Sedition Law UPSC
The 22nd Law Commission report suggests that Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which deals with sedition, should be retained. However, the report also proposes certain amendments and procedural safeguards to prevent the misuse of this provision.
Recommendations of the 22nd Law Commission
- The Law Commission’s report was initiated in response to a request from the Home Ministry in 2016. The purpose was to examine the usage of Section 124A (sedition) and propose any necessary amendments.
- The report acknowledges that other laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the National Security Act (NSA) exist, but it points out that these laws do not cover all aspects of the offense outlined in Section 124A.
- Therefore, the Law Commission’s report aims to address any gaps or limitations in the existing legal framework related to sedition.
- The Law Commission’s recommendations regarding Section 124A (sedition) include both retaining the section and proposing amendments to prevent its misuse.
- The Commission argues against repealing Section 124A solely based on actions taken by other countries, stating that such a decision should consider the unique realities of India.
- It emphasizes that the colonial origins of law should not automatically lead to its repeal, as the Indian legal system as a whole carries colonial influences.
- To address concerns of misuse, the Commission suggests incorporating procedural safeguards.
- This includes requiring a preliminary inquiry by a police officer of Inspector rank before registering a First Information Report (FIR) for sedition.
- Additionally, permission from the Central or State Government would be necessary based on the officer’s report.
- The Commission proposes incorporating a provision similar to Section 196(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, to provide procedural safeguards against the misuse of Section 124A.
- Furthermore, the Commission recommends amending Section 124A to specify that it penalizes individuals “with a tendency to incite violence or cause public disorder.” This aims to provide clarity and prevent the misuse of the sedition law.
- Regarding punishment, the report suggests increasing the maximum jail term for sedition to seven years or life imprisonment, which is higher than the current term of up to three years or life imprisonment.
- This proposed enhancement aims to address the severity of the offense and its potential consequences.
Justifications for Retaining the Sedition Law
- The report emphasizes that allegations of misuse alone should not be the sole basis for repealing Section 124A (sedition).
- It acknowledges that there have been instances of misuse of various laws for personal rivalries and vested interests, but argues that repealing the sedition law entirely could have significant adverse consequences for the security and integrity of the country.
- The report raises concerns that without the sedition law in place, subversive forces could exploit the situation, posing a threat to national security and the overall well-being of the nation.
- It highlights the importance of maintaining a legal framework to address acts that incite violence or cause public disorder, which is crucial for protecting the stability and unity of the country.
- By cautioning against the repeal of Section 124A, the report emphasizes the need to strike a balance between preventing misuse and ensuring the law’s effectiveness in safeguarding national interests and security.
What is Sedition Law?
Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) defines sedition as an offense committed when a person uses words, signs, visible representation, or any other means to bring hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India. Disaffection includes feelings of enmity and disloyalty.
- It is important to note that for an act to be considered sedition under this section, it must go beyond mere comments and involve the intention or attempt to incite hatred, contempt, or disaffection. Comments that do not meet these criteria would not constitute an offense under Section 124A.
- This clarification aims to provide a clearer understanding of the elements required to establish sedition under the law and to ensure that freedom of speech and expression is protected, while also maintaining the necessary legal framework to address acts that pose a threat to the established government.
Punishment for the Offence of Sedition
- Under Section 124A of the IPC, sedition is a non-bailable offense.
- The punishment for this offense can range from imprisonment for up to three years to a life term, along with the possibility of a fine.
- Additionally, a person charged under this law may face certain restrictions. They may be barred from obtaining a government job, and their passport may be confiscated, preventing them from traveling abroad without permission. Moreover, they are required to appear in court as and when required during the legal proceedings.
- These provisions are intended to address the seriousness of the offense of sedition and ensure that individuals accused of such acts are subject to legal procedures and restrictions until the conclusion of their case.
- Sedition laws have a historical background that traces back to 17th-century England.
- The rationale behind these laws was the belief that only favorable opinions about the government should exist, as unfavorable opinions were seen as detrimental to the government and monarchy.
- In the context of India, the sedition law was not originally included when the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was enacted in 1860.
- However, it was later introduced in 1870 through an amendment proposed by Sir James Stephen. The amendment aimed to address the need for a specific section to deal with the offense of sedition.
- Today, sedition is considered a crime under Section 124A of the IPC. This section defines the offense and outlines the punishment for acts that involve bringing or attempting to bring hatred, contempt, or disaffection towards the government established by law in India.
Arguments in Favour of the Sedition Law
- Balancing Freedom of Speech: The Constitution of India recognizes that certain restrictions can be imposed on the right to freedom of speech and expression (Article 19(2)) to ensure responsible exercise and equal availability to all citizens.
- Preserving Unity and Integrity: The sedition law plays a role in combating anti-national, secessionist, and terrorist elements, thereby contributing to the maintenance of unity and integrity within the country.
- Ensuring State Stability: The law helps protect the elected government from attempts to overthrow it through violent or illegal means. The stability of the state relies on the continued existence of the government established by law.
Arguments Against Retaining Sedition Law
- Historical Context: During the colonial era, sedition was frequently used by British administrators to suppress dissent against their policies. Prominent leaders of India’s freedom movement, such as Lokmanya Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Bhagat Singh, were convicted under the sedition law for their speeches and activities. The continued use of this law evokes memories of the colonial era.
- NCRB Report on Sedition: According to the latest NCRB’s Crime in India report, there has been a marginal increase in the number of sedition cases registered in the country, with 76 cases in 2021. The conviction rate for such cases has varied over the years, ranging from 3% to 33%, and the backlog of pending cases reached a high of 95% in 2020.
- Constituent Assembly’s Stand: During the framing of the Constitution, the members of the Constituent Assembly did not include sedition as a provision. They believed that it could curtail the freedom of speech and expression and could be misused to suppress legitimate protests, thereby going against the spirit of democratic values.
- Supreme Court’s Judgment: In the landmark case of Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar in 1962, the Supreme Court restricted the application of sedition to acts involving the intention or tendency to create disorder, disturb law and order, or incite violence. Therefore, invoking sedition charges against academics, lawyers, socio-political activists, and students goes against the Supreme Court’s ruling.
- Repression of Democratic Values: The increasing use of the sedition law has led to concerns about the erosion of democratic values in India. It has contributed to the perception of India as an elected autocracy, primarily due to the calculated and often indiscriminate use of sedition charges.
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What is Sedition under Article 19?
Sedition, as defined under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), falls within the category of reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech and expression. It is considered an offense when any person, by words spoken or written, or by signs or visible representation, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India.