Opposition party leaders and civil society members on Thursday praised the Supreme Court’s observations on the use of the colonial-era sedition law in the country and said that they hoped the archaic law would soon be thrown out.
Earlier on Thursday, the Supreme Court asked the Union government whether it was still necessary to use the law after 75 years of Independence. “This dispute about [the] law is...it is a colonial law, it was meant to suppress the freedom movement, the same law was used by [the] British to silence Mahatma Gandhi, [Bal Gangadhar] Tilak, etc,” Chief Justice NV Ramana said.
Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra said she hoped that the “archaic law” that she claimed was misused by the Centre would be “thrown out”. “Ironic that Haryana Police charge[d] over 100 farmers with sedition after alleged attack on BJP leader’s vehicle while Supreme Court questions why we have this outdated law!” she wrote in another tweet.
Congress MP Rahul Gandhi also welcomed the observations made by the Supreme Court.
Swaraj India chief Yogendra Yadav also pointed out the case against farmers in Haryana. “Case in point: Yesterday, sedition case was registered against farmers in Sirsa for breaking the windshield of a minister’s vehicle!” he tweeted. “That’s what this law is being used for.”
Former Union Minister for Law and Justice Ashwani Kumar said that the sedition charges invoked against protesting farmers in Haryana was “an insult to our democratic traditions”. “Government should withdraw the charges immediately and unconditionally,” he tweeted.
The Haryana police invoked sedition charges against a group of farmers who allegedly attacked and damaged the official vehicle of state Deputy Speaker Ranbir Gangwa in Sirsa district on July 11. The farmers were holding a demonstration against the Centre’s farm laws and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders.
Senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan praised the court and the chief justice for “standing up to the government on the gross misuse” of the sedition law to curb dissent.
Shiv Sena leader Urmila Matondkar also hailed the court’s remarks.
Congress leader Jaiveer Shergill said the British used the sedition law against Mahatma Gandhi and the BJP was using it “to kill principles of transparency and accountability”. “[As much as] 28% rise per year in registration of sedition cases since 2014 well thought strategy to kill freedom of speech!!” he tweeted.
Filmmaker Pritish Nandy said: “We want to remove all traces of British rule but won’t give up this terrible law under which our freedom fighters were jailed.”
The plea against the sedition law
Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justices AS Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy were hearing a new petition filed by a retired Army general, challenging the constitutional validity of Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code.
The petitioner, Major General SG Vombatkere, said in his plea that the sedition law is based on unconstitutionally vague definitions like “disaffection towards government”.
“[It] is an unreasonable restriction on the fundamental right to free expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) [of the Constitution] and causes constitutionally impermissible chilling effect on speech,” the petition said.
Vombatkere said the court needed to take into account the “march of the times and the development of the law” before dealing with Section 124A.
Attorney General KK Venugopal, however, argued that the law did not need to be struck down, according to Bar and Bench. He suggested that guidelines can be issued to meet its “legal purpose”.
The chief justice raised concerns about the misuse of the sedition law, saying there was no accountability of the executive. “If we go see history of charging of this section, the enormous power of this section can be compared to a carpenter using a saw to cut the entire forest instead of a tree,” he added. “That’s the effect of this provision.”
In April, a three-judge Supreme Court bench of Justices UU Lalit, Indira Banerjee and KM Joseph had sought a response from the Centre on a plea filed by by two journalists – Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha from Manipur and Kanhaiya Lal Shukla from Chhattisgarh – challenging the sedition law.