath Das v. State of Bihar.

1995: The Apex court held that just raising of anti-government slogans by two individuals does not constitute the offence of Sedition in Balwant Singh v. State of Punjab.

1997: The Apex court held that it is not necessary that the author himself committees the offence of Sedition in the case of Raghubir Singh v. State of Bihar.

2003: The Apex court explained the term Sedition as practices that may lead to civil wars within the state, disturbances, contempt, hatred towards the established government as to promote disorder in the case of Nazir Khan & Ors. v. State of Delhi.

2016: The Apex court granted the prayer regarding the review of sedition cases and directed authorities to follow the guidelines laid in Kedarnath Singh case while dealing with seditious acts in the case of Common Cause & Anr. v. UOI.

2017: The British era Dramatic Performance Act, 1876 was repealed by the central government.

2019: BJP in its election campaign declared that it will strengthen the sedition laws to deal with the anti-nationals. The Unlawful Assembly Prevention (Amendment) Act, 2019 empowered the central government to declare an individual as a terrorist.

MEANING IN INDIAN LAW

India Penal Code, 1860 – Section 124A

Anyone who tries to bring any kind of hatred, contempt or excites the public against the Government of the country by his actions, words that can be spoken or in written form, or signs any other kind of action shall be punished with the imprisonment which may be extended up to 3 years and with or without fine.

Explanation 1 – Disaffection includes hostility and disloyalty

Explanation 2 – No offence is constituted if disapproval statements for government actions made without any act or attempt of hatred, contempt or disaffection.

Explanation 3 – No offence is constituted if disapproval statements for government administration made without any act or attempt of hatred, contempt or disaffection.

The Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 – Section 95

 It is mentioned that if there is any kind of publication in any book, newspaper, document or any other thing which is punishable under section 124A of IPC( which deals with the sedition)  then the State Government by the notification state the grounds for same and can forfeit the copies of those reading material. And the police have the power to seize the copies found in India and the Magistrate may authorize the police with warrant also.

Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 – Section 2(1)(o)(iii)

Any individual or a group of people by their actions or by their words (in speaking or written form), by signs or by any visual means provoke the public or the people of the country against the part or whole of the territory of India or did something which affects the sovereignty, integrity of the country. Anything which brings a feeling of hatred and disaffection towards the country or any part of it is considered as an unlawful activity as it harms the sovereignty and integrity of the country.

ESSENTIALS

To constitute the offence of sedition the following ingredient must be fulfilled:

  • An attempt or act which may result in contempt, disaffection or hatred towards the established government.
  • The attempt or act may be spoken, written, or through visible representations, if these are not present then sedition cannot be constituted.
  • Before the initiation of the trial for Sedition, it must be checked by the authorities whether the person participated in it or not.

PUNISHMENT

The intensity of the punishment depends upon the gravity of the offence. The punishment for Sedition in India is prescribed under Section 124A of Indian Penal Code, 1860 which says:

It is Non-Bailable, Cognizable and Non-Compoundable offence with the punishment of –

  • Imprisonment for life where fine may be imposed.
  • Imprisonment for 3 years where fine may be imposed.
  • Only fine.

SEDITION AND FREEDOM OF SPEECH & EXPRESSION

The freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19(1)(a) is fundamental right of the citizens in India which forms an essential ingredient in form of criticism of the administration and government which in turn helps to eradicate the ambiguities in democracy. Thus clearing path for a vibrant democracy in which citizens have the freedom to openly criticize government policies which are against the public at large and formation of the policies in their favor.

Sedition is colonial law that imposes restrictions over the freedom of speech and expression of the citizens in the name of hatred, disaffection, and contempt of government and administration. The provision of Sedition has been timely challenged before the Indian judiciary of which some of the landmark cases are:

The Apex Court held that citizens of all the spheres should actively participate in a democracy as it is their right to know about the administration and policies of the government in the case of Harijai Singh and Anr v. Unknown.

The Apex Court held that for a vibrant democracy free flow of information is crucial. The necessity to ensure that the citizens are not in fear to face consequences as they raise their voice against the government policies in the case of S. Khusboo v Kanniamal & Anr.

The Supreme Court held that freedom of speech and expression is of utmost importance for a democracy to prosper in the case of Tata Press Ltd. v Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd & Ors.

The Apex Court the right to interfere which forms the right to speech must not be restricted until it is an implicit danger to the public order which is remote in the case of S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram.

SEDITION: LAW COMMISSION OF INDIA

The Law Commission has coined its opinion over Sedition laws in India in its reports from time to time:

1968 (39th Report: The Punishment of Imprisonment for Life under the Indian Penal Code)

The recommendation was made for punishment for life imprisonment, simple or rigorous imprisonment for 3 years for offence of Sedition.

1971 (42nd Report: Indian Penal Code)

The suggestion was made to add mens rea, widen the scope, and fix punishment as 7 years where fine may be added in the Section 124A.

(43rd Report: Offences against The National Security)

The Commission stated that Section 39 of National Security Bill, 1971 is the revision of the 42nd Report of the Commission.

2017 (267th Report: Hate Speech)

The Commission explained the difference between Sedition and Hate Speech and stated that Sedition directly effects, while Hate Speech indirectly threatens the public order.

2018 (Consultation Paper on Sedition)

Law Commission of India conducted a study to examine the merits and demerits of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

CONCLUSION

India is said to be the largest and most vibrant democracy in the world where the freedom of speech and expression forms the fundamental right guaranteed to every citizen but with some reasonable restrictions imposed on it. At the same time, a controversial provision of Sedition is also present in Indian laws that impose certain restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression especially when an attempt or act is performed which may incite public disorder. Although the provision of Sedition has been timely challenged in the court and the Constituent Assembly it was against it but till date, it exists. The current time seems most suitable to get rid of this provision as citizens are much well vested with their rights today.

References

  • AN ANALYSIS OF THE MODERN OFFENCE OF SEDITION http://docs.manupatra.in/newsline/articles/Upload/37E592F0-BE2A-475F-AF99-2F6909F3CF11.pdf
  • Consultation Paper on Sedition http://www.lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/CP-on-Sedition.pdf
  • SEDITION http://www.rmlnlu.ac.in/webj/sedition.pdf
  • Bilal Ahmed Kaloo v. State of Andhra Pradesh; (1997) Supreme Today 127.
  • Balwant Singh v. State of Punjab; (1995) 3 SCC 214.
  • Common Cause & Anr. v. UOI; (2016) 15 SCC 269.
  • Kedarnath Das v. State of Bihar; AIR 1962 SC 955.
  • Nazir Khan & ors. v. State of Delhi; AIR 2003 SC 4427.
  • Raghubir Singh v. State of Bihar; AIR 1987 SC 149.
  • Ram Nandan v. State of U.P.; AIR 1959 Alld. 1101.
  •  Harijai Singh and Anr v. Unknown; AIR 1997 SC 73.
  • Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras; AIR 1950 SC 124.
  • S. Khusboo v. Kanniamal & Anr; AIR 2010SC 3196.
  • S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram; (1989) 2 SCC 574.
  • Tara Singh Gopi Chand v. The State; AIR 1951 Punj. 27.
  • Tata Press Ltd. v. Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd & Ors; AIR 1995 SC 2438.

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